04 April 2019

#WriteCBC: Writing tip and writing task from Lucy Morris

Lucy Morris, literary agent
by Anna Davis Events, From the Agents, Writing Tips

Spring has sprung at CBC Towers in London – and we are celebrating with our April edition of #WriteCBC, our monthly writing competition on Twitter. This month we’re joined by the very lovely Lucy Morris – the Curtis Brown literary agent who recently negotiated a fab publishing deal with Headline for former CBC student Hazel Barkworth. Lucy is actively building her client list and is keen to see your #WriteCBC entries …

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 …

Right – let’s get on with this month’s tip and task:

Lucy’s writing tip: 

When I start reading a submission, I love seeing dialogue VERY quickly! Good dialogue brings characters vividly to life and helps you to unfold your story – and what’s NOT said can tell a story too. Read aloud to make sure it flows naturally

At CBC we couldn’t agree more! I’ve got to say, when I’m reading through the novel-openings that get sent in by people as part of their applications to join our selective creative writing courses, one of the things I look for straight away is whether there is dialogue in the 3,000 word extracts – and the quality of that dialogue. Yes, it’s of course possible not to have dialogue in the first 3,000 words of your novel – or not very much of it. But it’s very rare to encounter novels with little or no dialogue that are actually enjoyable to read. Dialogue brings the reader right into the present moment of your story. It allows the reader to get to know your characters in a very direct way – really hearing their voices.

Having your characters talk to each other can be a really effective way to get information across to the reader, to move your story along and to make things happen. And of course the subtext – the stuff that isn’t said – can be even more important than what is said, when it comes to spinning your story and bringing your characters fully to life.

As Lucy says, it’s really good to test out your dialogue by reading it aloud – or by getting someone else to read it to you so that you can hear whether it flows like real speech. What you’re aiming for is speech that sounds real, and that carries the rhythms of real speech – but it also has to be pretty different to the way we speak in real life: If friends meet for coffee in your novel, you can’t play out their conversation verbatim as though it was a real meeting – or you’d fill half a novel with just the one meeting! Also it gets pretty laborious if you put in all the ‘er’s and ‘um’s that we use when we’re really talking to each other. What we need is a kind of sleight of hand illusion of real speech …

I’ve written a blog on how to write good dialogue – check it out here. And we have a whole module on dialogue in our Write to the End of Your Novel course, starting soon.

Lucy’s writing task: 

Two characters are talking. One has something important to tell – whether truth or a lie is up to you. Show us, with JUST dialogue (don’t waste words on ‘he said/asked’ etc) who they are and what their relationship is as well as the piece of news.

So … What we’d like to see in this writing exercise is a tweet which has one character saying something of importance to another. Maybe they’re sharing a secret, perhaps they’re confessing to something – or conversely, maybe it’s a denial. It could even be an accusation!

To take a different approach, perhaps this is something emotional being shared – a romantic declaration, or news of something that’s happened which affects both characters, such as a birth or death in the family.

And the task doesn’t necessarily ask for a big dramatic revelation: The piece of news could be something absurd or funny – maybe it’s a trivial thing that one speaker is being ridiculously over-serious about … There are lots of different ways you could come at this one.

It’s asking quite a lot of you to get the news across in just a tweet’s worth of direct speech between two characters – but see what you can do. The best ones will convey what’s being talked about, who the speakers are and what their relationship to each other is. As ever in #WriteCBC, it’s all about how to convey a lot in just a few words. Don’t bother with any prose which pads out the speech – just go with the dialogue itself, and see how much you can succeed in communicating to us, your readers.

Good luck, and we look forward to reading them! As ever, there’s a free place on a £200 online course plus a couple of £50 discounts for the 6-week online courses up for grabs. Results at 11am on Friday morning …

This month’s winner is Basia Wolf  @BasiaWolf

Child, where did you get that thing?

Lola brought it to me. She’s a crow, brings me shiny things.

A crow gived this? A crow?

Yes, ma.

You know what they call a buncha crows, child? A murder of crows, a murder. Good reason for that, them things bring bad luck. Bad luck

We love the way that Basia has instantly transported us to a new place whilst clearly introducing a mother and child relationship. Basia’s use of dialect is measured and provides a real dimension to the characters. There’s a magical atmosphere throughout the conversation and a clear sense of foreboding communicated by the mother whose declaration that crows ‘bring bad luck’ ends the exchange with intriguing unanswered questions and the sense that an adventure is about to begin …

Well done, Basia – she gets a free place on a £200 online course.

And this month’s runners-up – each getting a £50 course discount – are Heather Shaw @sardonicstork and Lisa J Connelly @LisaJ_Connelly. Congratulations, both!

Brilliant fun – hope you all enjoyed it and see you next month. #WriteCBC will be back on Thursday 2nd March.

Read more from Lucy in our recent interview.

Our next Three-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Charlotte Mendelson is open for applications with one HW Fisher Scholarship place available for a talented writer of limited financial means. 

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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