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How to write scenes in fiction

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 13 May 2015, 11:06

Fig.1. My goal. To write scenes as fluidly as changing gear.

Goal: What does my central character want from this scene?

Conflict. Who is the conflict with?

Disaster. What is the disaster for this scene?

Fig.2. Common scene writing errors. From Bickman.  

I have characters, locations, events and situations in my head. For some characters the story runs for fifty years, most intense age 6 to 21. Armed with this editor's tool I can ruthless delete, rewrite or come up with fresh scenes that meet the above criteria. It fits the pattern I want in my head of a story with momentum - that could be made into a linear drama for TV or film. I particularly recognise the need to ask repeatedly 'what is the disaster?' to conclude a scene. I related to this from a career in writing persuasive copy and videos where you repeatedly ask, then ask again 'what is the problem?" The first answer is usually weak, though compelling ... more likely the ninth or tenth idea will fit the brief.

 Fig.3. Elements of Fiction Writing

I continue to read, note and try ideas from Jack M. Bickham's book 'Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure.' I continue with the Open University course on FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction', as well as content on Open Learn of the same title.   

I also contribute to a LinkedIn group and Facebook pages on 'Start Writing Fiction' while writing in my own blog 'Start Writing Fiction.'

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23 ways to a FutureLearn fix

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 08:56

The courses I've done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds 
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham 
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton 

Those I'm on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre
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Diaryland and the writer's itch

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 Feb 2015, 08:29

1,783,027 words, 1,879 entries over 5,091 pages if printed off. 

This how I left my first blog.

It barely scratches the surface of the memories a brain can recreate. I tried. I have in there repeated efforts to recall the very first things I could ever feasibly have formed as viable memories: or were they words and images put into my head by my mother much later? I also noticed that in the comments I have two years of conversations with the now published author Catherine Valente and, would that I could verify it, a short exchange with Norman Mailer. 

This diary is on 'Diaryland;' started in September 1999, finally ended in March 2006. It feels like landfill: there's so much stuff in there rotting away. Though it doesn't, it's digital. Closed because while I don't give a monkey's about writing on everything I have done, thought about or think where people can be identified it does cause embarrassment and pain. It took me a few years to realise that if I was receiving 200+ views an hour some of these people might know me. No one I knew ever, ever said they were there. Not for a long time. Perhaps they knew I'd close it down if they let on? I tried to obscure names and locations but that just got very confusing. I held a mirror along the Pennines and set everything that had taken place in Northumberland in Cumbria and vice versa. For people's names I tried initials, but 'JV,' for me is a give away, so I cleverly decided to change names by one letter in the alphabet, so 'JV' would become 'KW' and I'd give him the name 'Ken,' for example. I knew a lot of Sallys and Sarahs who all become 'Tamsin' or 'Tabatha' which threw my head into immediately constructing different personas for them. Ken and Tabatha sounds like the relationship between a Barbie doll and a Sacha doll.

There were a lot of 'Js' too for both boys and girls from the 1970s and there is a limited choice of 'Ks' to go with.

Only a few years later bumping into old friends from home and school have they said they knew all about 'X', and 'Y' or looked at the drawings I did of 'K' and the photo of 'T.' The greatest shock was getting into a conversation with my 'petite amie' from my school French Exchange when I was 17 - 33 years after we'd last seen each other. I'd posted a teen sketch I did of her and wrote up in detail how we behaved.

It is of greater value to me not 'cleaned up,' so I keep it closed though once again I'm drawing upon it constantly as it contains a substantial part of a diary I kept from the age of 13 to 28 and a great deal of stories that I wrote drawing on some of those experiences. These are finding life once again thanks to the OU's FutureLearn course 'Start Writing Fiction' and, once again, a close writer/editor relationship that has formed. It is, should I ever get published, a sound example of the value of keeping a 'notebook' as that diary, even as I conceived it age 13 is/was a 'writer's journal'.

What I find touching, then and again today, is that supportive friendships form with fellow writers or readers or editors that is enormously encouraging and guiding; people want my words. I feel like a kind of stand up comic on stage who carries his audience some of the time, then gets hit from time to time by a soft  'carrot' or a bendy 'stick' and subsequently re-adjusts his 'voice' to the one they want to hear. 

Marking five years since I started my OU degree and this blog almost coincided with a logical, deserving step into the legitimate world of e-learning as I completed an 'in-tray' exercise ahead of a second interview. As I prepared to mark this 'Five Years' (a totemic time period for any David Bowie fan) I thought I could be announcing this literal step onto a 'platform'. Though I also had in mind my response to it not happening:

  • no more job applications
  • no more OU courses
  • back to writing with a renewed vengeance and determination. (I feel the Start Writing Fiction course on FutureLearn has refuelled me. I've been a petrol engine trying to run on diesel all y life and they fixed that)
  • once again give a substantial body of unpublished work (manuscripts for novels, screenplays, TV series, radio plays) their chance. (I have made and found the time and was for a couple of years indulged by an agent and producers enough to get interviews to discuss treatments and first scenes. On reflection I was a chef who appeared to promise something delicious but kept serving the thing up either cold or over spiced. SWF has been like a short course in Cordon Blue cookery; I may not be there yet, but at least what I'm now producing is edible).
  • and commit to a two month sailing trip later in the year: the Atlantic via the Canaries and Cape Verde to Bermuda.
  • Meanwhile I have picked out one manuscript, something I dated March 2006 when I boxed it away, that runs to around 100,000 words and 42 chapters. I am revisiting, rewriting and posting this in little bits. It'll take at least six months working 14 hours+ a day.
  • eight hours a week 'work' fails to keep the wolf from the door. I could do with at least 20. 

On verra.

This OU Student Blog, a good deal of it already migrated into a WordPress blog, is coming to its natural conclusion. Five years is long enough. Until I study here again.

Elsewhere at:

www.mymindbursts.com

Writing fiction at:

www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com = password protected

Diaryland at:

www.jonathan.diaryland.com = password protected

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Definitely 'yes'

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From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Quote from John Gardener

My writing tutor Susannah Waters quoted Gardener during a one to one on plotting last week; 'the vivid and continuous dream' is what she described as my job as an author. That evening she read out the 3,000 words I'd written that form a lynchpin scene in the novel I want to write. 

I would have welcomed the support and pointers three decades ago. That was then; this is now.

Even half an hour spent here is a half hour lost? Or a jinks?

We'll see.

Part of the 'definitely yes' for me was recognition that a) the isolation and TLC of a retreat works and b) having someone to deliver words to every few days is crucial - writing for an audience makes you concentrate, as does preparing and giving a presentation, or reading out an essay in a tutorial. 

 

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On writing fiction

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015, 10:44
From Writing

Fig. 1 The Writers' Retreat, Sheepwash, Devon

have filed away somewhere all my writing efforts that begins with 'Adam & Evie' - a kind of Blue Lagoon in space that I wrote when I was 13. Since then, forty years ago, I have filled a garage, or at least a corner of one. Much of my effort is on Amstrad floppy discs, ZIP drives, CDs and harddrives. Some is printed off. Some are TV series and screenplays. You haven't heard about me because it is all rubbish: around a fireplace I could tell you the story, even illustrate it with photos from my research, but until this week I could not get from my head to yours the story I wanted to tell.

This all changed this week. Though I fell short of the goal of four, 2,500 scenes written I delivered one 3,000 word scene, developed several others, sketched out seven or so more and worked on the story arc. Last night three writers read from their work: an author whose third book comes out this week, my tutor who has two books published and two in the wings - and me. It worked. I had their attention, it gripped and scared them more than I could imagine and there was half an hour of discussion about the place and events.

Crucial to me is understanding the concept of a 'scene' and its needs in terms of writing, what my tutor Susannah Waters describes as a 'palette of senses.'

A new year, an new age (I turned 53 an hour ago) and a new opportunity to 'get stuff out' On verra.

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The importance of agony in storytelling

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 23 Sep 2013, 14:56

Fig. 1. Betthany Hughes - The ideas that make us. BBC Radio 4.

The volume of 'educational' content I gather from BBC Radio 4 is remarkable - there is so much of it. Much of it recalled here over the last three years.

Here is a 15 minutes piece that might make you the fiction writer you have always wanted to be.

She derives the word from ancient Greek and its use in Himer's Illiad then interviews an eloquent Aussie Cricket commentator during the Ashes and the author Kate Mosse at her publisher's. 

Agony helps us to empathise with another's struggle.

'Struggle, in the form of philosophy of ideas, is at the heart of a good novel', says Kate Mosse, 'otherwise there is no story to tell'. 

Jeopardy and contest is central to what makes us human. 

And when it comes to the effort of writing:

'Try again, fail again, never mind, fail better', said Sam Beckett.

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John Steinbeck on writing

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http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/05/it-has-never-got-easier.html
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A little learning. Evelyn Waugh (1964)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 29 Aug 2011, 07:03

HOLIDAY READING

photo%252520%2525288%252529.JPG

A little learning. Evelyn Waugh (1964)

Not an e-book, but as soon as I wanted to take notes or share sentences I wish it had been.

(His less famous, though more successful popular novelist brother Alec Waugh writes a far more enjoyable satire of school-days at Shrewsbury 'The Loom of Youth'. If I wrote about Sedbergh in the 1970s it wouldn't be satire, it would be an act of war - my only revolution was to leave before Sixth Form at which time the bullied would have had to become the bully).

I bookmark by folding over the corners.

Although the pages were falling out I didn't highlight or annotate the pages, though I could have pulled the pages out.

I make three notes:

Knox was known to open and oppose the same motion. The point he makes though is that 'audiences greed for originality is the extraordinary distaste for the obvious.

NOTE REGARDING MOBILE LEARNING

(All would be downloaded as eBooks where they available. They go to the Kindle so that I can read or listen to the book on one device while taking notes onto the iPad. Is this when reading becomes a learning activity? When you take notes? Or simply when you annotate or highlight the text itself ... if you dare do this to a printed book. Anyone shared highlights or notes they have made while or having read a common book? Like an asynchronous book club of the airwaves I guess).

'You learn, in approaching any subject, to search at once for the point that is new, original, eccentric, not for the plain truth.' (Waugh, 1964: 129)

And a note left by a previous reader (my mother, who sent me this book a couple of weeks ago) that reads 'pity'.

Against Waugh's line 'I abandoned my diary on the day I left school and have no source for the following years except inexact memory.'

I didn't. 36 years later and several million words I wonder what I got myself trapped into.

Some keep saying they want me to stop blogging for a couple of years 'to finish the book'. I have plenty to say on that too, though Steven Pressfield has the definitive response, 'resistance'. I say 'anything but,' I will fill my life with 'anything but' that three-five hours a day of effort in front of a keypad or notepad.

Is memory exact?

My diary is an aide memoire, an impression of the moment that changes all the time.

REFERENCE

Waugh, A.E. (1964) A little learning.

I cannot see the value in hereditary he gives to the first chapter, in predetermining the way some turns out, physiologically or psychologically, surely upbringing has more to do with it? He also concentrates on the male professional line. Rather selective? And from our point of view ignorant and sexist?

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My Mind Bursts

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 29 Aug 2011, 08:22

It is 10 years since I last registered a domain name.

Here I am

My Mind Bursts

It's the mirror of all that goes on here +

A good deal or reading and writing (fiction)

And in time a good deal more

Like my favourite blog entries of the last 12 years.

& Digital Marketing

 

 

 

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Reflection on IT skills

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 29 Aug 2011, 08:04

There are several software packages I need to familiarise myself with.

This is the consequence of being a freelance, a one man band. If I cannot communicate the way I would wish without a better knowledge of various tools, then I must grasp the IT nettle.

I'm learning Outlook by using it

A 1000 member swimming club, its swimmers, parents, committee, teaching and coaching staff is my material. As I coach or teach five days a week there are a myriad opportunities to create groups, build profiles and get in touch to make things happen.

I prefer Filemakerpro over Excel, but need both.

Having someone who can make Excel sing I've decided to catch up on my knowledge of Filemaker Pro, after all, I can merge all Excel files in Filemaker then build templates from there. It is this ability to build a multitude of bespoke templates that appeals to me, it gives me as many ways as I want and can imagine into the information I store there.

This I will use for the swimming club, performance records of swimmers, tracking coaches too ... and collating data for the club's Swim21 submissions. I trust it will also become part of my e-portfolio for the OU, even a way, yet again, to tackle 90,000 word long fiction.

Let alone a place to gather client and project details.

On verra.

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Learning new software tools

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 8 Oct 2011, 14:56

I wonder if I'm weary of learning to use yet another software tool? Those that intuitively add to what I know already are easy, whereas new platforms are not.

A Mac user since the days of the 'Classic' I find common tools such as Outlook quite foreign, plenty of functionality, but very mathematical, boxy and dry. I need to use it to tie in with the work I do with a swimming club.

I'm not even great with Excel having only used it for basic accounts. When it comes to creating and managing a database I have always used FileMaker Pro - I prefer the flexibility of layouts as I like to have bespoke pages depending on what information is being collated.

Any tips on merging contact data from Excell to Outlook would be appreciated.

Meanwhile I'm beginning to use Google Docs and Compendium, but rather than 'playing' I need a specific task to undertake that will require their use. Anyone have some suggestions?

  • Share the writing of a short story?
  • Collaborate on an article related to e-learning?
  • Design a piece of e-Learning on spec?

(I actually would like some collaborators to consider how to share some of the work of a soon to be 85 Oxford Don. Politics, Philosophy and since retiring 'Leadership')

 

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