For the first #WriteCBC Twitter competition of 2019, we’re excited to welcome Curtis Brown literary agent Felicity Blunt. Felicity represents our very own former student, and now bestselling author, Laura Marshall – as well as Rosmund Lupton, Renee Knight, Tammy Cohen and the Estate of Daphne du Maurier – to name but a few. You can read more about Felicity and what sorts of novels she’s currently looking for in this blog.
If this is your first #WriteCBC, and you’re not sure how it works – don’t worry, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Here’s a blog with information about how to join in and the prizes you can win. Oh, and when you post your task up on Twitter, do make sure you use the hashtag #WriteCBC and tag us @CBCreative – otherwise we might not see it …
So let’s get straight down to business … Here’s Felicity’s writing tip:
I love to be swept up in the world of a novel, made vividly real through detail and sensory experience. Never forget that the location IS a character. Whether you’re taking me to another world and time, or just around the corner, make me FEEL it
Felicity’s point is an important one. Think about the novels you’ve loved the most – and why you love them. Yes of course we think of characters – of whose journey we’re joining, the consciousness we’re entering into, the people we need to believe in and root for. And yes we think also about story – the road we’re taking with its unexpected twists and turns … But remember, also, what it’s like to find yourself utterly immersed in the world of a novel. Think of Hilary Mantel’s intricately wrought Tudor England in Wolf Hall, Susannah Clarke’s dusty libraries and fantastical Faerie realm in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – and Jane Harper’s arid, parched and struggling Australian town in The Dry – these are books where the setting becomes so real for us, conjured in our imaginations through the most skilful and evocative writing – that I, for one, find myself completely transported. I’m sure you can name many of your own, when you pause to think about it – those books where the fictional world is as compelling as any of the characters.
Felicity has said, on various occasions (including when interviewed for our Edit & Pitch Your Novel course) that it’s often the setting of a novel that really gets her sitting up and paying attention when she’s reading submissions sent in by new writers. Neglect this important aspect of novel-writing at your peril!
And so to Felicity’s writing task:
Write a mini-scene which draws me in to the setting of your novel/story – I want to know when and where we are, but also to really feel the atmosphere. The best scenes will be those which manage to do this while ALSO giving a snippet of story
This is quite a challenge – and here are some hints:
- We want to know broadly WHEN your story is happening – this is the bit that’s easy for you if your story is in the present day, because the reader’s assumption is that we’re in the present day unless told otherwise. So that’s the assumption we’ll also be making if your story is happening now in 2019. But if your story is in the past or the future, you need to find some way to convey that information to us. We don’t need to know the precise date or year (or possibly even century) – as we’re not wanting you to force calendars and dates into your tweet – but you need to give us a good sense of the time setting by showing us details that will help to convey it. You can give this with a snatch of music, a detail of clothing or style, a reference to a political event etc. Just give us a little hint to place us in broadly the right time for your story.
- We want to know roughly WHERE your story is happening – again we want you to show us as much as you can in that tweet-length scene – though, again, we’re not going to hold it against you if it isn’t entirely laid out for us – this task is actually more about atmosphere and evocative scene-setting than names of cities or of fictional countries. The ‘where’ might be a dingy classroom in an old school – or perhaps the well-kept lawn of a flower-garden.
- We want atmosphere – To take up that flower garden again, is your character lying on his back with the sun glaring down on his face? Is he perched on a damp bench, after a rain shower, staring fixedly at the worms wriggling up out of the ground – etc. Give us detail, sensory experience – use a well-turned phrase to conjure our own memories of similar scenes …
- Put a character into the scene – We’d like to be shown as much as possible here, rather than told – so put your character into the scene and see it through his/her eyes. You can show us your fictional world even as your story is already moving along.
Hope that’s all clear? You can use the setting of your work-progress, or give us something that’s entirely new to you if you like. Your choice.
Now we do know that’s a lot to pack into a tweet-length scene, so don’t worry too much if you don’t get everything in. The priority is to bring your setting alive for us, in our imagination. And that’s something you should always seek to be doing in the opening of a novel or short story.
SO people – in a Twitter stream drenched in atmosphere and the most beautifully rendered settings, we have nontheless had to single out just one winner – and this month it’s …
Winner: Susan Sinclair
The taunting flutes of the Orange Walk whistled through the cracks of her broken window. Two years and no one had come to fix it. She fingered the makeshift fix of clingfilm that she’d blow-dried onto the pane and ripped it off. The drums started beating.
We loved the fact that Susan took us to a very specific time and place – Belfast, during the Troubles – and brought it completely to life for us, in all its awfulness. We were utterly transported – and it’s moving, too – as we feel the person behind the window is as frail and tattered as that piece of clingfilm – but perhaps getting angry now … Well done, Susan – she gets a free place on a £200 online course.
And this month’s runners-up – each getting a £50 course discount – are Mark Left and Jonathan Wesson. Congratulations, both!
Brilliant fun – hope you all enjoyed it and see you next month. #WriteCBC will be back on Thursday 7th March.
For more tips to help with today’s task Felicity’s client Gytha Lodge shares her tips on how to establish the setting of your story in this new blog.
For more tips on scene-setting, atmosphere and writing strong openings, take a look at our 6-week online courses designed specifically to help you at different stages of your novel-writing journey: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel