What is narrative? This module will explore the psychology of narrative, and offer a quick refresher on basic writing craft.
Plot and Structure 5
Where to start the story? How should a story be structured? Plot is both the sequence of events that make up a story, and the structure those events take. Learn to develop a compelling hook, plot & story structure that will keep your readers furiously flicking until the end!
Character and Dialogue 6
No story can exist without characters! In this module, you’ll learn to lay the foundation for creating compelling characters and believable and revealing dialogue.
Where does your story take place, and how can you evoke this place in the minds of your audience?What is the context of the world you are creating? In this module, you will explore how to paint a picture of the story with your words.
POV and Voice 5
Who is telling a story and how they’re telling it is as important as what they are talking about. Learn who is the best character to tell your tale and how you find a character voice that is so compelling, your readers won’t want to part with them.
Narratives are capable of communicating a lot more than what is on the surface. Mastering the themes of your work means understanding what your story is about, at its heart. This module will show you how to identify the themes of your work, and how to use motifs and symbols to enhance those ideas.
Worst Sentence Contest
Let’s have a bit of fun and shake loose that annoying fear of not being ‘good enough’. We’re going to do this with a good old-fashioned worst-opening-sentence contest. Why the worst sentence? It’s a great exercise in getting you into the headspace. To write badly deliberately means having to pick apart how a sentence works so you can disrupt it. It’s also fun to give yourself permission to write something awful.
This activity is actually a variation of the popular annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
The contest is named for Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a British author hugely popular around the world in the nineteenth century — so popular, in fact, that the Brisbane suburb of Lytton (and Bulwer Island at the Port of Brisbane) is named after him. Lytton published 30 novels along with a number of plays and verse and is responsible for many quotables, including ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.
But Lytton was also responsible for this mélange of an opening sentence:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
—Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
It’s a long, meandering passage, full of florid language, irrelevant asides, and awkward turns of phrase. More importantly, it says nothing, other than the weather was miserable. And of course there’s the dark and stormy night, the passage that Charles M. Shulz would later turn into a superpowered cliché via Snoopy’s typewriter. Somewhere in the 150 years since its publication, this one sentence has become an emblematic of all bad writing everywhere.
In some ways, Lytton has been unfairly tarnished. A lot of writers from that time wrote exactly like this, many of them inspired by Lytton and many of them committing far greater sins against our language. On the other hand, here we are still talking about Lytton when all those other writers have vanished into obscurity.
The rules to the Bulwer-Lytton contest are simple:
- Try to write the worst opening sentence you can. Seriously, go nuts.
- It must be a single sentence, no cheating; if you know how to use a semicolon, use it.
- Sentences may be of any length, but if you’re going beyond 50 or 60 words you’re stretching credulity.
- While clichés are welcome just this once, be sure to bring something original as well.
- If you expect somebody else to read it, then keep them in mind; even a bad sentence can be entertaining.
And hey, if you’re proud of your awful sentence, you can always enter this year’s contest. Imagine the auspicious start to your career if this is your first published piece. Things can only get better!