Words by the Water literature festival in Keswick, beginning this weekend. I'm always excited by this event, because it's the only big literature festival that happens in Cumbria and it brings a lot of writers and media celebrities to this remote part of England - people you might only get to see if you live in the south east, or one of the big cities. The festival is held at the Theatre by the Lake with spectacular views over Derwentwater.
This year I'm taking part in several events myself - on Sunday I'm doing a creative writing workshop in the Sky Arts Den at 4.30pm. Then a talk on Katherine Mansfield at 12 on Monday. Then on Tuesday, an afternoon talk on the Coleridge and Southey women who lived with the poets at Greta Hall, followed by a creative writing workshop on memory and imagination.
I enjoy doing workshops, because the people who come are always enthusiastic and it gives you a chance to share some of the things you've learned by (sometimes hard!) experience. Some might call them 'the tricks of the trade'!
One of the things that always helps me is what I call 'The Writers' First Aid Kit'. It's a kind of thumbnail plot finder, but it also works when you're stuck and haven't a clue what will happen next. It's just a series of seven questions you have to ask yourself.
- and most important of all WHAT IF?
The answer to WHO is the character, WHAT is the situation/ the action/the event/the object. WHERE is the setting. WHEN is the time line. HOW refers to the basic mechanics of who is going to do what, where and when. WHY is the motivation; why does the character feel as s/he does? why does s/he act like that? etc.
WHAT IF, is the really significant one. You have to ask yourself, what if this or that happened? what if I make this character do something else? what if I change the character? The what-ifs you can ask are endless and the answers sometimes change the entire trajectory of the story.