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03 June 2021

#WriteCBC tip and task from Elizabeth Lee

by Katie Smart Events, Writing Tips

Welcome to our June 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.

Our special guest this month is the wonderful Elizabeth Lee, who was awarded the Marian Keyes Novel-Writing Scholarship to study on our six-month online Writing Your Novel course in 2018. Her debut novel Cunning Women – which tells a bewitching story of forbidden love, set in seventeenth-century Lancashire after the Pendle witch trials – is out now from Windmill Books. The novel has been extremely well reviewed and named as one of Grazia’s best books of 2021.

Elizabeth’s writing tip:

It’s useful to really inhabit your character’s skin. Use their senses to show the reader exactly what the situation feels like. E.g. Describe the numbness in their fingers, the sting against their cheeks, rather than stating that it’s a cold day.

You’ll have heard the phrase ‘show don’t tell’ before. It is considered part of a writer’s bread and butter, but the meaning of this advice can often be difficult to get to grips with. Essentially, it’s a technique that helps you dramatise a scene – so, rather that flatly telling the reader what is happening and what your character is feeling, you show them through carefully observed details. One great way to show the reader what a character is experiencing is through the senses. If you tell the reader that a character is ‘scared’, the reader will understand what is meant, but they might not connect to the character’s emotional state. Whereas if you use sensory details, for example showing us that your character’s heart is racing or their palms are clammy, you’ll enrich the scene and bring human feeling to the forefront.  

If you’re looking for a great example of how the senses can help transport the reader into the state of mind of a character, look no further than Elizabeth’s very own Cunning Women. Read the extract below, which depicts protagonist Sarah Haworth near starving and in a time of need. Pay particular attention to the way that the senses are used. What do we learn about the characters? How does this scene make you feel?

I close my eyes: a bitter winter, ground stinging-cold and hard beneath my feet. Annie little more than a babby, spindly and listless; I’d lain awake all night with a headache and bellywart from my own hunger, listening to her keening. Dazed and queasy, I ventured outside, determined to beg an apple or parsnip left from autumn, that we might boil up and feed her.

The Bartons’ place was the nearest, and all I had energy to reach. Standing wrapped in the blanket I’d taken from my mat, I begged the man for a coin, or if not then the smallest morsel of food for my babby sister, looking past him to a kitchen that held the warmth of the fire and the scent of dried fish. A girl not much younger than me sat at the table, bouncing a fat little babby Annie’s age on her knee, rolls of flesh tucked under its chin.

Elizabeth’s writing task:

Write a mini-scene that continues from this prompt: ‘There was a turning in the air…’ Make us feel what your character is feeling. Are they hungry, tired, energetic? How does the environment affect them? What can they see, hear, smell and touch?

We’d love you to write a mini-scene inspired by Elizabeth’s prompt. Remember to utilise specific details and really place us in your character’s shoes.

A few things to think about:

Who is your character? You don’t need to convey a full backstory to the reader, but it can be helpful for you to have a clear idea of them in your mind. The way your character reacts to the sights, sounds and smells around them should reveal parts of their personality as well as offer some insight into their lived experiences. (Just remember, not everything will make it onto the page, particularly in a short scene like this).

What is the situation? Perhaps your character is facing a particular challenge, or maybe they’ve been given some unexpected news or are at a turning point in their lives. Are they happy or sad? Comfortable or uncomfortable? Excited or full of trepidation?

Where is the scene set? We want to be drawn into the world of your character, and this means thinking about the atmosphere and setting of your piece. For example, you might want to show us what the weather is like and whether your character is in a new place or somewhere familiar.

Most importantly… Remember to use the senses. Don’t just focus on sight – and don’t rattle through every sense like you’re checking off a list. Pick a couple of concrete sensations to draw us into the drama and help convey the mindset of your character. 

Please do share your mini-scenes by tweeting us (@cbcreative) – we can’t wait to get to know your characters and discover what they’re facing!

This month’s winner is… Terri Mack @Terrimack123

Carrying Nan’s peppermint sigh. I bleeped my car shut and gaped at the hospital. I was too late. Her balmy laughter flickered the leaves. Her nimble fingers knitted my hair. Her silk scarf was liquid in my grasp, yielding to the breeze readily. I smiled and I let go.

We loved how Terri’s sensory descriptions in the scene transported us right in front of the hospital alongside her character. She included some beautiful imagery and her bittersweet ending tugged at our heartstrings.

Congratulations! Terri has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of her choice!

Well done to our runners-up!

@GG_Fiction, @JanetEmson, and @LizMackinney, each win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice.

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