Author Tips: Writing Fiction

Wendy Orr shares some of her tips on writing stories and novels

Friday, June 30, 2006

Creating stories with "What if...?"

The vital spark in creating a story isn't what you notice, but what your imagination does with it – and the simplest way to get that started is to ask yourself questions.

Flipping through my writer's notebook and finding the comb hanging from a tree: I've already wondered 'Why?" and found some possible answers. Now I start wondering, "What if..."

What if it were a comb made of fantasticly filigreed gold, inlaid with rubies?

Something so beautiful..... What if it had magical properties, was just waiting for someone to slip it into their hair? What if its magic could only be activatied by the one special person that it belonged to?

What if that person didn't know they were the owner... didn't want the powers but couldn't shake them? What if someone else was searching for the comb? What if it fell into the wrong hands?

What sort of magical powers could it hold? Beauty in the eye of all beholders... or the power to see beauty in everything... or power to do good... to do evil... to fly...

Once you get into one of those streams, let it flow. Jot down all those thoughts, no matter how crazy they are. I didn't know what sort of story I'd be suggesting when I started writing this, and yet these questions seem to be leading to a classical fantasy, perhaps a quest, a battle between good and evil. Tease out the questions more and you can lead it to comedy, drama or tragedy.

Or you could tease it out in some other way entirely.

What if there was a drop of blood on one of the tines of the comb....

Monday, May 08, 2006

Writer's Notebook

This morning as I was walking Bear the dog, we passed a little oak tree with a comb dangling from a low branch, as if someone hadn't ducked quite low enough when they walked under it, and the twig had pulled the comb from their hair without their noticing.

It's in my notebook now - and I can't think of a better example of something that belongs in a writer's notebook! It lends itself to all sorts of questions and possibilities. Some can be worked out logically:

Who did it belong to? Almost certainly a woman or girl.
What did she look like?
The comb was about at the level of my nose, so she was probably a bit shorter than me.
It was black, so we could guess that she had darker hair.

Why didn't she notice that it was gone? Was she running? If she was running, was she being chased? Or was she chasing something or someone?

If you wanted to write a mystery, it could be a very important clue....

Saturday, October 08, 2005

On using dreams

Although dreams are rarely organised enough to be set down as a complete story, they can be certainly a starting point for a story idea.

When I'm in between books, I sometimes dream of complete stories, often presented in a film, and usually in an entirely different genre than I write in, such as murder mystery. I've never followed these up, but if you're searching for ideas and this kind of thing happens, why not try it?

I used a richly symbolic dream of my own as the basis for Sally's Painting Room. The dream was about scrubbing away the garbage surrounding the trauma of a car accident, in order to get into my writing room. The book, an early reader, translated this literally to a small child cleaning out a hidden attic room to make it into her own painting space.

Dreams appropriate to the characters can also add depth to novels. I used a slightly modified version of the same dream in the novel Peeling the Onion, which drew on my own accident and recovery, though written in the persona of a seventeen year old girl.

Occasionally, at the stage where I'm totally immersed in the story, I've had dreams that seemed to belong to the character rather than me; I've used one in a work in slow progress, and another, totally inexplicable dream of flying over a landscape that I later identified as southern England, in my novel The House at Evelyn's Pond.

So, although as a general rule it's best to avoid solving a story with 'and then I woke up', don't be afraid to use a dream as a jumping off point as an idea to explore!

Friday, April 22, 2005

On being a writer

So many people ask me about being a writer - how does a writer work? How do you settle down to write a book - and then how do you get your work published? - that I thought I'd share some thoughts here on some of the more common questions.


Everywhere! Everything that you experience, vicariously or actually, goes into your mind to be swirled around with memory and imagination, triggering chains of thought that can lead to entirely different fields from the original stimulus. Add in your knowledge of the world, your observation of how people work, your ability to analyse what is likely to happen in any particular situation - and then swirl it around with a bit more imagination and intuition - and you'll soon end up with a story.

But if no story ideas are springing into your mind at any time, try taking the scenario you're in on any particular day and start saying 'what if?' What if the air conditioner in this waiting room is sending out toxic rays - or truth serum?

Or sit and observe - you'll be surprised how many story ideas will pass by you in a short time. Why is that new BMW pulling a gardener's trailer? What's the story behind the old woman combing her hair at the window?

Creativity is often linked with meditation, whether you practise a formal meditation or your own quiet reflection and relaxation. Stories can appear from that dreamlike trance, or you may find yourself so energised that words simply start to flow when you go back to the computer. Sometimes it helps to direct the meditation: for example, go back through time until you see an incident - maybe even from longer ago than you've ever remembered before, maybe before you were verbal - and see how you can elaborate on that into a story.

>Blog contents copyright Wendy Orr; do not copy without permission.