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17 December 2019

#WriteCBC – Three Wise Writers: 3. Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh, author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

Can you believe it – we’ve already arrived at the final instalment of our Three Wise Writers festive #WriteCBC! And – yep – we’re going to get VERY Christmassy, as you’re about to find out. We are SO delighted that our third wise writer is the wonderful Clare Mackintosh! She has a great tip and task in store for our last @cbcreative Twitter writing competition of the year, so switch on your writer’s brain and get ready … And if you didn’t take part in weeks 1 and 2, you can still play – just check out this blog to find out how .

And so, to introduce Clare Mackintosh: Her first crime novel, I Let You Go, sold more than a million copies, was a Richard and Judy bookclub selection and won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the year in 2016. It was followed by two further bestselling crime novels, I See You and Let Me Lie. She’s since gone on to publish a memoir: A Cotswold Family Life; and this year the heartrending novel, After the End.

Here’s Clare’s tip:

The best twists don’t come out of the blue – they’re woven through your story & belong to it. When plotting, I map out the reader’s journey, working out at each stage what the reader knows, what I want them to know, and what the truth is.

If you’ve read any of Clare’s crime novels, you’ll be well aware of just how good she is at writing a great twist. When we came to discuss this tip and task, she told me a little about how she plans out her twisty plots – checking each chapter, each scene and each plot point to think carefully about what the characters know, what the reader knows and what’s really going on. That’s how she makes sure she can stay one step ahead.

Really great twists are stunning and surprising – but they’re not random. The reader needs to be wowed, and then to stop and think, Ah yes, of course! Why didn’t I see that coming? – and to feel that actually all the clues were there in the story, if only we’d realised it and known how to put them together. What really doesn’t work is when the twist comes entirely out of nowhere – with no possible way to have spotted it coming for the smart reader. That makes the reader feel cheated.

We’ve really been talking mostly about crime novels so far – BUT actually most of what we’re saying still applies when you’re writing a twist in a story that’s not a mystery or a whodunnit. Your twist needs to fully belong to your story – emotionally and thematically – or once again, the reader will want to throw the book at the wall. When you’re thinking of writing a twist, think hard about its logic and its effect – and ask yourself, does it flow from and enhance your story? Or is it just an add-on?

Clare’s task:

I’d like you to write a mini-scene that starts out with a familiar Christmas scenario but with something different about it. Maybe things aren’t as they seem or perhaps something unexpected happens. In other words, Christmas with a twist!

Right then – it’s time to put on your reindeer antlers and get properly festive, writers! Bring out your gold, your frankincense and your myrrh – it’s time to give us your best Christmassy story with a difference. Surprise us with a scene that has a sting in its tail; make us smile or laugh just when we’re not expecting to – or simply show us something that isn’t what it first appears to be. Go for it, and we can’t wait to find out what special seasonal sleight of hand you have in store for us …

Our final festive #3WiseWriters #WriteCBC winner is Sarah Smith @truesarahsmith!

Xmas Eve, she slathers butter under turkey skin & drapes the bird with bacon slices. Peels tatties, carrots & sprouts. Pats dry her starchy hands & hangs up her apron. Hooded & booted, she lifts the case she packed this morning and quietly closes the door on her life.

Sarah’s response to the Christmas with a twist task is spot on. We love her controlled, rhythmic and familiar description of preparing a Christmas roast. Which is followed brilliantly by the unexpected twist that the protagonist is leaving her life behind. We’re left wondering why she’s leaving and who she’s prepared the roast for/leaving behind …

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

As it’s almost Christmas and we were so impressed with all of your entries we’ve decided to award four runner-up prizes. Well done to our runners-up @staceygeorge, @surreyamywrites, @SJWarner3 and @BeautySwot. You each 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.

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