The year may be almost over but there’s a whole lot of #WriteCBC still to come … Sharpen your pencils and prepare to settle down to November’s exciting writing task, with the bestselling crime author Caz Frear.
Caz started writing her debut novel, Sweet Little Lies, on one of our London-based novel-writing courses, taught by the fabulous Erin Kelly, before going on to win a publishing deal with Bonnier Zaffre as first prize in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. Her second novel, Stone Cold Heart came out earlier this year – and she’s now working on the final chapters of the third novel starring her very likeable series detective DC Cat Kinsella, due out next year. We can’t wait!
Caz has long taken an interest in #WriteCBC – and last December, she generously donated a place on one of our six-week courses as an extra prize in our Christmas special edition. We are delighted to welcome her this month as our special guest.
Now, 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.
So – eyes down, everyone:
Caz’s Writing Tip
When writing fear, try to find a fresh way to express it. Strive to avoid clichés like thumping hearts and weak knees. And remember, less can be more: Shouty prose and multiple “!!!” don’t make the reader feel it more. Show us something different
This is writing advice that makes really good sense but is surprisingly hard to act on. I think we can all agree that there are plenty of well-worn phrases, ideas and metaphors that we encounter when characters are frightened in novels.
We’ve all read – and many of us have also written – about pounding hearts, dry mouths, a sudden chill, uncontrollable shaking. Fear might be shown as a mouse running up and down our spines; it could be grabbing us in a vice-like grip, or echoing in our ears, etc. And it’s understandable that we should reach for these stock expressions and images as writers because they give us a kind of easy shorthand into emotions that are familiar to all of us, and which can then be quickly communicated to the reader. But, as readers, isn’t it that bit more enthralling, suspenseful, memorable – even shocking – when a writer can shed new light on this most familiar of emotions?
When your character is scared, focus not just on the generic idea of fear – but on the very particular experiences of your individual character. You’re showing us what they’re afraid of in the now – but you might want to consider whether it also resonates with their past. Does the shadowy figure at the door immediately make your character think of a similar figure from their childhood, at a time when things turned out badly? Or are they perhaps overwhelmed by a sensory reaction when afraid? – for instance, a woman crouching in an airless utility room to hide from someone could be gradually sickened by the claustrophobic odours of rotting wood and old, wet washing, getting stronger and stronger.
Try to use specific details to suggest heightened emotion and danger: perhaps that same crouching, hiding woman is staring fixedly at a large stain on the wall – a stain which she starts to think is shaped like a face in profile – a man’s face with a tall hat and a crooked smile – and the stain is a nasty rusty brown. Use small details and unusual perspectives to make your scenes work harder
As Caz says, there are times when it’s better to pull back on the ‘shouty’ prose when you’re writing big, unruly emotions. Saying something three different ways doesn’t mean you’re saying it more effectively.
And if you use up your whole word-arsenal in describing how scared your character is in your early chapters, you may be leaving yourself with nowhere else to go, emotionally, as your novel builds to its climax.
Don’t worry too much in the first draft though – this is exactly the sort of job to pay close attention to when you’re editing and rewriting – and weed out most of your exclamation marks and italics at the same time.
Caz’s writing task:
Your opening line: “She was just standing there”. Your mini-scene must feature fear, in an arresting way, without cliché. Hint: Think about your character’s experience, memories, surroundings, senses. Show us fear that is individuated but recognisable.
So now it’s time to go for it. Start with that line and lead on into your own mini-scene which puts fear at centre-stage. But remember that it’s not all about shouting loudly, and that subtlety can make a scene all the scarier. You might want to try writing it longer to start with and then trim it back – distil its essence in tweet form. We’ll be looking for a sense of story, character and atmosphere as well as for the most striking and memorable renditions of fear.
This month’s #WriteCBC winner is Rachael Chalmers (@Rachael_E_C)!
She was just standing there, I stared into her eyes. It was like stepping into an old photo. The cobbles under my feet became the gravel of the playground, the lipstick slash on her mouth was my blood. I remembered the shock of her fist and swallowed a shuddery breath. I wasn’t a child anymore.
Rachael’s mini-scene is a powerful one, the transformation of cobbles into playground gravel and then the more sinister lipstick becoming blood builds tension and fear. These mini flashes of the past tell us all we need to know about the power dynamic between the two characters.
Well done Rachael! You’ve won a free place on the 6-week online creative writing course of your choice!
Congrats to this month’s #WriteCBC runners-up Diana Paulding @djpaulding and Josephine Oniyama @thisisjosephine. You both win a £50 course discount to be used on the 6-week course of your choice.
For more writing advice and prompts take a look at our six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.