My Guide to Fiction Writing

I’ve been getting back into writing fiction. I’m currently editing the novella I wrote for my dissertation, and it’s going well. I’m adding and improving and feeling generally good about the process. But I know it took a long time and a lot of hard work to get to this point, and it’s often difficult to know where to begin with fiction.

So, I’ve made a list of a few things that I think can help when navigating the world of fiction writing:

Freewriting is a good starting point

One of my longest works in progress started with freewriting. I just sat down in a university lecture one day (before the lecture started) and began writing. I just wrote what came into my head at that point. I didn’t overthink it, I didn’t ask why I was writing this, I just took the thought that was in my head and wrote it onto the page.

I carried this on, and figured out what kind of plot this could lead to, and just went from there. Freewriting isn’t always that simple, but if you’re struggling with an idea, or with writing anything at all, then just freewrite the stuff that comes into your head. That’ll at least give you something to work with.

Take from the world around you

Life is free material. Who needs a book of prompts when you’ve got real life? You might enjoy going to a cafe to write, or know a park that you walk through regularly, and this can become a setting for a story. It might play a major role in a short story or piece of flash fiction, or it might become a scene in a novel.

Take somewhere that you know well and can physically explore, and write a paragraph or two set in that area. Observe it, and while you’re there something might happen that’ll spark an idea.

This doesn’t have to be a place either, there might be an event in your life, or a person that had affected you in some way. You can put this into a story, or recreate it in fiction form if it’s a story you think is worth telling. It might be a situation that you feel only you can write, and it doesn’t have to be semi-autobiographical, it can be fiction based on events unique to your life. Don’t be afraid to mix up the real world with the fictional.

Become your character

Okay, so you’ve got a plot, or a basic idea for a story. What about characters? Sometimes it helps not to distance them but to bring them as close to possible. Think about who they are, or who you want them to be. Try to walk in their shoes and become them before you set out to write them. Pretend they are walking through your home town for the first time, how do they experience this place? What are their thoughts and feelings? How are they different to you, and what would they say to you if you were walking alongside them?

Of course, this depends on what kind of fiction you’re writing and what sort of setting they’ll be navigating anyway, but it helps to get a feel for who they are by putting them in a simple setting and questioning them, working out how they behave, and thinking as they would think. Then you can flesh out their personality and adapt them to whatever setting you want to put them in.

Create a plot plan in the way that works for you

I almost never try and plan my plot from the start. I let the idea and the characters do the talking first, and then once I’ve established roughly what kind of a story I’ve got and where I want it to go, then I make the plot plan.

The plot might alter a few times before I settle on one I’m happy with, but the important part is that I already have a world, a life, a story and family of characters to work with once I’m figuring all this out. Once you’ve got those core elements, you can manipulate them and play with them however you want, and you don’t necessarily need to worry about losing anything or not having enough.

Sometimes I find trying to work the plot out at the start just doesn’t work, because I haven’t got enough space within the story to really develop it. But you’ll know what works best for you, but I just advise getting something down, even if it’s just 1000 words, or a single chapter, before thinking about the finer points of the plot.

Although, what always helps at the beginning stage is to just write a premise, or summary of the idea you’ve got. Not a plot plan, but a paragraph of how you’d explain the story to your friend if they asked what you were writing. Make it as simple and as clear as possible, because most of the time this will give you an idea of what the essence of the story will be.

Just write. Write anything.

Fiction holds many possibilities. You might write flash fiction, short stories, novellas, novels…but the important thing is to write. You might write a few thousand words then realise that the idea would be better contained in a few hundred, or vice versa. But the point is: write. Whatever techniques you want to use, you won’t have anything unless you just write it. And here I come back to free writing, with the additional suggestion of writing prompts or writing workshops. Anything to give you a starting point.

Have fun creating, say hello to your characters for me, and remember that when it comes to fiction, anything can happen.

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Mindfulness and memory loss 

I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness recently for my final uni project, and one thing I’ve learnt is that to-do lists are a no no.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good to-do list, but it’s not just down to that satisfying feeling of ticking an item off the list…it’s down to my bad memory.

If I didn’t make that list, or plan my week ahead (even if I end up straying from it) then I would be in chaos. I’d forget what I’m doing and waste time being confused or deciding what to do.

My memory loss is down to anxiety. So I can hear those voices saying to me now, ‘well if you practiced mindfulness to reduce your anxiety then your memory might improve!’

I don’t connect with mindfulness as much as I should, because my head is too messy to even think about it. I want time to dedicate to it, and for me that means powering through the stress with my to-do lists until everything becomes clear and relaxed again.

But first, I want to find out if mindfulness can improve my memory to the point that I could give up to-do lists and rely on my mind alone.

An initial Google search brings up the following suggestions:

Mindfulness and memory search

The one that gets my attention here is ‘meditation causing memory loss’ particularly because some of the results when searching ‘mindfulness and memory loss’ pertain to the idea that mindfulness can be bad for our memory.

But how so? It suggests that mindfulness can leave us unable to tell the different between real and false memories. And it’s backed up my scientific research, and the results of a study of participants who engaged in a 15-minute meditation session.

“The new study suggests that mindfulness can disrupts the brain’s ability to tell the two scenarios apart. Put simply, it can stop people realising what is real and what is imagined.” – Sarah Knapton, Science Editor for The Telegraph

Next, I searched ‘does mindfulness improve memory’ and found an article on The Guardian website that offers a quick test. If you want to go and do it, click here and then come back.

For those of you who didn’t do it, the article asked that we do a few minutes of meditation (breathing in and out, concentrating on each breath) and then read a list of words. Each word should be concentrated on for 1.5 seconds. Of the 14 words listed, most people can recall around 7 of them…with or without the mindfulness exercise.

How many did I remember?

6. So I was one away from the average. Not bad. But being mindful didn’t make my memory better. It did relax me while I was doing it, and I felt a bit lightheaded.

NEXT!

I scroll down a bit and finally come across some articles that seem positive about the effects of mindfulness on our memory.

This one starts by explaining the results of a study which suggested a reduction in mind-wandering can improve memory. In other words, if your attention is a lot more focused (such as when being mindful) your mind will wander less and your short-term memory will benefit.

It finishes by outlining 6 steps that are used in a mindfulness class, and is essentially a quick guide on how to practice mindfulness.

CONCLUSION

So, should I give up my to-do lists in favour of being mindful? Well, no. Reading a bunch of online articles is no match for my real life situation. What I need to do is do what is best for me, and if a mindfulness book says NO TO-DO LISTS, then to be honest I’m hardly likely to feel I’m damaging my mind by using lists.

I can try mindfulness techniques to help my anxiety, and hope that my original reasoning will come into effect, in that if I can be less anxious AND work with my to-do list (but not rely too heavily on it) then I’ll be fine.

However, these subjects always makes for interesting reading.

 

Anxiety and Social Media

I’m in the habit of checking Twitter to see what the highest trending hashtags are, and this morning I discovered that today is #SocialMediaDay.

As a trainee journalist, my first reaction is to think about what the media can do with this. It’s a very meta hashtag, in that most of us are on social media on a daily basis, and media companies, PR firms, magazines, bloggers, writers and well…everyone is engaging in it and trying to promote their brand or just interact with what is happening.

Yet today we celebrate social media through social media. The first thing I saw when searching #SocialMediaDay was this:

That’s a good use of a hashtag. And what that does is take a popular search term, specific to today, and it sends out a useful message and it raises awareness.

It has some people asking, ‘what’s the point, why all the fuss?’ because of social media being a part of everyday life. And as I’m writing this (and refreshing the hashtag) I see this:

Crucially, they have mentioned @AnxietyUK in their tweet. And well done to them for putting that out there!

Social media used to give me the worst anxiety. It was my biggest trigger. I avoided Facebook like the plague, and wouldn’t look at my news feed if you paid me. Instagram was a better platform, although apparently it is the worst platform for causing mental health problems in young people. That might be down to feeling like your life isn’t ‘insta-perfect’ or getting an insight into the lives of your peers, and believing their life is how you want yours to be.

Twitter is a good one for engaging. Just be mindful of the things you say. The high engagement levels of people can quickly snowball into anxiety-inducing debates, and the feeling that you should’ve kept your online mouth shut. For mental health, there’s plenty of advocates for awareness. And accounts such as @MHChat do a good job of sparking helpful discussions in the online community.

Snapchat is good in small doses between trusted friends. But I ended up having to delete a few people from it, because the platform for me represents exactly what anxiety can be in terms of social media. The last thing I want are other people’s lives thrust in my face. Snapchat is essentially that, you receive a snap, and you don’t know what you’re going to see when you open it. What’s worse, is they’ll know you didn’t open it if you choose to ignore it. Quite simply, it’s not worth the anxiety for me.

There are some good apps out there to help you if you haven’t braved the world of social media yet, or if you want a break from the mainstream and want to feel engaged without the worry!

Here are my suggestions:

  • Headspace (basics for free, extras with subscription)
  • Calm (combines free and paid content)
  • Wellmind (NHS app with mood tracker and advice, free)
  • Elefriends (Online community created by Mind, free)

If you know of any good ones that I’ve missed off, then suggest them in the comments please!

Only you know how much social media you can handle, and don’t feel like you need to be constantly connected. Taking a break, reading a book, drinking tea or doing a bit of mindfulness can all help to calm your mind. It’s okay to be away from it all.

Have a safe #SocialMediaDay, and maybe put a thought out into the Twittersphere about how you feel about being online and having anxiety, or any other mental health issue. Or, leave me a comment below, because I always love to hear your thoughts.

Jade

 

 

 

Anxiety and Vlogging

When I was younger, Youtube was for watching funny cat videos, endless music videos (particularly by My Chemical Romance) and the occasional ‘ghost’ video.

The first Youtuber I ever got into was Shane Dawson, but these days I almost exclusively watch Dan Howell and Phil Lester. Their level of entertainment is all I really want when indulging in Youtube.

I never particularly longed to ‘broadcast myself’ although I wished to be the kind of person who could, or just be confident enough in myself to put my face in front of a camera and talk to it.

But I was recently inspired by a girl who goes by the handle ‘Borderline Amy’ who is vlogging as a way to raise mental health awareness, and show what it is like living with multiple mental health problems, as well as physical ones.

She doesn’t hide anything, and her videos are a true insight into her life, the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. So I decided to give it a go and see how it felt.

I now have an actual Youtube channel with three videos! This might not seem like a big accomplishment, but my anxiety stops me from sharing myself with the world in the way that Youtube requires. I’ve always been much more comfortable with writing and words rather than speaking.

Reasons why I’m doing this:

  • To overcome the bit of anxiety that has stopped me doing this for years
  • To document my progress and have something to look back on
  • To raise awareness about anxiety and how it affects people
  • To be creative in a new way

I am also going to use the channel to share my poetry and love of books. I’ve recently thrown myself into the world of performance poetry and am working on my collection of poetry, so I want somewhere I can share it, and enable people to know who the person is behind the words.

I’m about to finish my MA in Magazine Journalism, and this feels like the right time to start this. So I hope you will go and watch my videos so far, and subscribe if you can, it would really mean a lot to have as much support as possible.

If you do watch any of my videos, feedback is always welcome! And if you have any suggestions of videos you’d like to see me do, then just let me know.

Visit my channel: Jade Moore
Visit Amy’s channel: Borderline Amy

One day, two magazines

March was nothing less than a strange, surreal month and one that I didn’t see coming. A lot of it is a blur, and I can’t quite believe I’ve somehow made it into April.

The month has got off to a great start, I’m feeling optimistic and (mostly) on top of things. During March, my anxiety collided with my motivation and knocked everything out of place, and it’s been a slow climb back up to where I currently am.

But today, two things happened that made me feel that things aren’t so bad after all. On the very same day, two magazines that I’ve been involved with came out.

The first is The Beestonian. For those of you who peruse my Journalism page or are generally nosey about me, then you’ll already know that I write for The Beestonian and have done for over a year. It’s a wonderful publication and I’m very lucky and proud to be a part of the team.

You can read the latest issue here: The Beestonian issue 51

I interviewed local author Stephan Collishaw about his publishing house Noir Press and his latest book The Song of the Stork.

At uni, we have been working for the past month on Queer magazine. It also came out today and you can read it here: Queer issue 1

I’m very proud of it, but even more proud of the people that worked on it and put the time and effort in to make it as good as it is.

Please check both of these magazines out!

Jade

 

 

Blackout Poetry

Last year I discovered the ‘blackout poetry‘ side of Instagram, and have had an inner desire to give it a go ever since. If you don’t know what blackout poetry is, it’s basically when you get a book (ideally falling apart, in bad condition, or a spare copy) and you take the existing words on the page to create a poem.

You choose the words that make up your poem, and you get a black pen and ‘blackout’ the remaining words. The finished product should look something like this:

img_4122

Since giving it a go I’ve concluded that it is a nice writing exercise to do if you need inspiration or you are struggling to start a poem, or start writing anything! Each page has a new set of words, and you don’t know what you’re going to get, so it’s a challenge to create something meaningful from it.

Plus, the entire time you’re doing it you’ll be thinking about words: what makes sense? Where do I want this to go? What meaning is behind the words I’m choosing and why have I chosen those specific words?

I have been trying to do a page before bed, or when I have a spare moment. I recommend it to anyone who seeks a little bit of extra inspiration when writing their poetry – and don’t worry because with this you can’t go wrong. I was surprised at what I came up with.

My blackout poems:

The impossible imagination of myself
is human.

The truth of poetry and fiction:
exquisite feeling of mind.

I exist in the present.

Affection from my own kind,
the desire to hope.
Friends lost,
the memory of their only one.

Letter –
You rejoice, my dear:
I feel delight.
Inspirited, my day dreams
are wonders of solitude.

Eternal curiosity
to conquer fear and
induce joy.

A discovery you shall reach
by reflections the heart
the mind
the soul
dream of.

You were my day and night –
my life.

My soul lifted: I became a poet.

A friend, whose tastes are like my own,
our reality is true
and magnificent.

I need a friend
to regulate my mind.

Friend:my humanity –
a person,
amiable
a favourite
amusement,
generosity –
loved.

Who else has tried blackout poetry and what do you think? Does it help to inspire you? Let me know!

Jade

Exposure

Shaking, I move away.
One step at a time, but only backwards.
I stare, then I close my eyes.
I turn away, I walk.

My mind wonders what I left behind
but I tell myself I don’t care.
I don’t care.
“What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”
I’m still believing that one.

Some things are unavoidable
no matter how hard you try.
Some things will always be there
even when you hide.

“You need exposure,” she said.
I nodded, but made myself forget.
Then there you were, looking back at me:
The eyes I avoided, the ones I refused to see.

Would the shaking have been less,
would my stomach have felt dread,
would I have seen her
and still cried
with an aching heart
if I had allowed myself exposure
from the start?

via Daily Prompt: Exposure

© Jade Moore 2017