Thursday, 13 January 2011

Essays and The Hooker's Tale

Womagwriter made the comment that the same principles about essay writing could be applied pretty much to article writing.  That's so true - and it applies to all non-fiction as well as a lot of fiction writing.  And the principles spread even wider...

On February 19th I'm giving a talk at the Get Writing Conference at St Albans.  It's called The Hooker's Tale - their title, not mine (sensationalist, moi?  Perish the thought!) - and is going to cover how to hook readers and keep them reading.  I haven't yet worked out what I'm going to say but this is how I'll go about planning it.

First things first - look at the title.  It's not about how to get an agent, or manuscript presentation. I'm concentrating on hooking readers.  Immediately that suggests I'm going to cover suspense, pace, first pages, chapter ends but before I get to the content I need to think about timing.  

It's an hour slot so I need to allow approx 10-15 minutes at the end for questions, and maybe 5 minutes at the beginning for a late start (my talk is in the afternoon to the whole conference so it's bound to start late.  So, the bit when I'm yabbering away solo is going to take about 45 minutes.  

Thinking about content, I came up with 4 ideas immediately.  I've thought of a couple more: reader engagement and problem/solution.  That's 6.  Could I talk on each for about 7 minutes? Yup, so that's a rough structure organised.  If I get more ideas for possible sections I'll add them in as I go along

If I were writing an article I'd be thinking of the readership - a Guardian reader is a different beast from a Woman & Home reader, for example - but as it's a talk I'm thinking audience.  It's going to be large - could be as many as 200 - and most are going to be would-be writers.  So the talk could be quite technical and specific but it needs to work on a large scale.  Audience participation would be good to get people involved - I don't want to see yawning faces.  

I'm starting to mentally go through my list of exercises and work out if I could make them large scale.  There's a great one I've done before with a large audience that'll fit into this talk nicely - we'll start with that perhaps.  And so I go on, writing ideas down on index cards, arranging them into an interesting order...

It's exactly the same process as I'd suggest for writing an essay or an article or a business report and it's not dissimilar for fiction - a short story needs to be fixed on its main theme for example and not lose focus and stray into irrelevance.  Come along on the 19th and see if it's any good!


womagwriter said...

Hee hee, you write a post with the title The Hooker's Tale and start by talking about me!

Good advice re planning and outlining your article/talk/essay. Short stories I think can be more fluid in the first draft, though you always need to keep an eye on intended length and current word count, to ensure you get to the pivotal moment at the right point.

Sarah Duncan said...

If the cap fits...

Good point, especially if you're writing for the women's magazine market which is a very particular form of writing.