Hooked by Lines and Images

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This sounds like I’m going fishing and in a way I am. I’m searching for that illusive first line of a great story. In the Futurelearn Open University course we touched upon sources of inspiration: lines and images. I got hooked by the idea.

4.10 Hooked By Lines and Images.

When I first started writing fantasy, I’d say that visual images, were my starting point for inspiration. Fantasy and visual images just seem to be the perfect coupling. Having said that, my father’s first words, recorded into a voice recorder, were without doubt the perfect start to a new project, a travelogue of his life and adventures. He began by recalling, a humourous anecdote, one of his earliest memories. I’m not quoting him exactly but it goes something like this: At age two I was pushed out of the pram by the arrival of my sister Wendy. It was a cold winter’s day in February. My mother told me to go out with my big brother Stanley to play with the big boys in the snow. When I came home I told my mother that the big boys had looked after me well and they had said, “You’re a wee brother ain’t you?” When in fact they had called me a wee bugger!”

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I just knew that these innocent words spoken by his two year old self were the right words, they were his essence if you like, a wonderful mix of his humour with his adventurous spirit. They were the very first words he recorded! He must have known too! They just sounded so perfect. This early release from the pram rather than disturbing him, or making him jealous of his sister, did neither, instead it just encouraged him to embark upon many travels, though the experience did have one other lasting effect, it left him with a life long hatred for cold weather! Which he still suffers from today living up in Bonnie, but chilly Scotland.

So whether you arrive at your first sentence by words or images, or a combination of both it doesn’t really matter, just make sure you get there.

4.11 Hunches that matter

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If it matters then it should appear in your writing, but listing who you are, and what matters to you, before you begin writing, is not something that I have actively done before. In fact I would argue that all of who you are spills out into your writing without your even realising it. This process is scary, an unintentional disrobing, that propels you out there almost without you’re conscious consent. I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to make lists of who we are, somehow that seems a bit forced to me. Instead let that, who I am, warts and all, come out naturally in your writing. You may discover things about yourself along the way! It can be enlightening.

Writing about personal concerns

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This is at the heart of good writing. If you don’t care about what you write about then your words will mean little or nothing, and your readers will feel cheated. So embed those personal concerns into your writing, let them seep into the bedrock of your words.

Extraordinary versus ordinary

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We looked at the following quote from Raymond Carver:

“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about common-place things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine – the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it.”

Raymond Carver, nailed it!

It sounds to me as if a writer’s job is to make the commonplace anything but commonplace. Today I went to the gym and finished off my attempt at a fitness routine with a session in the swimming pool. A commonplace type of activity, for regular gym users, but in my case I am somewhat handicapped, not just because of my general level of unfitness but also because I am very short sighted. I only have at best a hazy view of people in the pool. I can make out that they’re humans, and if I squint I can just about make out what sex they are. Today, I thought I saw a young woman extending her hand, at the side of the pool, in an odd salute, but in fact as I swam closer I saw that her hand was actually her leg extended up close and personal to her face! I concluded that she must be a dancer and this was confirmed by a closer inspection of her hair which was wound in a tight bun, a dancer’s trademark. Being short sighted can be awkward, and downright hazardous at times. Earlier on, I saw the blurry form of a young man sitting at the edge of the pool on the steps. He sat for ages just waiting. What was he waiting for? He wasn’t waiting for the bus. I had this feeling that he was watching me yet I had no way of telling whether this was a figment of my imagination. I just couldn’t see. He eventually began his swim, and probably thought I was staring at him. I don’t blame him, I probably was, at least my myopic self was!

Images courtesy of Google images.

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Writing Characters – Cowpat Man

Futurelearn Start Writing Fiction Course 4.9 Writing Character.

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Let’s have another look at my roughly sketched farmer, Cowpat man, maybe I can do something with this guy. His hair is trashed but who knows maybe he has potential. If you haven’t met him before, here’s my short description of him:

Arthur’s hair sat on his scalp like an apologetic cowpat. His life had turned into a hopscotch, he leapt from pat to pat but nothing changed. His horizons narrowed with every throw of the dice. He was not a gambling man but he sensed that his luck was out. The aloe vera juice oiling his biography had formed a stagnant, tropical pool.

Now at this stage Futurelearn asked us to add more detail, do some background research, and ask some what if questions. Where do I begin? I turned to my friend google for a quick bit of background information about farmers. Well it didn’t take me long to realise what I probably already knew deep down. Our farmers really deserve our admiration because:

Farming is one of the most unstable jobs in the world, at the mercy of a fluctuating economy and unpredictable weather.

Farmers have to learn from their mistakes.

Farmers have to be jack of all trades.

I really liked this one, the list was endless, let’s start with him being a

welder,

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mechanic,

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electrician,

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chemist,
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plumber,
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accountant,

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construction builder, ……..

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Not just that but:

Farmers have to know how to network.

Farmers have to be creative.

Farmers have to be great problem solvers.

The list is endless. Respect. Forget Superman.

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We have a new superhero. Cowpat man! Well his silhouette any way!

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Well no wonder Cowpat man was depressed when I first discovered him, who wouldn’t be? I think with all that he has to cope with in his multi tasking life we can forgive him for having a bit of a flutter, after all, his whole life is a bit of a gamble. Failure is a word he daren’t utter. How is he going to feed his customers if his crops fail, or his livestock die? Maybe he’s a bit of a reckless show off, buying fancy machinery and investing unwisely. Now I can really see my character taking form, leaping from pap to pat. He needs an escape route. He’s fed up of being at everyone’s beck and call. Even his wife is beginning to irritate him. That’s where the Aloe Vera juice that’s oiling his sad biography comes into its own, because he wants to escape, from everyone, to a tropical paradise, with palm trees, beaches, and calm tranquillity. No wife, no cows, no cow pats. He needs a cure-all, and Aloe Vera does it all, just look at its supposed health benefits: it’s a digestive aid, lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, boosts energy, and is a tonic. Well that’s what they say. Ok so it tastes pretty foul but Cowpat man is used to foul things, he’s a farmer after all. He can hide the taste in an organic fruit smoothie, move to a tropical island, and grow Aloe Vera plants. Easy. Aloe Vera plants even grow for me, how hard can it be?

So there are the beginnings of Cow pat man. Ok I’m not taking him too seriously but what’s wrong with a bit of a laugh? Go on, surrender!

Images courtesy of Google Image.

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Futurelearn – Free online courses.

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Futurelearn. Start Writing Fiction Course. I started this free on-line course at the end of April. There are a wide array of courses to choose from.

“At FutureLearn, we want to inspire learning for life. We offer a diverse selection of free, high quality online courses from some of the world’s leading universities and other outstanding cultural institutions.

Our aim is to connect learners from all over the globe with high quality educators, and with each other. We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, with plenty of opportunities to discuss what you’ve studied, in order to make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.

Courses are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life, rather than your life around learning.

We are a private company wholly owned by The Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education. Our partners include over 20 of the best UK and international universities, as well as institutions with a huge archive of cultural and educational material, including the British Council, the British Library, and the British Museum.

FutureLearn is in beta and the courses we’ll be running this year – there are many more on the way – are all pilot courses. This allows us to shape and refine how it all works, using feedback and ideas from our learners. It is important to us to craft a high quality product which is tailored specifically to our learners’ needs, so we want to spend the time listening.

What you’re seeing is the smallest number of features that can deliver our vision for a new form of education. Over the coming months, as we unveil new courses, we’ll be developing new features and evolving our offer.”

 

A page from Great Expectations by Dickens

I have also signed up for the Literature of The English Country Rose course which begins in June.

“On this course, we’ll be introducing you to literature from 450 years of English country-house history and we’ll be seeing together how that literature shapes our understanding of country houses. We’ll be joined on the way by guest experts from the University of Sheffield School of English and tapping into their specialist knowledge.

We’re going to travel on a historical journey through literature, visiting notable country houses around Yorkshire and Derbyshire. You’ll gain insight into life in these country houses and will learn about some common misconceptions. You will see the magnificent seventeenth-century wall paintings at Bolsover Castle, often held to be the best of their kind in England. You will visit Haddon Hall, a house frozen in the time of William Shakespeare and an inspiration for the great Gothic novelist, Ann Radcliffe.

We’ll be using a wide range of texts spanning the history of literature from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ to Oscar Wilde’s ‘Canterville Ghost’. Along the way we will examine sections from a play by Shakespeare, poetry by Margaret Cavendish, and brief passages from novels by Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. We will even look at fiction by a country house resident Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

During this course you’ll learn to analyse literature using a technique called ‘close reading’. It will help you to make your own connections between country-house literature and its historical backgrounds.”

Photos and Course Information via Futurelearn Website.

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