Monday 25 January 2016

Notes from the Critique Group - Writers' Tics Uncovered.

by Maureen Lynas

One of the great things about attending a crit group is realising that you and other writers have ‘tics’ in common. By helping to identify them together you can help each other to remove them and improve your writing.

Here are two tics that came up during our latest crit session.

Metaphors and similes.

Simile: a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid.
Beware the cliché - as brave as a lion 
Beware The Blackadder Syndrome - This place stinks like a pair of armoured trousers after the Hundred Years War – unless you are Ben Elton, Richard Curtis or another genius of comedy.

Monday 18 January 2016

My Writing Scrap Book

by Addy Farmer

Did you know that January used to be known as the Wolf month? Well, that's what the Anglo Saxons knew it as - when food was so scarce that the wolves dared to enter the villages. There's still something of the wolf about January...

How'll I find those ideas??

Now, January is a time of non-wolf voluntary dieting. It's when garden life seems to hibernate (usually) and the shops are like old news and Christmas sparkle is packed away. But January is also fresh-faced and full of promise; maybe you wrote an entire novel in November with NaNoWriMo? Maybe you packed in some story-making during the Christmas holiday? Now in the month of the brand new year you have sent your precious babe out into the woods in the hope that she is picked up by someone who will love her to bits.  Even if you are not waiting and waiting, sometimes January can be a curiously creatively empty month. So it's best to crack on and fill it with ideas because you never know - one of them might become a proper real story.

Monday 11 January 2016

The Ordinary World is About Context Not Setting

By Candy Gourlay

Delivering the eulogy at LJM's wake.
Photo: Amanda Navasero
I have been in the Philippines for the past couple of weeks. It was a research trip which coincided with the funeral of my first editor and mentor, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc. I was glad to arrive in time to deliver a eulogy.

I also wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer about her profound influence on my writing (I was one of the Inquirer's two reporters when it started as a weekly, then when it turned into a daily, I became a desk editor). When the article came out on Boxing Day, it amused me that though I haven't used my maiden name 'Quimpo' for 27 years, my former  Inquirer colleagues inserted it into my by-line: 'Candy Quimpo Gourlay'.

This visit brought me back to the world that I left behind since I became a writer of novels: a world of intense deadlines, cigarette smoke, clackety typewriters, too much coffee, and the everlasting hunt for a good angle.

The Inquirer newsroom pauses to remember LJM at a final remembrance service . I'm so glad I happened to be in the Philippines.

It occurred to me that in story terms, this was the Ordinary World that I left behind, the way Luke Skywalker left the moisture farm in Tatooine for adventure, Dorothy left behind black and white Kansas for technicolor Oz, and Harry Potter left behind the cupboard under the stairs for magical Hogwarts.

The Ordinary World is the first stage of the Hero's Journey, first articulated by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and later revised by Christopher Vogler, in a famous seven-page memo he wrote while working for Disney. The Ordinary World introduces the hero's world before he or she goes on an adventure.  

The hero's ordinary world is essential to the reader's understanding of the story because it provides the circumstances upon which the hero's adventure can be enjoyed and understood.

One of the reasons for my current trip to the Philippines is to visit the setting of my next novel --
an isolated community in the Cordillera mountains. I came thinking that the task at hand was to feel, to smell, to see, to make the place I'd set my novel in more believable.

The rice terraces of the Cordilleras at sunrise.

Walking through mountains carved into rice paddies. The tubes are to deliver water from mountain springs to the lower paddies.

But walking on the narrow trails surrounded by magnificent rice terraces, searching for the sacred trees that stand at the edges of old villages, speaking to people who LIVE the world, I discovered much more about my story than I bargained for.


The Ordinary World is often defined as setting ... the place where a character begins an adventure. But it would be a mistake to focus on it as a bit of geography or a bit of background information.

The Ordinary World is more than geography and backstory. The Ordinary World is context.

One cannot craft the hero's Ordinary World without knowing the fate that lies in store for your character. The tediousness of the desert planet Tatooine and the colourlessness of Kansas provide a sharp contrast to the vivid adventures that Luke Skywalker and Dorothy are about to experience. Without a feel for what these characters' lives were like before, the reader cannot appreciate the amazing change in their circumstances.


The reader's own aspirations -- the need for adventure, the need for entertainment -- are what compel them to read on.

In The Incredibles, Mister Incredible wants to leave his dead end job. In Little Women, Jo March wants to become an author. In The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson just wants his dad to notice him. In One Thousand and One Nights, Sheherazade tells stories just to survive.

Sheherezade tells stories to survive.
The Ordinary World grounds the reader. It is an opportunity for the reader to empathise or identify with the plight of the hero, seeing his or her own aspirations in the character's desires.


The reader needs to know the rules of the world before the story can proceed. What the reader knows contributes to the thrill of the story's pay-off.

In The Hunger Games, the rules of the games are made clear from the very beginning. Armed with this knowledge, the reader experiences thrills and spills as Katniss Everdeen takes every opportunity to rebel against what is expected of her.

The Hunger Games is made delicious by the rules that
Katniss breaks.
It is important that the reader has clarity about the world he or she is reading about. The limitations a hero is subjected to -- eg., Superman loses his super powers when he is near Kryptonite -- create the frisson readers look for in a story.


I recently watched a TV series that began in a most excellent fashion with amazing actors and deep characterisation.  It led me to expect a strong character-led drama. Imagine my disappointment when  the series suddenly became a complicated conspiracy-thriller.

Setting out the story's Ordinary World, the author is making a promise. This is going to be a romance. This is going to be a mystery. This is going to be an adventure story.

It is crucial that the promise is kept. If The Hunger Games turned into a comedy at the last minute, would you read on? If The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, having established its magical credentials, suddenly turned into a crime thriller, wouldn't you be a little bit disappointed?


The Ordinary World isn't description. It isn't information. It isn't explanation.

What matters is how the Ordinary World defines your character before he or she sets off on an adventure.

Ultimately, the question we must ask ourselves is: am I merely explaining my character's ordinary world or is he living it?

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