Category Archives: Steps

Forget the writer’s sandwich

You know the writer’s sandwich: a story had to have a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, forget about it.

Here is another way: you play with the characters, the place for your story, the relationship between your characters until you have a story that holds the ground and has enough tensive quality (some call it conflict, but to me it’s too strong a word) that you know it’s going to make a great story. Let me illustrate this with the story I wrote for a film script.

I had this idea about the story of a woman who has a phobia of churches and who goes to a hypnotherapist to get cured. She is desperate to get over it because she is getting married in the summer. That was the first idea. Initially the starting scene was taking place in my house. What I mean is that I visioned the girl coming to my practice which was easy to imagine because I am a clinical hypnotherapist and this is routine work for me. So in my mind, I played with the idea for a while. This girl was a lawyer and really not the usual client for a hypnotherapist but she had been dragged in by her best friend, who swore by hypnotherapy. Great start. I thought. I still do. But as the story progressed, the venue wasn’t so right anymore, so I transported everyone to London (I live in a little village north of Bristol) because this lawyer was quite a high flying chick and that didn’t fit with my semi-rural England setting. London did. And I knew about living in London. I revised my first draft and played with the story some more.

Then, I realised that there was not enough tension in her relationship to her friend. It was too “nice”. Her best friend had quit smoking with a lady hypnotherapist, so she was dragging her best friend there. There was no potential conflict between them. No good. As I was playing with my story, I suddenly had an insight into their friendship. Her best friend was actually her Fiancé’s ex and she hadn’t really got over him. Only she was denying it so she would act out. Hey hey, I said to myself. Much better.

I am not going to reveal anymore of my plot here but you can see that I deepened my story not because of the classic writing sandwich: a middle stuck between a beginning and an end. My story got depth by me playing with the characters, the venue and the setting (modern England). I am sorry if the writer’s sandwich has worked for you up to now. And if that is the case, by all means continue to use it. But if you got stuck or if the sandwich hasn’t worked for you, try this more creative approach. Get to know your characters. See how the venue introduces a cultural element to the story that informs it. Change the venue and see how it changes the story.

to your creativity,

Ange de Lumiere

The writing journey

Writing is a journey, not a race. There is no going from A to B in a straight line. There is no short cut. And this can be frustrating for writers or even off putting if they misunderstand the nature of the writing journey. But if you realise and embrace its true nature, it becomes enjoyable. You could compare it to running. No two bodies are the same. And it takes time, commitment, discipline and small steps. If you do too much too soon you are likely to get injured. If you do too little, you won’t progress. If you don’t listen to your body, you might actually do something that will compromise your journey.

Writing is a bit the same. If you start fast and furious, you might get something on paper (and in theory there is nothing wrong with that) but you might then be faced with material that you are not happy with. Or you may get discouraged if you can’t keep it up and give up when you hit the first obstacle.

You cannot force it, yet you must have discipline and practice regularly. You must explore what others have done but ultimately do what works for you. Some like to write in the morning, some in the wee hours of the night. Some write from home. Others like to write in cafés. Some like to write by hand in big notebooks. Others prefer the computer. Not to mention that some like to write poetry, others short stories. And so on. You have to find what works for you. But again. What works for you might change and evolve over time and you need to know this so that you don’t get panicky if what has worked for you up to now, doesn’t work anymore.

And you must have the wisdom to take breaks or change your pace when your life demands it, or you will burn out. Did you know for example that it is not possible to write more than three hours a day and stay productive?

I have experienced set backs both in my running and writing journeys. They are not really set backs but things that come in the way, but they need to be embraced as part of the journey. If you approach writing like a race, however, these meanderings will frustrate you. Everything that happens in the life of a writer informs his or her writing. Life is part of the writing journey. You night have to shelve a project and start a new one. And that’s ok.

What you write needs to rest between writing sessions. You need to sleep on it. Whilst you do that and get on with your life, you continue writing in your head but from a different part of your brain: the unconscious. It’s the same as trying to resolve a problem. You do research. You gather all the pros and cons and how other people have resolved the issue. Ultimately, you are likely to find a solution whilst having your shower in the morning three days later, after when you unconscious has been mulling over it without you realising it and come up with the perfect solution.

And when you finish a piece, you might have to let it rest for weeks to gain enough perspective to get back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. This is the nature of the work.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere

Can I really make you write?

I want to share with you a story about something that happened to me this morning as I came back from doing my grocery shopping. I had on my shopping list to buy  jam but didn’t buy it from the supermarket on purpose as I wanted to buy home made jam. So I headed for a lady in my village who used to leave her jams and preserves outside her door in a little wooden hut with a honesty jar for people to pay their due. I wanted to buy jar from her but noticed the whole hut had vanished. I knocked on her door.

I asked her what happened and she explained why she had taken it away. We got chatting, as one does, and she asked me what I was up to these days. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. I told her I was now running writer’s workshops for people who want to write books.

I said to her that not all books had a lot of words in them and had she considered writing a book of her recipes for her jams. I told her it could be good for her business. She told me  that she might one day write a book before she died but not before. It was clearly not on her list of things to do. She immediately added that she hated writing with a passion. I told her I wasn’t that good myself and even had a fail as a predictive mark for my GCSEs in English (well it was in France so it was French, but you get the idea) and it was through sheer hard work that I managed to get a C. So not exactly that good at writing myself in school. But could it have had to do with the way it was taught? I didn’t particularly enjoy having to study French literature. And it wasn’t really geared towards nurturing my creative writing skills. If anything it would have stifled them.

I then went on to say that  she could write her book of recipes one recipe at a time, on sticky notes, as she was making her jams. And then all she needed to do was stick them in a notepad and wait until she had enough to make a book. I asked her how many recipes she had. She said at least a hundred. All in her head. I said, get them out even for your own sake. You could get one book printed only for you. I can help you with that. If you write one recipe per day as you make your jams, in five to six months you will have them all down on paper.

She said “Funny you should say that, just before Christmas I said to myself I would like to write down my recipes.” There you go. She left saying that she was definitely going to give it a try and she had completely forgotten how much she hated writing and how she would only write a book on her death bed. I, on the other hand, was thinking that without much effort she would have her book ready by the summer, without even realising it. And then she added “I might just do it to annoy (so and so) and show them I wrote a book”. Why not? After all, you just have to find the motivation.

This is how dangerous it is to talk to me about your vague idea about writing a book or even about the fact that you will never write a book. I know I can make almost anyone write.

My jam lady was the least likely candidate to write a book… and when I left her she smiled and said “I am going to give it a try”. So do you think “I can make you write” now?

To your creativity

Ange