Tag: writing ideas

How to create interesting characters, Part 2.

How to create interesting charactersContinuing our look at character building, here is the second part of my series on how to create interesting characters. These two paragraphs were written by Martyn Bedford, our 2017 Art of Writing teacher. It’s wonderful advice.

It’s important that your character develops in the course of the story. By the end they should be different (either practically or emotionally) than they were at the outset. This can be subtle or dramatic but the lead character needs to have changed in some way. If they end the narrative as they began it, unaltered by what happens along the way, there is no story.

To be ‘real’, a character needs to be particularized not generalized – by that, I mean they must not be stereotyped, but individual and unique. Paint him or her in small details rather than broad brushstrokes.

How to create interesting charactersIn other news:

Emma Fraser, our Art of Writing manuscript assessor, tells us that Bloodhound Books are opening up for submissions on March 10th. This could be a great ‘in’ if you are working on something with suspense.


And why are publishers still coming out with hardbacks first?


Lastly, the link below is a nice Infographic from Global English Editing and the Expert Editor.

On the writing routines of 20 famous writers. I enjoyed it because am always struggling with my own writing routine!


How to create interesting characters

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Writers often ask me where they should start their story. They have the idea in their heads. Scenes, thoughts or characters whirl in their imaginations. That’s where you should start writing. With whatever it is that is tugging at your mind.

This point is clearer, in an old Blog post recently found by a reader: Start with a fragment. John then sent a series of questions. I have outlined them here for this week’s Blog. I hope this helps!

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

I wonder about your research methods, and how much, if at all, they vary for non-fiction or fiction. Do you scout sites/locations, just as film crews do?

With my Creative Non-Fiction books I always scout the real location. Though what ends up on the page may vary greatly from the original site, I find it necessary to go to the location.

Was sketching the only way you could recreate an appropriate scene? I expect that you have also used many images, both your own photos, and those available on the web, to provide colour, texture and detail to stimulate your imagination, but are there any of the old mezzadria farmhouses still preserved in a state that reflects the early 20th century?

When I sketched the old Tuscan farmhouse setting for Death in the Mountains I needed to understand the feel of the living room and kitchen. If I know what it looks like in my imagination, readers will too. I won’t get confused, so my readers won’t get confused. Stories often play out in kitchens and living rooms. So we must know exactly their dimensions and building materials. Knowing those elements gives us sight, sound, smell and touch. If I know what the floor is made from, I can imagine the sound of footsteps, or creaking wooden floor boards. The sounds of children playing on floor boards etc.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Do you ‘walk through’ your rooms/scenes, in or out of character, to get the feel of the setting and to capture ‘their’ reactions? I guess I’m trying to see how you visualise what you are creating.

Yes, when I’m writing, I am inside my head so much that I don’t even see my office, I see my site or location. My characters walk. How many steps does it take? When Artemio was attacked in his barn, he crawled to the house. How far away was the barn to the house? He fell against the front door. How? What exactly did his body do? How did Bruna drag him in, a woman on her own? How did Felice and Bruna drag him up the stairs? How close was the door to the stairs? You have to totally immerse yourself physically and mentally in the scene’s action, understand everything about it. Only then you can describe it. You have to feel it happening.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Does it in any way approach being an observer, describing settings, even ‘recording’ conversations?

Yes, I record conversations and interviews all the time. Try to get the nuance of voices, dialect, sayings, odd phraseology. Tone too – gravelly, high pitched. Voices reveal so much and later, when I’m transcribing I can find so much more description.

Thanks so much John! Don’t hesitate to write back, everyone, with any thoughts or questions.

I hope others are as interested in your answers as I am. Thanks again for sharing aspects of your writing process with us.


The Adventure Continues! Meet Matthew Ferrara, the new man behind the Art of Writing.

Meet Matthew FerraraMESSAGE FROM LISA; It’s such a pleasure to introduce you to my friend and now business partner, Matthew Ferrara. Together we are planning the most exciting writers retreat in Florence, as The Art of Writing moves from the mountains of Tuscany to the heart of the renaissance. Here, in his words, Matthew talks about what writing means to him:

As a philosopher and keynote speaker, you might say I’m in the business of words. Whether it’s on stage, on social media or in articles, the right words at the right time make a big difference in the lives of readers, listeners and followers. It’s the responsibility that comes with having a voice that can reach so many – or just one person – which every writer must develop, earn and respect. So it’s with great excitement that in 2018 I now have the opportunity to add that voice to The Art of Writing Retreats in Tuscany. 

Nearly five years ago I attended my first Art of Writing retreat, hosted in the hills outside Tuscany, by the accomplished journalist and author Lisa Clifford. It was a week to disconnect from the daily hustle and develop my skills as a wordsmith. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in my writing style, as I wrote about in “Italian Bus Drivers” at the end of the week: 

Meet Matthew Ferrara‘To rest is to restore: not just energy, but a sense of normalcy. What you find is that, while resting, your “non-technical” qualities re-emerge. Imagination, memory, enthusiasm. Not just copy, paste, or send. As we rebalance ourselves, opportunities emerge. We gladly explore new neighbourhoods, food, ideas. Growth, in all its forms, is exercised by rest. It should really be practiced daily.

But rest is a hard place to reach. Perhaps that’s why there are Italian bus drivers, who are the worst in the world. Ask the stomachs in the back seat. Rarely has a driver been good enough to uncoil the round, rolling roads of an Italian hilltop for his passengers. Instead, his driving exaggerates everything we hope to take a break from – the frenzied hurry of our chaotically-connected modern existence.’

That piece wasn’t just a reflection on what it means to attend a writers retreat or take a week-long creativity vacation. It was a lesson for me in what being a master of words could do every day. In a world where the pace often seems like an Italian bus careening down the hill, we can use words to help others and ourselves take a break. To write so that others may immerse themselves in the magic of our words and emerge renewed. That’s the gift that works for writer and reader alike.

Meet Matthew Ferrara

From that lesson, I would return to the Art of Writing multiple times over the years, ultimately leading to the opportunity to become a partner in the project this year. It’s the chance for me to make words worthwhile every day as we seek other writers around the world to come rest, recharge and write with us for a week. 

Therein lies one more lesson in the magic of words: The writers retreat. The word isn’t about removing oneself from the world, to somehow separate from what’s holding us back. Rather, it’s about learning to re-treat yourself to the restorative power of creative writing. That’s what I hope we’ll continue to do at the Art of Writing. Help others build their competence and confidence so that they, too, can turn writing into a treat they’ll love every day.

Meet Matthew Ferrara

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Ever wonder how writers keep track of their chapters, as their books start to gather momentum? How do writers organise their drafts? How do they manage their hard copies? Should you keep everything you print off?

For me, it’s the magic of a simple coat rack. This is how I build my books. I hang the chapters in chronological order, starting at the right hand side of the coat rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Watching that coat rack fill up with chapters and fragments is fabulous! It is enormously satisfying to see those sheets of paper pile up as I edit hard copies. This is the fourth book I have written using this method. I bought this coat rack at the Santo Spirito market years ago. It was originally attached to the corridor walls of a nearby primary school.

By the time I’ve finished this novel there will be about 200,000 words hanging along this coat rack. The average contract for a novel is for 80,000 words. But after I’ve ‘killed my darlings’ (deleted what I thought was precious) and tossed unusable drafts, there will be at least 200,000 words of text hanging along that rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

My office is on the top floor of my house in Florence. Under the rafters. So this couch keeps me sane when reading through either my own drafts or text from the writers I mentor through the Art of Writing.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

As the winter months enclose us here in Italy, I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Sorry I’ve been out of touch but am going into my ‘cave’ (office) to hibernate and write now, so you can expect to hear quite a lot from me.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

What’s your system? How do you keep your chapters in order? Do you print them off and have a filing system that could give us an organisational idea?

Thank you too to Birgitte Brondsted at the Dusty Green Olive who wrote this lovely story on me and my office a while ago. Check it out here.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

We had a 10 day holiday, just enough time to really taste the area around Nice, Cannes and Antibes. I chose Vence for our Air B and B home with a pool because it is only a 5 hour drive from Florence. My mother is 90 years old and I am always scared to lose airport access in case I have to leave Europe at a moment’s notice. So south eastern France seemed like a good choice. Easy to get back home if I needed to fly out quickly, yet we were in another country on holiday.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.Our Air B and B house was 2 minutes above Vence, which has a higher altitude than the lower lying coastal towns. The traffic to get in and out of Nice to Vence was appalling and took us way longer than anticipated. On a map it says 20 minutes but in reality there were road works and crazy holiday traffic. So a day at the beach in Nice involved a lot of traffic.

I couldn’t recommend staying in the Col de Vence (mountains of Vence) area highly enough. This time of year it is so hot in the southern beach resorts of Europe and Vence, and though not the most picturesque village in the region, it is COOL! It also has everything you’ll need. When travelling with five teenagers it’s good to be near a chemist, supermarket, medical centre, takeaway, news agency, thriving piazza with cafes and the odd pub/bar for the older teens to ‘go out’ to.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.From Vence we did day trips to:

  • Gourdon
  • Bar dur Loup
  • Tourrettes
  • Coursegoules
  • Saint Paul de Vence

The favourite for everyone ended up being Saint Paul de Vence.

A South of France, Provence Food Tour is essential and was probably the highlight of my trip. This tour by The French Way was fantastic – tailor made for the likes of me or any food nut. Marion, a lovely young lady, owns and runs the business herself and is passionate about everything to do with cuisine, wine and oil. I would drive 5 hours right now to be with Marion and her food again.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

We had a Provence olive oil tasting at Maison Bremond but unfortunately I had a wee tussle with the French ‘manager olive oil teacher’ because she was treating us like we were utter idiots so I told her. Marion had to intervene when I went on to say she was making me feel very uncomfortable. Anyway, the ‘manager olive oil teacher’ and I made up and became friends (sort of) but still, I would tread warily in that shop on 15, rue du Pont Vieux, Nice. Especially when she called out ‘Bonjour’ to a perusing American client who responded ‘I’m just looking.’ To which our French manager olive oil teacher indignantly replied ‘I am only saying Good Day, I’m not asking you to buy,’ with a roll of her eyes.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.A Wine Tasting was also necessary. The wines are so different from our normally quaffed Italian wines. I thought it a good idea to also go as ecologically sound as possible and chose A Taste of Nice: Tour de France of Organic Wines. Sublime! And seemingly without a headache – does it get better than that?

A day on the water was also a good idea – to see the French Riviera from the sea is beautiful. Book early on this boating idea – it was really hard to find a place for 9 people with 2 weeks to go to arrival time.

By far the best food we had was in Mar sur Loup. If you want a gorgeous lunch in a leafy garden go to L’Ecole des Filles – set in the old village school. 380 av Amiral de Grasse, telephone: 04 93094020

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

I rather liked all those French beaches but my Italian husband was not enamoured. Frankly, I didn’t know what he was grumbling about as I couldn’t see any difference between the Italian way of beaching and the French way of beaching. Both require loads of umbrellas, lined up row after row with easy access to a café/bar, shower and any other kind of soothing beach amenity. Comfort being the name of the game at the seaside in both France and Italy. Probably the French recliners were shoved closer together, that would be the only real difference I could see.

If you have any tips to add to these, please comment below – I am going back to this area so would love to try your ideas. Thank you in advance!

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.One of the glorious things about living in Florence is meeting the most interesting people. I meet travelers, inventors, creators, inspirers, reporters and sometimes I meet someone who
is all of those things. Like Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe. I am lucky enough to officially announce that Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe, will join us for the September 10-16 Art of
Writing retreat.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.It’s a treat to announce this because it means that not only will our September writers have the opportunity to meet one of the loveliest girls but also to chat, drink, dine, bushwalk and generally hang out with Georgette too. She has much to tell us, Georgette. Every time I meet up with her I learn so much. Love that! Don’t you? When you chat with someone and find that you are learning and growing? Am feeling particularly blessed about this amazing group of women (and men!) that will join me this year in Casentino.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.Who would have thought? All those years ago, when I was 17 years old and a barmaid at the Red Garter in Florence. Who could possibly have known that gorgeous Florentine medical student would become my husband and the father of my two gorgeous babies? That 38 years and four books later, I’d still be here!

Life is a surprise. You never know what your journey is going to be.

I am eternally grateful to Florence and all that she has given me. And thanks to you too for being on this journey with me.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Check out what our writers are reading this summer.

We have the most wonderful group of professional writers on the Art of Writing team. From New York best sellers to UK literary award winners, our teachers make a living from their writing. That’s our dream job, no? To become a career writer. It’s such an honour to have the wonderful writers listed below on our teachers’ lineup.

So what are The Art of Writing creative writing teachers reading and writing this summer?

New York best sellers list author, Jane Corry, is reading The Breakdown by B. A. Paris. Having just read Jane’s My Husband’s Wife, I was thrilled to see her new book Blood Sisters with Penguin is also out this summer. But what is Jane writing now? “This European summer will be a busy few months. I am writing next year’s book for Penguin, The Dead Ex.” What a gift to have Jane’s advice and guidance next year. After her three book Penguin deal, Jane will have much to teach us from June 3-9, 2018.

Out wonderful Manuscript Reader and teacher, Emma Fraser told me yesterday that she has just finished reading His Bloody Project by Roderick Macrae. Emma has just picked up The Client by John Grisham (apparently she put it aside for a while) and when that’s finished Emma will read The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding.

Every time I speak to Emma she is on a tight publishing contract deadline, this time it’s a three book deal with Little Brown. “I’m currently writing a multi-generational novel about love, betrayal and atonement set against the background of the Fall of Singapore and Scotland. It’s called Greyfriars and is due out in January 2018!” And away she went to get on with revisions!  

From September 10-16, 2017, multiple award-winning and internationally renowned British author of five novels for adults and three for young adults, Martyn Bedford will join us in Tuscany. Martyn’s book Flip managed to keep my 15 year old son’s interest from beginning to end. No small feat.

Chatting to Martyn this week he said he was just back to the UK after three days in Italy. “I was taking part in the Mare di Libri (Sea of Books) Festival of writing for children and young adults. When I go abroad I always try to read a book from that country, so I took Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. It’s the first of her highly acclaimed Neapolitan quartet. Okay, the novel is set in Naples rather than Rimini, where I’ve been staying, but it’s a literary flavour of Italy nonetheless. As many readers and critics before me have been, I am absolutely engrossed by the tale of Lenu’s and Lila’s turbulent friendship during childhood and adolescence. No doubt, I will take the second book with me when I visit Tuscany for my week’s tutoring with the Art of Writing from September 10-16!”

Having read the Elena Ferrante books I am looking forward to talking to Martyn about them.

So what is Martyn writing right now? “I’m forty thousand words into the first draft of my new novel for teenagers and young adults, The House that Jacaranda Built. I don’t like to talk about novels-in-progress before at least a draft is completed, in case the idea goes stale on me for being “explained” before it’s written. So I’ll just say that it’s the tale of a family that offers refuge to a homeless teenager who they find asleep in the doorway of their café, and the consequences arising from their decision.”

Am always fascinated to hear what writers are working on and also what they’re reading. This Blog makes for a good Summer Reading List! Thanks so much to The Art of Writing writers for their thoughts and best wishes to everyone for a productive summer of writing.

Hugs from Florence!


Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Find the right words, and learn how to keep them from getting away.

The right words, unique thoughts, perfect phrases, stunning sentence construction – why is it that they often come unbidden when you’re away from your computer?

It’s interesting how prose flows when you drive your car, take your shower, cook your dinner or hear a certain song.

Find the right wordsThere is something about doing something else that clears your mind and lets the right words come. Sometimes we sit at our computers for hours and labour over the right expression but it does not emerge. It seems as though our conscious mind is blocking the flow of our creativity and that once we step away from forcing it, that stunning sentence comes to us. As in, the right words or exciting ideas bubble up seemingly from nowhere when we are not concentrating so hard.

That’s why you must keep notebooks everywhere. Beside your bed, on the kitchen counter, in the car, bathroom, wherever it is that your ideas tend to come to you. It’s a personal thing – the arrival of that uninvited, yet most welcome thought. What’s not individual or personal is that it happens to every writer, the perfect thought can come unbidden at any time. A notebook in your pocket or handbag is not enough. Maybe you were transcribing and forgot to take your notebook with you. That perfect phrase will never come back again. Believe me; it’s best to write down your thought when it comes. Don’t think it will ever come back the way it did because it won’t. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Be sure to read my blog series From Notes to First Draft on then turning these notes into scenes for your novel! 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Story ideas; Where to get them, and how to use them.

Story ideasStory ideas imprint themselves on my brain and I cannot get rid of them until I write them down. They replay themselves, like movies, and I am always subconsciously trying to write the idea or scene down, to describe it.

It’s a very good idea to try and work out how you form your story ideas. If you can figure out how your brain ‘finds a story’ it helps you understand yourself as writer. It can also be the key to helping you get out of a writing slump or writer’s block. 

Story ideasHow are the ‘idea seeds’ for your stories planted? Do they grow from a person you saw or met? Did that person then morph into a character that became a story? Are your ideas born from one anecdotal story that grows into ten more anecdotal stories, until you ultimately have all those yarns knitted together to form a narrative?

Even if all you craft are vignettes, these scenes can be a great way to start a chapter. They help you lead,Story ideas or segue into the body of your chapter. They give you a chance to say something about your character before you go on to write what it is that the chapter has to say. In other words, the chapter needs an interesting place to start so that you can take your story where it has to go. 

Start now to try and figure out where your ideas come from.

Story ideas

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it’s finished.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.Yet another rewrite. My fifth and I’m told to expect more.

So I am working on a new book, as you know. It’s a novel – my first actually as my last four books were either creative non-fiction or non-fiction. The pages before me are fourth draft. The first draft was in third person and that didn’t feel right. The second draft became first person. I rewrote the third draft because the story needed big character changes and improvements. The text then needed a fourth draft to make it fit into a tight ‘thriller’ genre with a big suspense emphasis. This need to restructure the fourth time became screamingly obvious after a reread as I wanted to follow the rule ‘the story should turn about every four to six pages.’ Nowadays, if you want to sell, and sell well, you basically have to follow that rule.  

Now, after having shown it to a good friend who is also a top New York literary agent, the advice is that my new book needs, yet again, another draft. This will be my 5th draft and now the book will be in third person (again).

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.

Whining about rewrites will do no good. We write, that’s what we do. Again and again and again, changing, recrafting, improving, omitting, and adding. Part of being a writer is knowing that rewriting is compulsory. If you don’t want to rewrite – then get out of the game now. If you think what you’ve written is perfect and doesn’t need rewriting, you’ll never be published.

A dear friend of mine, on a three book deal with Little Brown, is on her TENTH rewrite. I have nothing to complain about.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.The more you rewrite, the faster you become at writing. I am a slow writer (no surprises there, you’ve only been waiting for this new book for about three years, or more) and I need to be faster. The only way I am going to write faster is by writing more. I need to rewrite, write faster and ultimately write better, without fear of the text being crappy. I can edit the bad bits out later. Right now I have to rewrite, then write more and faster.

Everyone has to rewrite, there is no way around it.

I totally do NOT buy into this (a tip I found on the internet) attitude:

Eventually, redrafting will just spoil the novel – there is a danger that the story you set out to write ends up so ‘surgically’ enhanced that it no longer resembles the original story – the intrinsic core of the story has been lost.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.I do not agree with this advice because fundamentally I am a journalist, accustomed to being questioned, subjected to Fact Finders, sub-editors and finicky editors who know what story they want and how it should be crafted. I bow to their expertise. I trust those with more experience than me. I humbly accept advice though do not automatically take it. If I see what they mean, I accept their advice.

But I know, after being in this game for my entire life, that I must rewrite. Again.

I agree with Michael Crichton, ‘good books are not written. Good books are rewritten.’

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

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