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04 June 2020

#WriteCBC tip and task from Hazel Barkworth

Hazel Barkworth, Author
by Anna Davis Events, From Our Students, Writing Tips

It’s that time again – and the latest edition of our Twitter writing competition features a writing tip and task from the wonderful Hazel Barkworth, whose gorgeous debut Heatstroke was published last week by Headline Review.

If you haven’t taken part in #WriteCBC before, we’re delighted to have you join us  – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading 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.

June is the perfect month to have Hazel Barkworth as our special guest. Her first novel, Heatstroke is an intoxicating, sultry, obsessive literary thriller. It’s basically the essence of summer delivered to you in the form of a book. Very, very hot indeed! Hazel started writing it as a student on one of our three-month novel-writing courses, back in 2016 – after which she was offered representation by Curtis Brown’s Lucy Morris, and spent quite a while editing and rewriting to get her novel into the best possible shape for Lucy to send out to publishers. Now it’s out and already garnering great reviews. We wish Hazel the best of success.

But now – eyes down, writers …

Hazel’s writing tip:

Use the senses to heighten atmosphere and make scenes come to life. Sensory details add intensity and reveal so much about characters. We tend to lean heavily on the visual but remember to think also about scent, sound, taste and touch.

This is a perfect tip to come from Hazel, who is herself particularly brilliant at deploying sensory description.

Lots of writers see the task of writing descriptive passages as one of those necessary but dull chores you have to do every so often – the writerly equivalent of cleaning your windows. And sometimes this attitude can show through in their writing …

But there are lots of readers for whom beautiful writing is the most important and most memorable feature of a novel. Often it’s the exquisite phrases and the heady atmosphere they evoke that makes a reader really fall in love with a book and go on to remember it vividly years after reading it.

The five senses are very much your friends when you’re looking to bring your prose gloriously to life – and a simple piece of sensory description can help you connect with your reader’s sense memories and give them a much more intense and immediate experience of your characters, settings and the events of your story.

Here’s a short example. Take this sentence:

‘Her bulbous lip felt all wrong – alien – and she could taste the rusty blood.’

And compare it to this one:

‘Her lip had swollen up and become very numb, and her mouth was bleeding.’

The first sentence is more specific, more personal. It takes us right inside the experience of the character as well as showing us what is going on, making vivid use of the senses of touch and taste. The second sentence, in comparison, is rather flat and simply tells. And that first sentence is actually shorter than the second – using sensory description doesn’t necessarily involve adding lots of words to your work and making it longer.

One note of caution, though: Don’t use the senses mechanically, by rote. It can be offputting, as a reader, when you encounter all five senses in rapid succession on the same page …

Hazel’s writing task:

Write a mini-scene following on from this prompt that draws on sensory description to show a character’s experience and feelings, create atmosphere and give clues as to what’s happening: ‘Lou hadn’t been outside for months …

So … Write us a little tweet-length scene which kicks off from Hazel’s prompt. We want to see the senses brilliantly used to show us what’s going on in your mini-story and to heighten its atmosphere and take us right inside it.

A little hint for you: We’re not asking you to write your most flowery possible description. We want you to use specific details, closely observed. Find your focus and use one or more senses to connect with us. And do remember that we don’t need all five senses in the space of one tweet …

This month’s #WriteCBC winner is … Linda @lindcai!

Her toes pushed into the gravel, mapping out the points and edges of each stone. Her ankles buckled and Max whined. She felt his warm wet nose press into her palm and, smiling, was able to steady herself again. Though she’d lost her sight, Lou had found a true friend.

Linda’s mini-scene is wonderfully restrained. By using only a few senses very powerfully (touch and hearing), we get to know her protagonist and companion based on the tactile details provided. We can feel that gravel beneath our feet and the strong warmth of Max. Linda never overstates things, she does not tell us that Max is a guide dog – she shows us. Similarly she does not tell us that her character is blind – she shows us with specific details and then confirms this with a simple sentence at the end of the scene.

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

This month’s entries were fantastic, so we’ve decided to award four runners-up! Well done @records1black, @radfordka, @Rae_Cowie and @JayneRiceWriter. You each win a copy of Hazel’s stunning debut Heatstroke.

For a limited time we’re offering £50 off our six-week online courses with code WRITEFROMHOME50

The discount can be applied to our online Writing Short StoriesWriting a MemoirStarting to Write Your Novel,  Write to the End of Your Novel Edit & Pitch Your Novel and Picture Book courses.

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