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#WriteCBC tip and task from Sean Lusk

BY Katie Smart
7th Jul 2022

Welcome to our July edition of #WriteCBC. I hope you’re ready to be inspired by our latest writing challenge! If you haven’t taken part in a #WriteCBC competition before, we’re excited to welcome you to our writing community – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s a lot of fun, and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

This month’s special guest is award-winning short story writer and former student Sean Lusk. Sean’s brilliant debut novel The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is out now from Transworld (Doubleday). Sean will also be speaking to students of our upcoming three-month Writing Your Novel course in London during a special masterclass and Q&A session. Find out more and apply for the course by 24 July here.

Sean's tip:

Smells, sounds, taste and touch are often underused in fiction compared with the visual. These other senses can take the reader powerfully and immediately into a character's feelings and to a place and time.

Here’s some more background from Sean…

I often used to be told how 'cinematic' my writing was, which I took as a compliment, but I've come to realise is also a criticism, even if not intended to be. It was only after arranging a brilliant mentor through CBC that I learnt how I was underplaying the other senses, and particularly the way they can help connect with characters' emotions. We're all told from the very first steps in writing to use the senses but it's easy to overplay the visual. A novel can make a reader 'become' different characters and experience their sense of the world in a way that even the most brilliantly acted film or play cannot. Using each character's senses is an important part of that.

My novel The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley opens with:

'Leadenhall stinks this morning; of soot and shit and, inexplicably, of nutmeg.'

I place the reader in London, and since the smells are of soot and shit and nutmeg, we know we're not in the present day (which would be car fumes and maybe kebabs). The 'inexplicably' is doing important work here, too, signalling to the reader that we are in a character's point of view, and that they are baffled by the nutmeg.

In the opening of the second chapter, the same character…

'...gives his familiar rap on her door, four sharp knocks intended to sound light and cheerful, but always seeming too insistent, even bad-tempered.'

Here I want the reader to 'hear' those raps on the door, but also to sense this character's unease that he cannot quite get his tone right, and also the sense that he doesn't want to upset the person upon whose door he is knocking.

Sean's task:

Open a scene with a smell, sound, taste or touch that takes the reader directly into a character's mood or predicament, and that helps foreshadow what is to come next.

We’d love you to write a tweet-length scene prompted by Sean’s task. Remember to utilise specific sensory details and really place us in your character’s shoes. Don’t just focus on sight – and don’t rattle through every sense like you’re checking off a list. Pick one or two concrete sensations to draw us into the drama and help convey the mindset of your character. Look back at the examples from Sean – he portrays one sense at a time and this makes the description richer and more focused than cramming all five senses into one image.

Using sensory details doesn’t necessarily mean making a scene longer, or overly flowery. Closely observed details can be conveyed in concise and clear ways that quickly transport your reader without weighing them down in a sea of purple prose.

We can't wait to read your responses to Sean's task! Tweet @cbcreative with your tweet-length scene and you might win a free six-week course place. Competition closes Fri 8 July, 10am (winner announced at 11am).


This month’s winner is… Steve Warner @SJWarner3

“The air is ripe with the pungent aroma of fatty pork, coagulated blood, and a dash of burnt copper. Like a fine wine, or an exquisite perfume, it’s difficult to put a precise description to it. Ann smiles as she inhales again, knowing what it is at last. Burning flesh."

Steve wasted no time (or characters) pulling us directly into his scene! We thought his use of language for the acrid smells in the air was so captivating. And the ending definitely leaves a chill down the spine!

Congratulations! Steve has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of their choice.

Well done to our runners-up!

@CarolaHuttmann and @RyanCar43712361a have both won a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice.

Please email cbccourses@curtisbrown.co.uk to claim your prize!

Get your hands on a copy of The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley.

You can find Sean at www.seanlusk.com or on Twitter @seanlusk1.