STIRRING THE PLOT – How to Build Tension in Your Stories

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As writers our primary aim is to keep our readers turning pages, engaged with our stories. Yes, we’re really quite wicked. We like to keep our readers up all night. We also like to make them cry. And laugh too if we can. We want our readers to feel something, to be moved by our stories. And maybe, just maybe, to be changed a little, for the better.

But in order to do that, first we have to get them to finish our story. So we need to have narrative drive, suspense. Forward motion.

We do this in a number of ways.

SET UP QUESTIONS

We set up questions at the start of our story – that’s our hook. Depending on whether you’re writing a novel or a story those questions will be big – Will Tracy survive the volcanic explosion? Or small – Will Bill make peace with his father? Actually, maybe all story questions need to be big – Ben making peace with his father is enough for a novel – probably more than Tracy and her volcano. And of course, if we put the two together…?

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CREATE A CRUCIBLE SITUATION

That’s the true secret of creating tension in your writing. It’s what Sol Stein calls “The Crucible Situation”. A crucible, apart from being a great play about witches, is an old fashioned term for a cooking pot. In modern terms we’d call it a pressure cooker.

What it means is that you put your story and characters under pressure. Put them in a situation they cannot easily escape from.

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Enemies are trapped in a lift together. Ex-lovers are forced to work together on an important work project with the boss watching on. Estranged siblings are forced to organise a 90th birthday for their mother together. Or a couple break up then are stuck together quarantined on a cruise ship. A bomb has been put under the building where warring families have come together to hear a will being read.

THROW IN A TICKING BOMB

The ticking time bomb works a treat. Not only can you throw in a crucible situation but also a time limit. Like Cinderella only having until midnight before she loses all her finery. Like that volcano about to explode. Like that tsunami wave dragging far, far out just before it crashes in. Like a lover about to leave forever on a plane (hence all the rom coms that have one party running through an airport at the end)

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Let’s just say your story idea is about Ben whose father was a mean and violent alcoholic in Ben’s childhood but has now reformed and is trying to make amends. Yes, lots of story material there.

We’ve got our hook question – Will Bill make peace with his father?

Let’s add a crucible situation – Let’s say Bill has a sister and it’s her wedding. She’s forgiven their father and has asked Ben to play nice for her wedding. Ben is stuck with his old man for a whole day and night. They can’t escape each other. Plus, there’s alcohol.

And a time bomb – Ben’s dad has cancer, a bad one. He’s been told he only has a few months to live. Now the pressure on Ben to make peace is urgent.

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That should keep your reader turning pages.

Hope those ideas help. Use them on a story you’ve already got that may be lacking oomph. Add a crucible situation and a time bomb and watch them blossom.

Let me know how you go.

Write up a storm!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx

 

WRITING PROMPTS FOR QUARANTINE!

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Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, in these crazy days of limited movement and social interaction, we still have a great power that no one can take away from us – our imaginations!

Yes! Through our imaginations we can still wander, all over the world if we like. We can create miracles, climb mountains, swim to the bottom of the deepest oceans and all without expensive equipment.

All we need is a little time and the ability to daydream. Never has dreaming and imagining been so important. We need to envision a new peaceful and positive way forward for our world, so that all this grief and loss brings good and long-lasting healing to our beautiful planet and all her people and animals.

So here are a few prompts to help get you started on using your imagination and letting it take you to places you may never have been before.

Your Favourite Place in Nature

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We may not be able to get out much these days but in our minds, we can still travel to our favourite places.

Close your eyes, focus on your breathing and take yourself to your special place, your favourite swimming hole or beach or forest or dessert or field of poppies.

Use your five senses.

What colours and shapes can you see? What is the quality of the light? When you look up what do you see? Look down. Look all the way around, stretch the working of your mind’s eye.

What can you hear? Is there the trickle of water, or the wash of waves against the shore? Are leaves rustling in the breeze? Can you hear birds singing, animals foraging in the undergrowth? Maybe you hear voices? You can have companions on these mind journeys too.

What can you smell? Is the air salty, or sweet and musty from the lush undergrowth of the forest? Maybe you smell pine trees, or the fresh sweetness of mountain water.

What do you feel? Is the sun warm on your back? The breeze soft on your face? The earth deep and yielding under your feet? Sand gritty between your toes? Water fresh and tingling on your skin.

What can you taste? How does the air taste in your mouth? Take a mouthful of that mountain stream, taste the sweetness of the water.

And how does it all feel in your heart? How does being in this special place make you feel emotionally?

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Once you have envisioned it all and dwelt there awhile in your imagination then get writing and fill in all those specific sensory details to bring your special place to life so that anyone reading your piece will feel as if they have been there with you.

All the Good that Will Come from This

 This is a wonderful exercise to do whenever you feel yourself stuck in a difficult situation, as we all are right now. Use your imagination to see a positive and powerful new future for us all. Even in the midst of all the tragedy now unfolding in many places, there is still good. There is still hope.0f8acd5ce0202400b9c03a0dc86b808f

Close your eyes again and envision all the potential for healing and the creation of new and better ways of being which can come from this enforced pause of human activity.

For me the ozone layer healing is a great and wonderful positive that I hope we’ll find a way to maintain. Plus we’re all getting a chance to slow down and pull back from some of the many hectic activities that usually fill our days. This situation has certainly brought into focus what’s most important to us. What we value most. And for many of us, it’s our people, our family and friends. Spending more time with family is also, in most cases a lovely plus to come from all of this. On my daily walks I’m seeing more and more people out enjoying nature now the gyms have closed. Another positive. People are pursuing more creative arts, learning new skills, learning to meditate or do yoga, playing musical instruments that have been collecting dust for years. Gardening. All these small things as well as big things like ceasefires, and fresh air and blue skies over cities that haven’t seen a blue sky in decades. All these and so many more.

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Write a list of at least 10 good things that can come from this. If you’d like to you could develop this into a short story about a utopian future, a future where we create a new world where resources are shared, greed is no more, and all the world lives in peace and harmony with each other and with nature.

 

Write Yourself Friends

 For many people this is a very lonely time. Especially for those who live alone. It’s at times like this we really need our friends and hugs.images

You can write a letter to a real-life friend, telling them all the things you value about them and remembering some good times that you shared. Post it the old-fashioned way and give them a treat in the mailbox.

 

Or you can imagine a whole new friend for yourself, a best friend, a lover even.

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What do they look like? What kind of clothes do they wear? Why do you like them? What do they do for work? What makes them so special to you? Flesh them out like you would a character, fill in all those little details, star sign, sense of humour. Create the perfect online profile of someone you’d just love to meet.

Then imagine meeting them, hanging out and doing something fun.

Write the story of that first meeting, that buzz of electricity when you meet someone you click with. Whether it’s platonic or romantic, there’s still a rare thrill that comes from meeting a kindred spirit.

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So write away. Get them to tell you what they like about you too.

And remember, you can write yourself as many hugs as you need!

What have you been writing during this strange time? Have you been able to write?

Your imagination is a powerful tool. As writers we know how to use it – now wield your power for good.

Write up a storm and keep smiling. Let me know how you go with the writing prompts!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

THE IMPORTANCE OF GROUNDING YOUR READER

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What does it mean to ground your reader?

It means you should give your reader enough clues at the start of a story or scene so that they can imagine the setting and protagonist.

Many of my students start straight into the action of their stories, leaving such things as the name, sex and age of the protagonist and where the action is taking place, a mystery. They say they like to reveal these things as the story goes on.

However, while this may work in film when the audience can see a character and setting in action, readers of prose are left scrambling in a dark void, trying to find something, anything, to base their experience of the story upon.

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The writer has a clear image of the scene in her mind. The writer knows where and when and who, but the reader can’t find a way into the story unless the writer shares some of this knowledge.

You can still keep many aspects of your story mysterious, but please, let the reader in on the essentials.

Where are we? When?

Who are we with? Name them.

What’s going on?

Why – you can let that unfold more slowly.

For instance, instead of

She rolled over.

“Get up!” a strange voice said.

She got up and ran as fast as she could in the other direction.

By just filling in a few important details you could have:

Rosemary rolled over in a pile of leaves, deep in the forest. She had no idea how she’d got there, but she recognised the forest as the place her grandmother took her to collect mushrooms in Autumn.

“Get up!” a strange man’s voice said from behind her.

Rosemary bolted upright and leapt to her feet, running as fast as she could away from the voice, along the secret paths her grandmother had shown her.

The mystery of how and why Rosemary has found herself in the forest, and who the stranger is, are still intact. But in the second example the reader can envisage the scene. Not only that, we have an idea how old she is, younger rather than older, and we are more likely to care about her because she has a relationship with her grandmother.

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Because all readings are subjective, with the reader imposing her own world view on the story world the author created, the forest may not be exactly the same as the writer envisaged, but the reader has somewhere to place the action, a protagonist to relate to, and is much more likely to keep on reading.

It only takes a line or two to fill in those important specific details to give the reader enough clues to enter your story world at the beginning of your story.

You’ll need to do the same work of grounding when you start a new scene as well. This can be as simple as, Three long years later… Or … Back at the busy cafe Fred stood in the line for coffee.
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It only takes a few telling details to set up your story world and protagonist in time and place so your reader isn’t left flailing in the dark, struggling to find a way in.

 

Yes it’s a writers job to keep secrets from the reader and reveal them slowly to keep the reader hooked, but some things, like who the protagonist is and where the story is set, are essential to establish right at the start so that the reader can even begin to enter your story world.

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Hope that helps!

Take care and keep smiling. Remember writers need never be bored stuck at home, there’s always more stories to write.

Now get writing 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina xx

 

 

 

PATHWAYS TO BECOMING A WRITER

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All roads may lead to Evans Head but there are lots of different paths to becoming a writer.

This is an old photo of my dear writing friend Helena Pastorand I at one of our first ever writing retreats at Evans Head. The sign doesn’t even exist any more! How young and enthusiastic we were then, only a few years into our writing journey.

Now, more than 14 years later, we’ve both had books published but we’re still not much closer to our dreams of international best selling success. Oh well.

Writing isn’t a career to embark on if you’re being sensible. It’s a calling – much like being a nun or a doctor or a missionary.  A wise writer once told me, “Writing may not make you rich but it will enrich your life immeasurably.”

Yes, there are days I’m bitter about all the unpublished manuscripts piling up on my computer still looking for the right publisher. But most to the time I’m extremely grateful for all the joys and adventures this writing life has brought me.af31a1047c84b539f45120607c9d6048--feminist-quotes-vintage-photography

It’s been a wild ride that’s for sure. With the highs of finally launching Thrill Seekers, a very long four years after signing a contract with my UK publishers, Ransom, and then the miraculous short listing for the NSW Premier’s Award. I had to pinch myself.

But then came all the years with equally valuable manuscripts being unable to find a good home. Not for want of trying. The rejections that still come even after almost two decades of writing and honing my craft.

Still, those years have been invaluable – I’ve learnt so much about writing and the business of publishing that I would never have known had my path been smoother.

Who knows where I would have ended up?

I may never have edited Bjelke Blues and met all the wonderful contributors, or developed my special workshops and retreats.

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Recently on CHOP CHAT COOK I spoke with my friend Joanne Tindale about all the ups and downs of my writing life and how you too can build your career as a writer.

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Check out the video and let me know what you think.

How is your writing career going?

Are you building a writing CV and still making ends meet?

This enforced period of isolation is a wonderful time to get stuck into your writing projects. So dust them off and write like a fury! Then SUBMIT!

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Lots of love,

Edwina xx

FREE STORIES FOR EASTER!

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HAPPY EASTER HOLIDAYS EVERYONE! Even though it’s the strangest and most isolated Easter we’ll ever have (hopefully) I hope you’re still getting time to connect with loved ones, rest and renew.

Here’s my little Easter gift to you – a couple of stories, free to read 🙂

Recently I had a flash fiction story published online at Flash Fiction Magazine.

I called it “Possum Magic“. It’s about those long dark hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night and the special connection we sometimes have with animals, from the point of view of a heavily pregnant woman. I hope you like it. You can read it here.

This next story was published last year by Four Way REVIEW in New York (yes super exciting!) Thinking of New York and all of America as they endure some very dark days. Sending love and hope with this story of a little girl on a cane farm finding a magical way through grief.  Read, or listen to me reading, “Something No One Else Can See” here.

You can submit your own stories to both sites as well.

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And you thought Santa was scary! That Easter Bunny scares the pants off me!!

I hope you enjoy the stories. Let me know what you think.

Take care and keep smiling.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

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EASY TECHNIQUES TO HELP YOU RELEASE STRESS AND FEEL BETTER!

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Recently I did a series of videos with my friend Joanne Tindale. This episode is all about RELAXATION TECHNIQUES. On that steaming hot day in January we had no idea of the bizarre world we’d all find ourselves in now.

As stress levels rise and fear and anxiety reach new heights, these easy ways to help soothe and calm yourself are more valuable than ever. These simple techniques I’ve picked up from yoga and a variety of healing modalities will help you release some of that tension and feel better.

Watch this quick video presentation and do the exercises along with Joanne and I,  and  you’ll be feeling much more relaxed in just minutes.

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Take some deep breaths and trust that all of this madness is in fact a deeply healing time for our world. The planet is getting to breathe deeper and we humans are getting a chance to reset our priorities and slow down.

I reckon it’s like the Earth Mother has put us all in the naughty corner for a while to, “Just have a think about our behaviour!”

I recently watched this uplifting Youtube interview with Aboriginal elder Sri Devi Mulharra and  was very happy to learn that all my freaky daily routines like grounding and tree hugging have an ancient source. I hope you’ll find it soothing to your spirit too.

Take good care of yourself and keep smiling. The world is still a beautiful place.

We’re all in this together. We always were.

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KEEP CALM AND DO HUMMING BREATH – 5 EASY WAYS to BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY

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Well 2020 is certainly having her way with us. As writers, lockdown sounds pretty heavenly actually. What? We have to stay home and write? Okay… if we really have to.

However, COVID 19 is real and we have to do our best to protect ourselves and our loved ones and communities. The best way to do this is to stay healthy ourselves!

So here are my 5 EASY WAYS to do just that.

  1. Humming Breath – this is a simple yogic breath that stimulates your immune system, calms your mind and lowers stress levels. Yes! All that. Humming stimulates the Vagus Nerve

You can read all about the importance of keeping this important nerve healthy and toned in my article for UPLIFT Connect.

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To do humming breath all you have to do is to sit comfortably and breathe in as normal then as you breathe out – HUM! That’s it. Breathe in and hum out. Breathe in and hum out. You can vary the tone from low to high, or stay in one tone where it feels comfortable. As you’re humming feel the vibrations the hum makes in the centre of your chest, at the base of your throat and at your third eye. Do this for at least 5 minutes, then just sit for a while afterwards, noticing the echoes of the vibrations in those three places.

Here’s a video to show you how it’s done.

If that’s too way out for you, just sing 🙂  It has the same affect.

  1. Go outside! Here in Brisbane we’re still only practising social distancing so it’s safe to go out for a walk in nature (just keep away from other people). Even if you’re in total lockdown step out onto your balcony, or sit next to a window where the sun pours in. Get that sun all over you. Outside, put your bare feet on grass, hug a tree. Soak up some sunshine and turn your focus to all the small and large beauties of our precious Earth. The world is still beautiful. Get out and enjoy it, lift your spirits. Here’s a silly walking song to sing as you go. The Brady Bunch singing “Sunshine Day”.

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  1. And in the same vein – DANCE! Put on some happy music that you just can’t stay still to and get your groove on. Exercise and joy all rolled into one. Enjoying yourself isn’t forbidden. Clear the loungeroom and get dancing. For me you just can’t beat KC and the Sunshine Band for a happy dance song.

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  1. Eat well. Make yourself some chicken soup the old-fashioned way with bones.

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Eat lots of greens and zinc rich foods, eggs and cheese and nuts. Drink lots of ginger tea and hot lemon. Sit at a table and eat with people you love. Let’s use this forced isolation to reconnect with those closest to us. If you don’t live with anyone, call someone and have a chat while you’re eating.

  1. Stay positive with Affirmations.  Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life

did just that for me.

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From the depths of despair living in Sydney’s Kings Cross, this book took me to a garden filled with sweet-peas and then my first ever overseas holiday. Affirmations can work miracles in your life.

The affirmation we all need to be saying right now is this:

From this situation only good will come. It is easily resolved for the highest good and happiness of all. I am safe and all is well.

 Whenever you start feeling anxious about this whole big mess, start repeating it over and over. Thank you Louise.

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I am confident that good is on its way. Perhaps the whole world needs this huge horrible wake-up call to force us to restructure our societies so that they work for ALL of humanity, not just the rich. So that we can all work together for the healing of our planet and the protection of our most vulnerable and our animals. YES!

In other news, in light of this strange situation we all find ourselves in, I’ve had to postpone my March retreat. Magnetic Island in June (19 – 21/2020) may still go ahead, but probably not. I’ll keep you posted.

Stay healthy and strong. Keep smiling and keep writing and let me know what other ways you know about to boost immunity.

Lots of love,

Edwina xx