Archive for the ‘Story’ Category

Writing Critique Partners   1 comment

I came across the idea of finding a critique partner while listening to a podcast from Helping Writers Become Authors (

This seemed like a brilliant idea – a different way to get a perspective on my writing, and to help others with theirs – and a good supplement to my monthly writers’ group meetings.

The podcast suggested that getting a critique partner whom you could trust was a hard, time consuming task. After all, you need to find someone you are comfortable with, so you can share ideas and criticisms without taking each comment as a personal insult.

I thought I’d pursue the matter further and so a quick search on the web took me to this great resource: which contains a list of online writing forums and critique communities, most of whom are free to join.

Having gone through the list, I delved into the ( workshops because the community there was started for science fiction and fantasy writers, and a lot of my work fits into those genres.

It was a simple process to register on the site. It involved picking a workshop (there are workshops covering different writing genres) and completing a short form to supply my contact details and a short bio. Once completed, I was rewarded with a username and password, and a commitment to critique a piece of work at least once a week. I’ve done this a couple of times already, and it’s a fun process. You have to remember to follow the critique response guides as you don’t want to be rude or discouraging to fellow writers, and there are a few style rules to follow, but you can’t really go wrong.

Next step for me is to submit a piece for critique, and then hold my breath and wait for the responses. As long as I keep submitting critiques back, then my piece should be reviewed a few weeks after submission.


Bird by Bird   Leave a comment

I’m reading Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” which I picked up second hand from Amazon, and am loving every minute of it.

This is a humorous look at how to write well, with an accessible delivery that makes it easy to take in.

Two lessons have stood out for me so far:

  1. That when writing, it’s a good idea to imagine holding a one inch picture frame up to the scene you are writing about, and only describe what you see within that frame; and
  2. When faced with a large project such as a novel writing, the best thing to do is break it down into small pieces. This is where the ‘Bird by Bird’ idea comes from (and I paraphrase): A boy was confronted with a deadline on a school  project about birds, and daunted by the looming deadline. Seeing this, his father was clever enough to realise that the work would be easier to complete if his son wrote about one bird at a time rather than trying to do the whole project in one go. Clever, hey?

If you enjoy writing then go pick up a copy of this book for yourself. You’ll love it as much as I do.


Posted April 19, 2016 by Alan Clark in Bird, Book, Learn, Poetry, Project, School, Story, Write, Writer, Writing

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A Writing Game Through the Post   Leave a comment

Following on from the last post about a writing game I thought I’d post another example of a fun way to get writing.

There are a number of variations of this game but the one I’m going to describe involves envelopes. Also this is slightly hard to set up by yourself so like a would be magician, you may need a glamorous assistant to help you get started.

First of all you need five envelopes. Write on the front of each of them in turn the words: Character, Conflict, Weather, Setting and Object.

Ask your assistant to come with a list of words or phrases for each of the five categories. Now, I know you could do that yourself, but you might opt for an easy selection where everything could associate in a straightforward way. Your assistant should be encouraged to think of wildly different words or phrases for each group. Hopefully (s)he will come up with items you would never have considered.

The only other stipulation should be that you need twice as many characters as anything else (that’s if you are going to play the game until you exhaust all the words on the lists!)


Characters might be an undertaker or fishmonger

Conflict might be mistaking someone for someone else, or one of the characters discovering (s)he is adopted

Weather could be anything from a showery day to a blizzard

Setting might be in a convent or up a scaffolding

Object might be a magic lamp or a pen knife

You really don’t want to see the listed items at this point. Ask your assistance to cut them into single items and drop them into the appropriate envelope.

His/her work is then done. What’s next is your challenge. Take out two characters, and one item each from the remaining envelopes. The six items (including two characters, remember?) in front of you need to be woven into a piece of writing in whichever format you prefer.

Easy, do you think?

Posted June 12, 2011 by Alan Clark in Exercise, Game, Poet, Poetry, Short story, Story, Writer, Writing

Writer’s Group – Lessons Learned   Leave a comment

Well, my first foray into the world of Writers Groups is now over, with Dumfries Writers adjourning their fortnightly meetings until the autumn. That’s understandable; people have so many other things to do during the summer months and holidays and other fun things get in the way of writing.

It’s a shame though, as I’ve really enjoyed these first sessions and am looking forward to September when the whole thing kicks off again.

Anyhow, I thought now would be a good time to take stock and see what tips I’ve picked up over the last few months. These are in no particular order:

  • Carry a notebook at all times – and jot down ideas when they come to you. This, I’ve found, is easier said than done. Sometimes ideas come at the most inappropriate times. Whipping out the old note book at work, for example, is really not appropriate. Still, the idea is valid.
  • It’s important to give yourself time and space to write. A regular time slot each day in a quiet spot is preferable. The length of time doesn’t have to be terribly long – just long enough. Another approach is to set yourself a certain amount of words a day. Even writing 500 a day is a good starting point.
  • A koan is a form of Chinese poetry. Rather than explain it’s form here I’ll point you to this nice website: Koans are cool!
  • It’s suggested that if someone is serious about writing they should have a web page and a blog. Hence this blog. Oh, and my website, too! (Which is here:
  • Market research is essential for selling your work. The presentation we had on this from Rosemary Gemmell  was very instructive. (I’ve a link to her blog on this page.) It is a tough shift, though. You need to figure out what sort of writing you do and which publications match your genre. Each publication has its own way of accepting submissions, and you need to follow those guidelines to have a hope of having work accepted.
  • Write your work, read it, revise it. Over and over and over.
  • It’s important to maintain the perspective of a character in a story. You shouldn’t jump willy-nilly from one character’s perspective to the next. That just gets confusing. Especially in a short story the narrative should be written from only one perspective. In longer pieces, the perspective can change to that of another character, but that viewpoint must not take over the tale. If is starts to do that, then perhaps this other character has the stronger tale to tell, and the start of the story should be re-written from the new perspective.
  • Vary sentence lengths. Long and short. Short and long.
  • There is a plot structure known as the Classic Plot Arc. This is link to a blog that describes it: This is a handy tool for devising a story line.
  • You must decide when to start a story. Your start point does not need to be at the beginning of your tale, but could be half way through it. You may choose to reveal the back story in the telling, or you may not. Or you may elect only to reveal enough of the back story so the reader can make sense of what is going on. To assist, you may wish to create a timeline and map out what each of your characters is doing when.
  • Most of all – it’s good to criticise, if it is done constructively and in good faith, and it is good to receive constructive criticism, too. It points out our shortcomings and makes us strive to improve. Without the critique we would carry on blindly repeating the same mistakes over and over.
That’s not bad for a few months worth of meetings. As I said, I’m looking forward to September, and the next batch…