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04 February 2021

#WriteCBC tip and task from Frances Quinn

Fran Quinn, author
by Jennifer Kerslake Events, Writing Tips

Welcome to our February #WriteCBC! I’m delighted that this month we have a writing tip and task from special guest Frances Quinn. Frances was as student on our six-month Writing Your Novel course in 2014 and went on to secure representation with Curtis Brown literary agent Alice Lutyens. Her debut novel The Smallest Man was published in January and is a Stylist Best New Fiction pick of 2021!

Inspired by a true story, and set against the English Civil War, The Smallest Man is the extraordinary tale of Nat Davy, who in 1625 was given as a gift to the new queen of England – ‘the queen’s dwarf’ – and became one of her closest confidants. You can read more about Frances and her story here.

To celebrate Frances’ publication, we have an exciting #WriteCBC challenge on how to create a unique voice for your character.

If you haven’t joined in #WriteCBC before, you can very quickly get up to speed – just read this blog with information about how to play. It’s lots of fun and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses (whichever one you’d like to take).

So here we go…

Frances’ writing tip:

Make readers care about a character and they’ll keep turning the pages. First person is an easy way in, because it puts the reader inside the character’s head. But your character can’t just narrate the action – you have to give them their own voice.

A strong voice is so often the key element of compelling fiction – and establishing an interesting and distinctive narrative voice in the opening lines of a story can capture the reader’s attention and ensure they read on. Just as every person in the real world has a unique personality and way of speaking, so too should your characters. And the more captivating the voice, the greater a character’s ability to carry the plot and storytelling through the book.

Read this opening paragraph from The Smallest Man and see how Frances uses Nat to engage the reader and pull them into the story.

My name is Nat Day. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? There was a time when people up and down the land knew my name, but that was long ago – and they knew only half the story. It’s been quite a life, the one I’ve had; I was there when they turned the world upside down, and I was there, right at the heart of it all, during the turbulent times that led us down the road to that day. So I got to thinking that I should write it all down, because there’s been a lot said about those times, and not all of it is right.

I love the warm, intimate tone, and the intriguing direct address – ‘Perhaps you’ve heard of me?’ With so many hints of an eventful, turbulent past, and an irresistible conspiratorial approach, it’s impossible not to want to read on!

Frances’ writing task:

Your title is ‘The Dilemma’. Using first person narration, introduce a character and show us what their predicament is. Give them a distinct voice that helps us get to know who they are and to care about them as their story unfolds in a tweet.

The best way to start is to think about who your character is (it might be the protagonist of your novel or a short story you’re working on, or a completely new character you’ve just conceived) and what dilemma or challenge they’re facing. Then give us a glimpse into their world – we’re looking for a short piece of interior monologue or a mini-scene with action dialogue that draws us into the life of the character speaking and gives us an immediate sense of their inner struggle.

These questions might help!

  • What is your character’s motivation? What do they want? What are they afraid of? Do they feel they have choices and pathways open to them? Every action and thought – to be believable – must be driven by their innate conscious and subconscious desires.
  • What is the context? Is the setting contemporary or historical? This will help to inform your character’s viewpoint.
  • Can you give us a hint of their backstory and show us how this has informed who they are? You don’t need to tell us everything but knowing their past will help you to bring them to life on the page.
  • How do they react under pressure? Remember we want to see your character face a dilemma, and maybe this impacts how rational they are. Are they calm and collected, scared or angry?
  • How much are they willing to share with the reader about their dilemma and how it came about? Are they telling the truth or keeping something back? If your mini-scene includes a snippet of dialogue – does this spoken voice echo or conflict with your character’s inner voice?
  • And how do they speak? Remember both the type of words used and how the words are used can reveal elements of a character’s personality, temperament, history, and background, as well as the emotions they’re experiencing at a particular moment in time.
    • For example, does your character use Latinate words strung together in long, complex sentences with multiple clauses? Or perhaps their speech is abrupt and composed of contractions and slang?
    • What about an accent and/or dialect?
    • Are they concise and specific or do they exaggerate and use lots of flowery metaphors?
    • Do they whisper or shout? Consider what sort of character might ‘shush’ and who might tell someone to ‘shut up’…

I hope these questions help to spark your imagination and you have fun creating a character with a unique voice and perspective on the world. I’d urge you to bring us in as close as you can and show us the inner life of your character and how they’re grappling with their dilemma – make us want to read on to find out what happens next!

This month’s winner is… Liz Wilcox-Jones @lizgwilcoxjones

I’m going to cancel. I can’t face the people, the mindless clucking and sharp glances. Not now. I sit in the virtual world talking to the tiny moving squares as I do every day and my head spins. My heart in my ears. I’m on mute. I can’t speak and I can’t ever go back.

We enjoyed the way that Liz used something current and relatable as the way into the scene. Liz also uses some really vivid imagery from the ‘mindless clucking’ to ‘the tiny moving squares’. As the scene goes on it becomes clear that our narrator is more than just tired, they are more than just frustrated. We’re left thinking about what happened to make them unable to function in this meeting

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

Well done to our runners-up! 

@NaomiFrench16 and  @LizMcClenan each win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice. 

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