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10 December 2019

#WriteCBC – Three Wise Writers: 2. David Nicholls

David Nicholls
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

It’s Week 2 of our Three Wise Writers #WriteCBC Christmas special and we’re thrilled to welcome the amazing David Nicholls as our second guest author! If you didn’t take part in last week’s instalment of our Twitter writing competition, check out this blog to find out how to play and what you can win – and then you’re all set to join the merry throng over at @cbcreative.

And so to our very wise guest: David Nicholls is the author of five fabulous novels, including the unforgettable One Day – which has sold over five million copies to date and been published in forty languages. His other novels are Starter for Ten, The Understudy, Us – and his latest, Sweet Sorrow – a story of first love between two teenagers performing in a summer holiday amateur production of Romeo and Juliet, which manages to be both squirmingly funny and wistfully sad – often at the same time! You’re also likely to have encountered David’s writing on screen – particularly in the 2015 BBC Films version of Far From the Madding Crowd, and most recently in the stunning and award-winning TV serial Patrick Melrose.

David has given us a brilliant tip and task today, which – to me – speak volumes about what makes his work so vivid and memorable.

David’s writing tip:

When creating a relationship in your writing, think about what makes it unique. Each relationship has a history, driving forces, rules, flavour, humour. The bond between two characters is a character in itselfmake sure you get under its skin.

This is a really good point to remember for any novel which focuses on the relationships between characters – such as a love story or a novel about a family or a friendship. In fact most novels feature relationships even when they don’t appear instantly to be the driving force of the book – for example a police procedural is likely to feature two detectives working together.

To understand what David’s getting at here, think about your own life and the people you know: Do you feel you’re a different person at work than when you’re with friends? Do you know someone who seemed to change quite fundamentally after a relationship broke down – or conversely, when they got together with their partner? Our personalities are, to an extent, maleable – different aspects of who we are come to the fore in different contexts and when we’re around different people in our lives. This is something that David has explored extensively in all of his novels and on screen too.

Then there’s the question of the nature of attraction – the very particular spark between people. I’d say we should be striving, in our writing, to get beyond the simple cliche of one character being drawn to another because of conventional beauty or virtue – or conversely because the love object is a classic wrong’un. Go the extra mile in your writing to think about the glue that sticks your characters together or the forces that push them apart. Think of your characters’ needs and desires – where they originate and how they are met or continually thwarted through the relationship you are writing about. What is the energy between your characters and what makes it unique and compelling to read about? For inspiration here, you could do a lot worse than to take a look at Emma and Dexter in One Day (whose names I still remember, and whose faces I still see in my head many years after reading the book!). Or the toe-curling marital crisis of Douglas and Connie in Us

David’s writing task:

By Laurence Garçon / EyeEm via Getty Images

Using the picture as a prompt, write us a mini-story/scene which focuses on two charactersshow us their relationship in a way that is intriguing or funny or striking (or all of those!) and which does more than just describe them flatly.

So, here we go: Take a look at the photo we’ve given you, and home in on two characters who interest you. Think carefully about who they are – what the nature of their relationship is, and then what makes it distinct and different. Your challenge will be to show us all of this (rather than just describing your characters and the relationship) by bringing your characters to life in a little mini-scene – and doing it all in the space of a tweet. We can’t wait to read the results …

Our second festive #3WiseWriters #WriteCBC winner is Angela C-M @AKCM30510837

 “Just two months,” he says, grinning.

“Don’t jinx it.”

“We could get the pram today.”

“Too cold!”

“For a pram?”

“Bad luck keepin’ it in the house.”

“Is that a Mum thing?”

“It’s a Scottish thing.”

“Like this weather?”“It does feel like home today,” I say, smiling.

Angela has beautifully captured this moment between two expecting parents. We learn so much about them in this short section of dialogue, they are excited, nervous and the wife is superstitious and Scottish. All of this is communicated clearly in concise and believable speech.

Congratulations Angela, you’ve one a free place on the six-week course of your choice!

Well done to our runners-up @Mary17Fahey and @sardonicstork. You both win a £50 course discount to be used on the six-week course of your choice.

For in-depth advice, writing tasks to help you hone your skills, a forum to share material with fellow students and the chance to get a report on your work, take a look at our six-week online courses, all of which start in January: Work on your life story with bestselling memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink in Writing a Memoir; craft a short story with award-winning Cynan Jones in Writing Short Stories  – or get going on your novel with CBC’s MD Anna Davis in our three courses to take you from first idea to final pitch: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit and Pitch Your Novel.

Or, if you’re interested in writing for the screen you can apply now for our brand new Writing an Original TV Drama Serial course.

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