Thursday, 14 May 2020

Changing narrative voice

These are the narrative voices you may choose:

First person

·         Very intimate relationship between reader and character or reader and author.
·         Only tells one story at a time.
·         May be main character, author or fictionalised author 
·         Allows some discussion of the story.
·         Character has had the growth and reader cannot have growth with the character.

Third person

Close third person
·         More intimate even than first
·         Reader can experience growth with protagonist
Removed third person.
·         Gives author a stronger voice.
·         Allows points of view to shift

Second person

This can feel very intrusive to the reader but can also be very strong.  

Omniscient author

·         Allows a commentary from the author
·         Allows changes of point of view
·         Allows different scenes with different people, a little like in a play

Story teller

·         Tells more than shows 
·         Tends not to moralise
·         Is more engaging as a performance

Changing narrative voice 1

Rewrite the opening lines of a story you like in a different person e.g. if it is written in first person, change it to third or even second.


Changing narrative voice 2

Now write another part of the story from another character’s point of view. Perhaps take a minor character or even the “enemy”.


Changing narrative voice 3

Write a personal first person narrative; it is really you telling this story.
Now write the same narrative, still first person, as if you were a different person.

Changing narrative voice 4

Take one paragraph from a story you are writing and do a “patch test”.  Try it out with different persons and different tenses (past, present, future). Use at least three different combinations. Which works best? Try to get into the habit of using this “patch test” in all of your writing. Ask a writing buddy for their opinion.       

Image by CSTRSK from Pixabay 

Friday, 17 April 2020

Writing prompt: 17 April Bat Appreciation Day

Image by alobenda from Pixabay

Write a poem, a short story, a script or a piece of memoir or an essay that features a bat.
Here are a few more thoughts about bats to help you:

Academic article

Some say the coronavirus that is part of the current pandemic came from bats.  Is that true? Use all of your journalistic and academic skills to establish whether this is correct or not and then write a convincing article that tells the public the truth. Could you submit it to ?


Horror story

Or go completely in the other direction and write a horror story about an encounter with bats that led to some nasty disease spreading. You might be able to submit it here:

Story for children

However, it is bat APPRECIATION day so perhaps we need to be kinder to bats. What about a nice story for children about rescuing a bat with a broken wing? Find places to submit your story here:

Factual piece for children

Write a short factual article for children. Here’s where you might submit it: As always with non-fiction it might be an idea to see what sort of copy these publisher require then shape your article to that.

British bats

The Bat Conservation Trust  has a lot of information about British bats. And in fact, aren’t’ those photos kind of cute? Not much to be afraid of here.  

Facts about bats

Can you put together a list of ten fascinating facts about bats? Maybe one for adults and one for children?


Protected species

Write a story or an article about a family invaded by bats. They may have hated them at first or perhaps they were afraid of them but maybe they come to love them.  

Like more prompts like this?  Available here:

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Editing and marking - similarities and differences

I’m currently marking some undergraduate close readings of picture books and emergent reader texts. With another hat on I’m editing a collection of short stories by a single author. The author has had short stories published by us and others before. The undergraduates are also reasonably competent writers; they most likely have A-levels in English language or English literature and some of them will also be creative writers with some experience of writing.


Writing to a brief

Both types of writer have a brief. They both need to think about what their reader needs. Both have to convey something with clarity. But maybe the writer who is being published needs to get everything right. The student only needs to meet the requirements of the module.  However the latter is assessed in eight areas so it’s still quite demanding. I’m on edit two of the writer’s work and this means annotating the text with a lot of questions. This particular writer has a recurring mistake and I have to pick it up every time. After I’ve met something similar in a student’s text about half a dozen times. I’ll point out that I’m not going to highlight it any more.

The mechanics of working on the texts

It’s a very similar action in fact. In both cases I’m using software that allows me to click and highlight the text and then make a comment. There’s a similar density of annotation as well. In my writer’s text –   of 112 pages, some 30,000 words - I’ve made 305 comments so far. One each student text – 1,500 words - I’m making about 30 comments. Don’t forget: I’m on Edit 2 out of three on my writer’s text.


Summative and formative comments

There is a mixture of these in both cases. The annotations on the student text are largely formative i.e. they are made to help the student learn. These can include comments on grammar mistakes, correcting misquotations, urging them not to overwrite, use run-on sentence or clichés but also they can be used to show what is working well. Then we must pinpoint how well they have done in each of the eight areas of assessment.  I personally follow this by summarising the main achievement of their assignment but also offering two or three tips on what they could do next time.
There are similarities in the work we do with writers.  We run through three stages of editing. The first is really an overall assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the text so is a little like our summative comments. We then ask the writer to go away and spend some time mulling over what we’ve said and come back some week later with a polished text. 

Edit 2 is like the formative comments we make on the student’s text. 

Edit 3 we simply correct what’s not been picked up yet. And sometimes on student texts I simply correct.

Enjoying the process

In once told a colleague I actually enjoyed marking.  He looked at me quizzically then his face lit up. “Of course you do. You get to read stories all day.” Well yes, but I’m so used to stories that they are nearly always predictable. Oh yes. Even those written by the best writers.  But I do enjoy seeing a text shape up or a student begin to write better.
Crucial are those comments at the end of Edit 1 for our writers and at the end of the summative report for our students.

Is this effective?

Do they take any notice? I think so. I even found this when I taught Modern Languages in an 11- 16 comprehensive school.  We had to give a summative report and then three action points for the student to work on. I was amazed when one year I pulled up the comments I’d made the year before for one class I was still teaching. They were a middle set so not perhaps the most motivated. They had all reacted to the three suggestions I’d made and had improved in those areas.
My creative writing students certainly do. I hope my writers will too.        

Friday, 6 March 2020

Organising a visit

My U3A creative writing group has now been going for a year. To celebrate we’ve decided to go out. Two days ago I decided to go and make a research visit.  

For our venue we’ve chosen the beautiful John Rylands Library .  This is at once one of Manchester University’s libraries and a museum that the public can visit for free.  There is a small café and a very interesting gift shop there as well.

We’ll meet at eleven and spend about an hour wandering around the museum.  Then shortly after twelve we’ll find somewhere to sit and write.  At 12.30 we’ll met in the café to share ideas, if not actual writing, and enjoy a brew. We can polish our ideas to share at our regular meeting.   

I’ve made a list of possible topics that we might write about:
  • Enriqueta Rylands, who founded the library in remembrance of her husband John  
  • Create a Bury alphabet a bit like the Manchester Alphabet
  • Set a story in the library
  • Imagine you are Enriqueta’s ghost. What do you make of what is going on now?
  • The printing press: how did people react to it when it first came in?
  • Compare the Black Death to the corona virus
  • The Spencer and Crawford collections. Who were these people? Why did they own these books? Find out something about them and put them in a story, poem, script or article.  
  • What it was like building the library?
  • Look at the gifts for writers in the gift shop and create your own gift for a writer
  • Why did Queen Victoria refuse to visit?

  •  The Victoria / Piccadilly connection; why was it abandoned.  How did people feel about that?   Building the library    

Group members are already signing up for this event. Let’s hope that nasty virus doesn’t scupper us.