writing prompts to scream about

BOO!

In the spirit of Halloween, I’m treating you all to five deadly writing prompts that will keep even the most bloodshot eyes reading… Have a stab at them and let me know what you think!

 

1. Write what you know…

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? Why was it so scary? Can you describe it in detail?

Sometimes, our best writing comes when we know exactly what we’re doing (whether it’s based on real life, or just because we’ve planned it.)

 

2. Characterisation…

Create your own ‘monster’… why is it a monster? What does it look like? How does it sound? Put it in different situations/settings – how does it react?

 

3. Retelling…

It is common for lots of popular books, e.g. fairytales, to be rewritten/told in a different way. Pick one of your favourite books and add a monster/scary character. What does this mean for the protagonist? How does it change the story?

 

4. Dialogue…

A great way to start writing is by using a line of dialogue. Try and continue the story from the line below.

‘Did you miss me?’ the porcelain doll said, before rolling off the shelf and splintering into a thousand pieces, blood covering the floor.

 

5. Comedy…

Not all horror is/has to be scary. Try and write a classic horror story but with humour added. What happens? How do the characters change?

 

I hope you find these ideas useful – and if you have any yourself, I’d love to hear them!

love sophie

reader, i finished it.

Reader, I finished it.

The pen has been dropped, the printer is out of ink, and I don’t think my hands would let me type another word if I tried.

I’m back in Bath after handing it all in, and it feels surreal.

I stayed with Nina, a friend I met at uni, and we celebrated by dancing to ABBA, drinking prosecco, and making vegan cookies. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I drove to Corsham Court to hand it into the uni drop box, making sure it was presented in pristine condition and that I’d filled out the correct course and the right details (knowing my luck I’d have put the wrong module number, or student reference).

I’d been in touch with some of my classmates and we all ended up meeting for a picnic before the ceremonial photo in front of the building and dropping our manuscripts off before heading to the pub! I don’t think I felt like I was sending my baby out into the real world.

It wasn’t perfect, and in places it was very rough, but it was a first draft novel. And what’s important, is I had finished it.

I’m heading back home to bask in my success before the job hunt and adult life seriously begins. That’s the bit I’m dreading most.

But I’m one chuffed writer. After the last few months of struggling to write paragraphs, I’m so pleased I managed to complete my manuscript and hand it in with my peers.

Now to celebrate properly back home in Leeds!

(And no, you can’t read it yet. I’ll let you know when it’s ready for eager eyes, don’t worry.)

love sophie

the power of grief: writing and living through it

Sometimes, there really are no words.

Sadly, my Grandma passed away last month so the pens have been dropped, my plans have been cancelled, and I headed home from Belgium to be with my family.

What I didn’t even think about at the time was the effect it would have on my writing ability. With little under two months to go until I have to be ready to hand in my manuscript, I wasn’t prepared for a complete lull in my writing.

But, the show must go on.

Change is something we all have to adapt to, and this was something I knew had potential to happen as she had been ill for a long time, but still wasn’t fully expecting. And finding my way back to my creative mindset was really tricky.

Initially, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t write, I didn’t make plans, I didn’t leave the house that much. I wasn’t depressed, and it wasn’t an active choice, I think I was just confused and my way of dealing with it was to shut away from the world for a while whilst I tried to process the massive change. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A few weeks passed and my lack of writing started to niggle at the back of my mind. I started to meet up with friends who were around, tried to keep myself occupied and busy with other projects, and ultimately hoped that after a creative break the juices would start flowing again. They didn’t.

One of the most frustrating things as a writer is being unable to write. Whether you’re at your writing desk, sat on a bus, or scribbling on a napkin in a cafe, it can be blooming difficult. The glossy life of a writer, the one people imagine (lots of tea and cake in coffee shops, and lots of long chapters written in short hours) is totally false – unless you’re a writing god. So, when you can’t write, it’s often hard for people to understand why.

With my deadline looming, and my manuscript tutor worrying about my word counts, I had no choice but to get back to the basics, pen and paper, and write.

Firstly, I wrote about mundane things, like what the tree looked like from my bedroom window, or what I had done the previous day. Then, as this opened my head back up to writing, I began thinking of how my characters would act in the same situation. Would they sit on their grief? Would they showcase it in anger? Would they cry? Writing with pen and paper was more fluid and I enjoyed just being able to keep the pen moving, even if what I was writing wouldn’t be going anywhere because it was pants.

These things helped me work the niggle out, and got me back on track. It wasn’t easy – I’d often manage a whole paragraph over two or three hours – but I knew that it was working, so tried to stick at it. Some days, it was soul destroying, and I just wanted to give up. I’d try writing at home, writing out of the house in cafes, writing outside in the garden. Nothing seemed to make a difference.

Having just moved back home from uni for the first time in four years, this also saw a huge change in my lifestyle. Living at home is something I am finding really hard now that I’m here for good. Or until I find a job which means I can afford another option. As my mum works from home, I find trying to do work nigh on impossible without being interrupted by noises, or without having to plan my day so it fitted with her routines.

After a few weeks of feeling defeated, I took some time away in my Grandma’s house, which was standing empty. She didn’t have internet, there was barely any signal, and it’s not near a busy town centre or somewhere I could get distracted.

I didn’t know how I was going to find it, so originally just went for a couple of nights, but the first time I was there I managed 7000 words, the most I’d written in weeks.

I stayed a few more times, longer length, to try and bash out as much as I could. With my manuscript meetings every Friday, I got into the routine of staying for four days and then coming home to use the internet and Skype.

Being away from the world for that amount of time, and being left to just write at my own free will was priceless. It gave me back my confidence in my novel, and on my writing breaks I’d often flick through the photo albums left out in the living room from when my grandma was younger. It motivated me and cheered me on, and I really appreciated the time I spent there.

Having my independence back, to a certain extent, also did wonders. Running off my own schedule, without being questioned over my plans for the day or where I’d be for dinner, really helped me crack down on the word count.

I ended up changing the plot of my novel towards this period too, as I didn’t want to include my grief in it at the time, as it was something I was still dealing with. I took out a huge part of the story, something I’m looking at editing back in at a later stage, when I feel more comfortable.

I didn’t initially realise how much grief would effect my novel, but then again I never thought it would.

I’d definitely recommend taking some time away from your writing, unless you have the urge to write about what you’re experiencing, as I know that can sometimes help.

For me, having my own space, without the distractions of social media, was a saving grace.

It makes me sad that my grandma will never get to read my novel, or any books I write in the future, but I’m sure she’ll be pleased I stayed in her house and it helped.

love sophie

 

i’ll have a brew, love

There should be an unwritten law that allows all writers free access to unlimited cups of tea. Because boy, do we need it!

On a typical day, amongst the many character questions, plot problems and structure solving we take on, there are bucket loads of tea which help water the words.

And it doesn’t even have to be Yorkshire; anything goes when it comes to writing. Earl Grey, Granny’s Garden, and Peppermint are firm favourites of mine.

Even now, sat writing this blog, I’m sipping on an Earl Grey from one of those fancy glass mugs. (That’s a non-essential)

I’ve not found anything that works just as well as tea does. I mean, a few twinkly lights are nice, as is a good view or my favourite people watching spot. But my words would be in the dark without the tea. Twinkly lights? Lovely with a brew. A good view? Made even better with a flask of tea. People watching? Well I’d just be a stalker if I didn’t have a mug to look down at in those awkward moments they realise I’ve been staring at them and writing for half an hour.

I always find that the comfort of a brew makes me feel at home and means I can write wherever tea is on tap. This makes life as a writer a whole lot easier. Obviously, there are some places that I feel happier writing. But there’s something about a good brew, which takes the edge off.

When I’m in Leeds, (home home) I’ll sit at my writing desk with a cup of tea and feel comfortable writing chapters (paragraphs) which I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do without the support of a hot beverage.

When I’m in Bath, (uni home) I’ll work wherever my bum is comfortable and my mug is full. I can be at uni, at home, at a friends, in a swamp, up a tree. Anywhere. But as long as I have a flask of tea, I’m good for a few paragraphs.

Is there anything you need to be able to write? Can you conjure up your world anywhere or do you have to have a specific place/thing to help you?

Let me know!

love sophie

 

 

my love for letter writing

Call me old school, but there’s just something so special about receiving a handwritten letter or note in the post.

Since I started uni in 2014, I’ve regularly kept in touch with my family, friends and the people back at home by writing updates and sending them away in the post. There’s something so lovely about a day out ending with writing a postcard to back home telling them about what you got up to, or receiving one back. If anything, they’re lovely to keep yourself. I know lots of people who write to themselves whilst they’re away on holiday, almost like a brief diary entry, which they stick in the photo album and can use as a keepsake. I think it’s a really nice idea, I just never seem to remember to do it, or end up just keeping a diary in a notebook.

Letter writing has always been something I’ve done. My mum would make us write thank you letters after every birthday, every Christmas, every time we ever received something from someone. There was something so therapeutic about writing them, and including what you did to celebrate or what you’ve done with the present. When I was younger, I used to hate writing them out, and preferred ringing up my Grandma’s and thanking them on the phone, or in person. But now I’m older, and my hatred of phone calls has grown, I’d much rather write a letter. I think there’s something so personal about it.

I’ve kept all of the letters I’ve ever been sent, and lots of them are organised and numbered or dated, so I know when they came and where they came from. It’s lovely to have them to look back on now, especially those from my first year of uni where I’d forgotten most of what I’d got up to, and when I was younger and can’t remember the presents I’d been given.

I’ve heard of people writing letters to themselves and opening them in twenty years time, but I’m yet to do that. You’re supposed to write what you hope to have achieved and where you hope to be, but the idea just scares me. Who knows where I’ll be in twenty years time. Who knows what life will be like then.

If you don’t usually write letters, or haven’t ever really thought about it, give it a go. Ask a friend in a different city or country to be a penpal and get writing. It’s surprising how much fun you can have with it – I always send a teabag with mine, so the person receiving it can take five minutes to read it with a brew.

There are lots of companies and charities who also provide letters for people in hospitals, those who are in nursing homes, as well as people receiving treatment. This is something you could look into if you were getting started. There are lots of things in your life that someone would like to hear about – you just don’t realise it.

 

love sophie

manuscript meanderings feat. tea

It’s coming to that time in my Masters where I need to start prepping myself to work independently now that my contact hours will soon be over, and I’ll have 40,000 words to  prepare, write, and edit for my hand in. This is always something I’ve struggled with, as I know I’m easily distracted and often pop the kettle on just to have five minutes away from the reality of my workload. (Surely I’m not the only one?)

I’ve started thinking about my manuscript, where it’s up to currently, and where I see it going for my deadline in September (which is creeping closer and closer each minute.) Planning is a crucial thing for me right now. Even though it’s not my favourite thing in the world, I know it will help in the long run.

As much as I rave about planning it all out, I don’t find it easy and often spend more time planning than I spent writing. That in principal is fine, but if you’re me, it can often go the opposite way and hinder your writing because you are trying too hard to fit a mould you’ve spent ages creating. Finding a balance with planning is something I’ve been working on so that I am able to plan bits and not get caught up in the concrete parts, but rather use it more as a flexible structure.

As my novel is dual narrative, and written in months as opposed to chapters, it’s quite hard for me to pinpoint a whole selection of plot points to include. What I can do, however, is take each month and write out what scenes I think will be included and how my characters will be feeling.

Are they having a crap day at school? Spending their free time somewhere they really don’t want to be? Lost somewhere and unable to find there way home?

Bringing the characters emotions into the plan really helps me to see their character arc developing, as well as the novel, without thinking too hard about concrete structures. Sometimes we get too caught up in things that we think are crucial, and actually lose focus on the main plot, and our characters, which are the story.

If you’re struggling to plan out a long piece, or with structuring a small piece, try piecing together what the scene looks like and what emotion your character is carrying at that moment. It might help you to see what doesn’t work, which is just as helpful as finding out what does!

Let me know if it helps!

love sophie

 

 

bogged down in word counts: where did my story go?

I’m feeling pretty rubbish about writing at the moment. I don’t know if it’s the impending doom of deadlines, or the fact I’m struggling to write even a word of my manuscript, but the pen has been dropped and I’ve left the writing desk. I even devoured a full punnet of blueberries and scoffed a full block of chocolate in misery (did I mention I’m lactose intolerant?) I can honestly say: it doesn’t help.

I just can’t blooming do it.

And I’ve decided, for now, that it’s fine.

Writing is such a solitary venture that even with a head full of characters you can feel more alone than ever. My attempt at giving up social media during the daytime to focus on my work was an absolute disaster which hasn’t helped. And the worry of falling behind with work has left me skipping fun sociable things which in reality are helpful for my writing and spark my creativity.

I’m finding the balance of it all really difficult, and every time I think I’m getting there, the scales start tipping.

Alas! I’m hoping a couple of days off topic, mooching around on my bike, and reading other people’s words, will do wonders to mine. Here’s hoping!

Have you got any top tips on how to keep ploughing through your word count? And how to keep motivated? If you do, I’m all ears!

love sophie

gay in YA

My research project this term has surrounded the growing presence of LGBTQ+ characters, and stories, in YA fiction, among other children’s books.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading books for research around the topic, and learning more than I thought I knew about the topic. It is so easy to become ignorant to topics, so I think it’s really important, especially when writing and analysing it, to be aware of the facts, and talk to the community, being involved and understanding, listening to what they have to say.

I read Kalaidoscope Song, by Fox Benwell, an alumni from my course, as well as Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan which are both completely different examples of representation, from characters right through to plot. Both authors are also both members of the community.

Something I found whilst researching was that lots of the books covered the same plots and themes: coming out, being accepted socially, self acceptance, bullying, mental health etc. which I didn’t think fully represented the community. Obviously these themes are prevalent, but they don’t equate to everything the characters are feeling. Surely they’d want to read something where the character, no matter what part of the LGBTQ+ community, had the normal teenage life, and where their sexuality didn’t define them?

I think there is such a gap in the market for these books. Many of the books I looked at for research were fairly recent to the market, with only a few years between them, a couple proving to be quite ahead of their time. But more recently, we are seeing more LGBTQ+ books being published, along with authors from the community which is really important.

I hope this brings with it a new wave of publishing for this community. Books are a platform to bring controversial and often unspoken topics into the open and for many they are the way they learn things about the world.

‘These characters and narratives can shine a light into the corners of possibility for children searching for signs that they are not alone in their otherness.’

love sophie

writing for research: ‘what if?’

I’ve really struggled this week to keep on top of my writing. I’ve found my own lack of positives to be really affecting my characters, something I’m trying desperately to get to grips with before it starts leaking into my work.

It’s really hard when the world around us is draped with bad news, and it was only on a second read through of one of my chapters that I’ve found it worming it’s way into the pages. My normally happy chappy is no longer beaming and I’ve sensed a whole different part of the character coming across when I’ve been reading back over it. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I want my characters to be three dimensional and vivid and real. But it makes me question how much of their emotions I need to include in the book.

A lot of the time, the research writers do is for themselves. Yes, some bits will dribble in and out of the book, but a lot of it won’t actually be included. We do it so we can flesh out the plot and write the best book possible. It doesn’t matter whether the reader knows that Great Aunt Silvia was born in a bungalow if it’s not integral to the plot.

This got me thinking, what emotions are integral to my plot and my characters?

So, as ever, I made a brew and tried to think of some ways that might help.

With the ones that weren’t so integral, I decided to make up scenarios so I could see how each character would react in a situation fuelled by this emotion. These weren’t necessarily situations that I could see being in the finished novel, they were more like ‘what if?’ questions to help me piece together my characterisation.

Some of the situations/what if questions I used were:

  • what if they were expelled?
  • what if their dog died?
  • what if they got drunk?
  • what if they woke up on Mars?
  • what if they were an only child?
  • what if they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy?
  • what if they didn’t get on with their family?
  • what if they could no longer hear?

Although I knew I wasn’t going to include these scenes, it was important for me to know the different sides to my character and how they would react and feel in situations out of their control.

I really enjoyed putting my character in other situations but also challenging myself to go out of my own comfort zone.

It is easy as a writer to stick with a certain age group/genre when you’re comfortable writing for them. But it does wonders for your writing if you can step away from what you’d normally write.

You never know, you might just like it.

loce sophur

writing dates: do they help or hinder?

February was one of those head-down-get-on-with-it kind of months (as well as lets-hit-Sophie-with-the-flu-just-when-she-doesn’t-need-it.) With just shy of 15,000 words due, I was trying to save every ounce of energy up to write my essays, and assignments. But when you can’t even think straight and spend most of the day coughing (my whole January was more like dry cough January than dry January) it’s difficult to get much done.

Cue a lot of writing dates with other writers/peers/anyone who would take me up on my offer of free flowing tea and biscuits, in the hope of it being inspiring and actually making me do some work.

But did it really help?

Here are the things I noticed happening to my work/me:

1. It got competitive

I’m not a hugely competitive person *flips the board of monopoly if she doesn’t get Mayfair* but there’s something about people sitting around laptops, typing endlessly which gets incredibly competitive. Now, this in theory is great, it means that you’re in competition to write the most and do the most work. But actually, what comes out of this (unless you’re a Sara Barnard level A+writer) is a very very very first draft which makes no sense. Yes I managed to write lots, but it wasn’t necessarily good stuff and needed lots of editing when I managed to escape back under the blankets with a cuppa.

2. It can be the world’s best procrastination

So you’re sat with your laptop, you’ve got a brew and you’re ready to get cracking on your next chapter. WRONG. Instead, you end up listening to your friends detail the whole night out that you missed in the classic debrief. You get way too into it, completely forget the reason you’re there, and suddenly you’re watching videos of cute goats on YouTube? (please tell me I’m not the only one?) Three hours later and you’ve exhausted yourself to the point of no work, so you turn to Netflix and drown your sorrows in tea, saying ‘It’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow…’ even if tomorrow is the deadline.

3. It can be very distracting

This is especially the case if you’re all working on the same assignment. Or even if you’re all trying to do the same kind of thing. When it comes to writing, a lot of research is involved, especially if it’s high fantasy or historical, or you need to be factually correct with characters etc. This is all good and well until someone whips out a truck load of information which is then put on you because you just need to know it too. I think I’ve learnt more from my peers who have been researching for their books than I ever did when it came to researching for my own things. And then there’s the breaks. If someone pops to the loo, makes a drink, or declares lunchtime, it only seems fitting to take a break too. Even if you’ve only written the title.

4. It’s an emotional battle

Just like reading a book, there’s a definite emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing dates. I don’t know whether it’s having someone you can complain to/talk things through with, or whether it’s just because it can be really hard, but writing dates often turn into therapy sessions punctuated with ‘you can do this’ and ‘just focus on writing this chapter’ which is all good and well if you have an idea you believe in. This is when those extra biscuits you brought (just in case) make their way out whilst you shut down all your word documents and cry internally over the fact you’re never going to get published. You then have to sit there whilst the other people, who are still tapping away on their keyboards, continue to casually mosey on through the brick wall ahead. Total writing torture.

5. Everything takes time

When initially planning the date, you have to bear in mind that at least 70% of it will be spent making tea, talking, scrolling through your phone, eating, giggling, watching funny videos, etc. So you only ever really get 30% maximum done. This is something you should take into account when planning when to meet and where. If you meet before lunch, you may be more productive in the morning but end up having more breaks. If you meet after lunch you might have passed the most productive part of your day. It’s a battle you sometimes just can’t win. I try and meet up as early as possible because then at least I’ve given myself the whole day to procrastinate. And even if I don’t manage the target of words I set (or even half of them) I know that it’s more than I would have done anyway.

Let me know if you have any tips on writing in a group, and whether there are any ways it helps you/any suggestions to make it work better!

love sophie