Wednesday, April 20, 2016

John's Thoughts from the Oxford Creative Writing Masterclass

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I had the privilege to participate in a creative writing class held in and near Oxford, England, earlier this month. Author Douglas Bond led the class of eight writers, which included fellow Word-Painters C.R. Hedgcock and William Moore.

We had an amazing time visiting historically significant locations, enjoying the beautiful English countryside, and delving deep into the art and craft of writing. Here are three of the key lessons I took from the class.

1. Don't Copy Your Favorite Authors

Most writers have books and authors that have influenced them and fed their passion to tell stories and share information. Literature classes exist to dissect books and help us learn how their authors constructed them. Amidst all that study and enjoyment it's easy to knowingly or unknowingly copy the authors' style in our own writing.

I've had to work through this in my own books. I read a Dickens book while writing part of The Boy Colonel, and during the editing process I had to de-Dickens my book (which mostly meant toning down long descriptive sentences with bleak imagery).

We can learn an immense amount from other authors and we absolutely should, but we shouldn't copy their style, especially if they wrote during a different era when readers had different tolerance levels and expectations.

2. Be Part of A Writing Community

The best part of the Oxford class for me was meeting and fellowshipping with other writers. It's so much fun to meet other people on the same literary journey and discuss shared challenges, ideas, and joys.

When you're part of a writing community, whether that means meeting people face-to-face or interacting online, you can learn from others, encourage them, and be held accountable in your own writing.

The writing life can be lonely. It probably doesn't help that many of us are introverts. Having community relieves that loneliness and makes us better writers.

3. Use All Five Senses

We talked extensively about using all five senses in writing. Books skew heavily towards the visual sense, with action and setting described using words that show what it looks like.

The other four senses tend to get less page time. (Technically there are more than five senses, but who wants to be technical?)

Describe what your characters smell, hear, taste, and feel, to drag your readers deeper into your world and create a more emotionally compelling experience.

You can see some pictures from the tour at Douglas Bond's blog.

John J. Horn is a Christian author from Texas. Purchase his Men of Grit series from Amazon here and sign up for his newsletter at

Monday, April 18, 2016

CR's Thoughts from the Oxford Creative Writing Masterclass

Recently I returned from a week in Oxford on a masterclass led by the inspiring Christian author Douglas Bond.

These points have lingered in my mind as a result of my time spent there.

Be inspired by what's around you

Elstowe Abbey 

This was John Bunyan’s church, and traces of Pilgrim’s Progress are to be found everywhere. We saw the field that inspired Vanity Fair, the tower that inspired the castle of Beelzebub, and the small door that was Christian’s escape from that castle's arrows. Then we climbed up the spiral stairs to the roof and saw the inspiration for the Slough of Despond, and peered through the sunlight to see that of the Land Beulah.

I started thinking about the places, people, and unique cultures we writers are surrounded by. It’s tempting to consider them too commonplace to be a source of inspiration, and think we have to go somewhere else or get into extraordinary situations to be able to write truly great works.

The Kilns

The Desk!

We visited the house where CS Lewis lived and saw a picture of his groundskeeper who inspired the character of Puddleglum, then walked to the pond that prompted Digory and Polly's jumping into puddles. A pond as inspiration? Well, why not? :)

Write on location

This links to the previous point. If you can write about a place you have physical access to, your imagination can be sharpened – you can feel the walls around you and the roof above, or the grass underfoot and the breeze on your cheek, and your senses are able to capture the details you might have generalized.

Where are you? Find ‘the special’ there. The most compelling literature doesn’t always happen on Mount Everest or the Sahara Desert or the Pacific Ocean … and if you ever get to travel to those places, your setting-writing-skills will be stronger if you’ve already learned to capture the dance of dust in sunbeams at the bottom of the garden.

Be brief

I'm working on this one! It's easy to be long-winded, but important to make every word count.

There was so much to glean from the trip that I couldn’t possibly condense it all into one post, but I can sum up with three points:

Write meaningfully with vigour,
have Christ as the foundation of your work, not an add-on,
and make the devil hate your pen because of the God-glorifying way you wield it.

(As an aside, I had the opportunity to play the organ in Elstowe Abbey ... and found music for the hymn that is pivotal in my WIP. I relished being able to hear the hymn live for the first time, in an old church, on an organ. Have you had any story experiences like that? Thoughts about the post or points from a masterclass you've attended? I'd love to hear them!)


Caitlin R. Hedgcock is a Christian author who aspires to use storytelling for God’s glory. She lives with her family in England's picturesque county of Hertfordshire. Visit her website or Facebook page to find out more. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Master Plots


20 Master Plots is an entertaining book about the twenty different categories that fictional plots can fall into. Ronald B. Tobias, the author, isn’t dogmatic about the divisions he created, but he makes an interesting point: It can be helpful to analyze plots according to the categories they fit – because successful plots of the same variety tend to follow a pattern. That pattern generally makes them satisfying to readers. So, if you’re writing a story with the escape plot, for example, you can read his chapter on Escape and study the principles that make such a story succeed. Yet he leaves a lot of room for creativity.

Besides just detailing different kinds of plots, however, Tobias gives insight into the working of plot in general. He explains the nature of character-driven plots (where character development keeps readers turning pages) and action-driven plots (where action grips the readers’ attentions). I found it refreshing and exciting – and was left with the desire to write stories for at least half of the categories! (I can tell a book is good if it inspires me like this.)

Here’s his list, with examples either he or I thought up. Some of them aren’t self-explanatory, so I explained them for you:
  1. Quest (The Lord of the Rings) – a character goes on a quest to accomplish something
  2. Adventure (Around the World in Eighty Days) – a character goes on an adventure, usually just for the sake of adventure
  3. Pursuit (Les Mis̩rables) Рa character is pursuing another character
  4. Rescue (The Last of the Mohicans)
  5. Escape (The Ransom of Red Chief)
  6. Revenge (The Count of Monte Cristo)
  7. The Riddle (Sherlock Holmes mysteries)
  8. Rivalry (Ben-Hur)
  9. Underdog (Cinderella)
  10. Temptation (Our Lady’s Child) – a character is challenged by temptation
  11. Metamorphosis (Beauty and the Beast) – a character literally morphs into another creature
  12. Transformation (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) – a character transforms from one state to another
  13. Maturation (Huckleberry Finn) – a child grows up, or moves one step closer to maturity
  14. Love (Pride and Prejudice)
  15. Forbidden Love (Romeo and Juliet)
  16. Sacrifice (A Tale of Two Cities)
  17. Discovery (Daniel Deronda) – a character discovers something about himself
  18. Wretched Excess (Othello) – a character loses all control
  19. Ascension (The Death of Ivan Ilyich) – a character becomes a better and greater person
  20. Descension (Citizen Kane) – a character becomes a despicable person

This book was also fun to read from a reader’s perspective…I enjoyed discovering what familiar works used what master plots, and tried to categorize the books I’ve read using Tobias’s system. A novel can contain more than one master plot (though one will usually predominate), so not everything fits neatly; but it’s an interesting activity regardless.

20 Master Plots won’t solve all your plotting problems, but it’s an intriguing book that may impart some helpful advice!

Which master plots sound like the most attractive to you, in either reading or writing?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog