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What’s The Writing Notebook? You’re about to embark on a book about a family. Your own family or a fictional family, or the biography of a family you’re interested in. You might be planning a novel or a collection of stories, a memoir or a series of poems. Maybe you’ve embarked on this project already, and you’re looking for ideas and suggestions to expand your work. Whatever stage you’re at in your project, The Writing Notebook will provide you with prompts and writing activities to get those stories and ideas onto paper. Family is a vast and loaded subject to tackle, but as with every other writing project, is achievable through the gradual accumulation of scenes and stories. Give yourself the next few months to write the first draft. Don’t worry about what comes after that. Get the first draft done. Then think about the second draft, the agent, the publisher, the cover design; all those things that make The Book feel like a much bigger project than it actually is. For now, what matters is working out what this book is about. It’s hard work, this book-writing business. It takes time. Time to get the words onto paper, time to procrastinate and come back to the story, time to work out how to tell the story. It might not always be fun and it won’t always be easy, but it will be meaningful. It will mean something in your life and that meaning and sense of satisfaction will seep into other aspects of what you do. You have to write the book in order to find out what the book wants to be. You can start with an idea, though by the time you get to the end of the first draft, you’ll probably - and hopefully! - find that your ideas have changed, that you’ve discovered something new about your characters, the settings, the point of view, even about 3


Describe a family-owned mode of transport. A car, a truck, a bicycle, a horse, a caravan. Something the family uses or has used to get around. Describe its colours, textures, smell, shape, and the sounds it makes. Write about its different parts: glove compartment, roof rack, saddle, seats, doors. Write about its condition and how that has changed over time. Explore its role in one particular journey. Use this description workout to explore how the family moves around.

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Write about some of those people the family is connected to. Neighbours, friends, other families, employers, employees, doctors, therapists, clerics, illicit lovers. In these scenes, explore the family’s interactions with the outside world. Write from the point of view of one of these people commenting on the family. Show how the family is seen by others. Or write a scene in which members of the family meet with or discuss another family. Compare the two families and examine how the family sees itself in relation to other families. Write a scene in which the family or a member of the family clashes with someone outside the family. This could be for cultural reasons, financial reasons, medical or sexual reasons, or any other reason that shows the types of conflict your characters experience and how they deal with them.

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Write about family myths and the family’s mythological figures. Explore those stories that have evolved out of half-truths and the unknown. The myth is often where the mystery of a story lies. Was that great-grandfather really a hero? Did that aunt really choose never to marry? Are we really descended from great sages? Or peasants? Unravel one of the family myths to find the mystery behind it. Sometimes the story that gets repeated over and over, as if it were truth, is hiding a mystery. Write about the mystery at the heart of your story; not necessarily at the heart of the family story, but this story that you’re writing now. What is the mystery you’re curious about? Write two scenes in which your characters or you try to get to the heart of that puzzle.

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Make room for pictures from the family album. Paste in originals or print out copies, sketch or recreate them. Trace the originals. Include lost photographs and imagine ones from undocumented moments in the family’s life. If there had been a photographer, what would they have captured? If you’re writing fiction or don’t have images, invent some, use found images, or buy some off eBay. Write about these photographs, about what you see in them, and what has been forgotten. Make the not-remembering part of the story. Write about what’s outside the frame and the reason the photograph was taken. Continue to excavate until you strike gold.

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Write about that moment in which a mystery is solved. You, a character or the subject of your biography moves from notknowing to knowing, from searching to finding. Maybe their insight is unexpected; what they find is not what they were looking for. Jot down what they’re hoping to discover, and then see if you can make the discovery more unpredictable. Surprising things happen when we plan less and allow the writing to carry us; there are family treasures and secrets to be found. Explore how this shift into knowledge or discovery impacts on relationships between people and on the main characters themselves.

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What does the family look like at the end of the story? If you’ve used a journey to frame your book, write the story of that journey’s end. Are the characters back where they started or somewhere else entirely? If a house has been your framing device, explore different physical spaces for your final scene: from a balcony, looking out; with the character’s back turned to the front door; or an aerial shot. Write about the state of the family at the end of the story. Revisit what you wrote at the beginning, and create scenes that mirror or echo that initial introduction to the family. Show what has changed and what has remained the same.

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Profile for BIS Publishers

The Writing Notebook Family  

The first notebook for (aspirant) writers. It offers writing prompts and activities, suggestions on structuring your book, and enough blank...

The Writing Notebook Family  

The first notebook for (aspirant) writers. It offers writing prompts and activities, suggestions on structuring your book, and enough blank...

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