Are you a budding writer? Do you have a story to tell but don’t know how to get started? Incredible, creative writing tutor, Deana Luchia, helps those new to the craft to find their way into the world of imagination and creativity, and also seasoned writers who need the final push towards ‘The End.’
When Deana reached out to CraftCourses eager to share an insight into her creative writing workshops, we were thrilled and could not wait to share the details with you. Here’s Deana to tell us more.
A writing course is one of those rare and amazing gifts (for yourself or for others) that keeps on giving long after it’s been completed. Once you’ve learnt about the basics: character building, narrative arc or plot, setting, dialogue, genre and descriptive language, you’re ready to go, wherever you are. All you need is a pen, paper and imagination.
I’ve taught creative writing for several years now and one of the highlights of my work is seeing someone who told me they didn’t know how to start writing, announce at the end of a course that they don’t ever plan to stop. Once you’ve discovered how much fun it is creating stories and the people who inhabit them, I think you’ll feel the same.
But firstly, you’ll need those basic tools I mentioned. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with them but they are essential and I recommend that all beginners and anyone wanting a refresher course in writing, start with these.
Character building is all about creating someone that readers are interested in. They don’t have to like your characters, though that helps, but they do have to be invested in them in some way. They can identify with them, care about them, be amused by them, or, and this can be really fun and cathartic, be so horrified or appalled by them, that they can’t not find out what happens to them during the course of your story. In essence, your characters keep your reader turning the pages.
A plot or narrative arc is the journey your character goes on – the things that happen to them and the things they set in motion. This is where you can let your imagination run wild. What would it actually feel like to rob a bank in order to keep your mum out of prison? What would happen if your character went to live on an island for six months and told no one where they were going? What would happen if your character fell in love with their best friend? Or ran away to join the circus even though everyone has told her that no one actually does that anymore?
I love teaching about setting. Everything happens somewhere and there are so many layers you can add to a piece of work by the description of where it takes place. A proposal in a car that is stuck in a traffic jam is an entirely different story to one where the proposal takes place under a picture-perfect waterfall on a holiday of a lifetime. Similarly, a woman struggling to conquer feelings of loneliness in a busy office is a different story to one where the woman works from home with just a hamster for company.
By the time you’re ready for dialogue, you know your characters, what’s going to happen to them and where the story takes place. Now, it’s time to put words in your characters’ mouths. Good dialogue is all about trying to find a balance between what sounds authentic and what reads as interesting. No one wants to read an actual word-by-word conversation between two friends. That would be dull and a reader would skip ahead to the juicy bits. In a story you want to cut to the chase, get to the point, using dialogue to reveal something about the characters or where the story is headed. One of the best ways to test your dialogue out is by reading it aloud to someone – I work from home and that ‘someone’ is actually my two dogs, Dottie and Pippa, who sit in on all my lessons and have listened to hundreds of written dialogues. You can tell very quickly when you read out your dialogue if a line works or not. Be ruthless and cut anything that doesn’t move the story forward.
Next, is genre. ‘What kind of story do I want to write?’ is a good question to ask yourself before you begin. But, equally important is exploring lots of different genres. You might surprise yourself and realise that you’re actually quite good at historical fiction or cosy crime. Have you ever thought about writing a YA (young adult) novel or a children’s picture book? Do you have what it takes to write science fiction? What about Uplit? Or comic commercial fiction? I often find that during my courses, people surprise themselves by discovering they’re drawn to a genre they’d never considered before. I’ve never been keen on science fiction but I’ve just completed a novel where one of the main characters is an alien. It didn’t feel like science fiction but there’s an alien on half of the pages I’ve written, so perhaps it is. I loved writing about her. I surprised myself.
Lastly, there’s descriptive language – the words you use that make your piece unique. What kind of language are you using? How do your narrator or characters describe things? How would they convey their sadness or elation when they leave home or get divorced? Do they use similes or metaphors, colourful language or humour? Does the language you use make your reader form an instant connection with you as a writer?
Once these tools are all in place, you’re ready to write whatever you want. Again, some people find this part difficult. ‘What story hasn’t already been written about?’ Well, not very many, to be honest, as most stories are reworkings of just a handful of plots. These include: boy meets girl, a stranger comes to town, someone overcomes a tragedy and someone embarks on a journey. But the way you write one of these stories, the characters you create, the settings you use and the dialogue you concoct will make it new and unique.
Of course, you can always tell your own story. Or bits of your own story. A creative writing course will enhance your diary or journal writing. It will also help with writing your autobiography or memoirs. All of which rely on characters, narrative arcs, setting, et cetera. You might decide to make yourself the protagonist of a fictional tale. This can be enormously freeing and stimulating: What if I actually moved to Rome? What would I do if I witnessed a crime? How would someone like me react to losing their job or creating their own museum?
Being creative has long been considered beneficial for mental health. Casting yourself as the protagonist and allowing yourself time to explore different choices and life paths is helpful. Writing a novel is a mammoth task but committing to it, even if just for twenty minutes a day, offers you a daily break from your own thoughts as you play with your characters’ thoughts instead. In addition, writing gives you an opportunity to rewrite the things that have happened to you. This time, in your story, you get to decide what happens next and how you react.
You can also use writing to explore your feelings in a safe space. You can have characters act out decisions you have to make. Or say things you wouldn’t dare say. You can have other people read the feelings you’ve put on paper – which might be easier than saying them. Good writing demands precise language and taking the time to think about your feelings and how to exactly define them is useful. Often when we know exactly how to describe what we’re feeling, it’s then that we can do something about it.
Writing stories allows you to rewrite certain events, to make things better, if you like. I’ve used this in my own writing, giving someone whose life was cut short a better, longer story, or allowing someone who was weighed down by problems to soar, carefree. It doesn’t change what happened but it is comforting and, for me, therapeutic.
One other wonderful aspect of writing is that you can write the books you need or want to read. At a low point, and unable to find a self-help book that resonated with me, I decided to write my own guide to happiness: ‘Happy as Harry’ which was published in 2017. It helped to write it and it helps now when I read it. Hopefully it helped other people, too.
In addition to all of these many positives, the most amazing aspect of writing is that it’s fun. Hugely so. Sometimes, the words flow and other times you will spend a week editing a few lines that just don’t work… until they do. But when they do, it’s such a euphoric feeling. (My dogs also get to listen to those parts of my writing too. ‘I finally did it! Now listen to this!’) But the most fun part is sitting at my laptop, an empty word document on my screen, and thinking, ‘So, where do we go from here?’ and knowing that ANYTHING is possible. Or knowing that characters I’ve created are going to quickly take on a life of their own. (You’ll often find that characters end up doing things that you never planned for them to do simply due to the force of their personalities. It’s quite remarkable).
I could wax lyrical about writing ad infinitum but I’ll limit myself to one last thing: Whether you’re lucky enough to have that much envied room of your own and time a plenty, or you’re someone who puts on noise cancellation headphones and scribbles for five minutes before emptying the dishwasher, little by little your story will unfold. You will get to ‘The End.’ And you will have created a unique and brilliant story that no one but you could ever have written.
Are you inspired to write your story?
Everyone in the CraftCourses team feel inspired to start on their creative writing journey after talking with Deana, we're already planning our next story and developing wicked characters and shocking plot twists. If you have a story burning inside you and would like Deana's help via a live-online workshop find out more here.>