Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Your Very Own ‘Christmas Carol’ Writing Workshop

Let’s Go

victorian-christmas-1

Sometimes folks are put off writing because they can’t screw down an idea in their head and then get it down. This means that it sits lurking in the back of their brain for years. They then think of another idea and the same thing happens again. This goes on for years and years and nothing ever actually ever gets written. In this writing workshop, I want to show you how to get a plan for your story, down on paper or a screen, to get you over that. Creative writing lessons are very useful for this.

We are going to do it by using Christmas Carol as a springboard for your own story plan. Don’t worry, you don’t have to read the book if you don’t wish to, you simply have to follow these steps and then you have a clear picture of where you are going with your Christmas story.

Take a genre

“His colour changed though when it came on through the heavy door and passed into the room before his eyes.”

christmas-carol-1

Christmas Carol is a ghost story.  The Victorians loved to sit and listen to ghost stories on Christmas Eve and so you might decide to follow suit and plan a ghost story and maybe even write it in time for Christmas. However, if you don’t care for supernatural tales, I would suggest that you write something that you really enjoy reading or watching on television. Writing a genre that you don’t really love is self-defeating, that is my personal belief anyway and this is something that is born from experience. Writing workshops are meant to be enjoyed.

If you don’t like ghost stories perhaps you could write a:

  • Christmas love story – it doesn’t have to be a straight forward one. Love comes in many forms. It could be about friendship, the love of an animal, the love of a hobby or even the love of an ideal.
  • Christmas murder – whatever happened to the bell ringers? it’s not just people that get murdered at Christmas so do Christmas carols (how do we get rid of that woman with the dreadful shrieking voice from our choir before Christmas Eve?) Who is going to do the dirty deed with the live turkey?
  • Christmas comedy – There is no better time for setting comedy really because it is the main time when people that don’t really get on or have anything in common are locked in a house together for hours on end. This is your Christmas gift and it doesn’t matter how many times it has been done because each family has its own weird ways and conflicts so you can always create something fresh from this.
  • Christmas adventure – this also an ideal time to set an adventure story because a lot of people are in transit because of visiting during this time so it allows for all sorts of unexpected problems to occur.

 

Decision time – Make a note of what genre you are going to put in your plan for your Christmas story.

Take a character

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Dickens cleverly chose to portray a miser as the main character for his Christmas story so that he could use the weather as a metaphor for Scrooge’s personality.

He carried his own low temperature about with him” slyly defines the meanness of this old sod without saying it outright. Let’s use this quotation as a springboard for the character that we are going to create for our own story. We don’t have to use ‘he’, it can just as easily be a ‘she’.  Let’s brainstorm some ways a person can be miserly, remember it doesn’t just have to be with their money.

You could have:

  • A husband or wife that is generous with money but never spends Christmas Day with their spouse.
  • A partner that never ever likes the gifts that are bought for them.
  • A parent that never lets the grandparents see the little ones over the holiday period.
  • A member of the family that won’t let the rest of the clan celebrate the season.

The list is endless. You can use one of these or you can come up with your own miser. If you have another idea for a Christmas character and don’t want to use a miser that is fine too. The main objective is to get you to plan your Christmas story.

  • Once you have chosen what your main character is going to be miserly about, I want you to give a reason for their behaviour. So if, for instance, you’ve chosen ‘a partner that never likes the gifts that are bought for them’, you need to re-write your sentence like this – My character never ever likes the gifts that are bought for them because they are frightened of disappointment.
  • You then need to think about what has happened in the past to make your character like this. It could be that when you character was a kid they had wished more than anything in the world for a train set or a beautiful doll but instead got a book on fly fishing. The disappointment was so overwhelming that they prime themselves that they will never like anything they are given again. This means that they will never be disappointed again.
  • Can you see how this instantly makes your character like a real person because they have got a back story and emotions? It also will make your story more truthful because in fiction all characters need to have motives for what they are doing or for how they are acting.

You can still do this exercise if you haven’t chosen to use a miser, you simply need to give the reason for your main character’s behaviour.

Decision – Make a note of your character’s personality type and why they behave like this.

Take a plot

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Dickens has used a miser in Christmas Carol because it is the opposite of the Christmas message. This means that we automatically have conflict. Conflict is at the heart of any plot.  It is conflict that causes the action and moves the story along. Quite often it is the main character that is in conflict with something else and so tries to find ways to overcome the obstacles that they are up against. However, in Christmas Carol, it is the Christmas message that is trying to change Scrooge’s behaviour and this is what moves the plot along.

Every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” Notice how visual the language is. We are in no doubt that Scrooge not only hates Christmas but he also feels violent towards anyone that actually enjoys it. This is what the Christmas Message has to overcome.

If you followed step one, you may not realise it but you have already developed the step that you need to overcome.

Dickens uses the excellent plot device of three attempts. Scrooge is taken to Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future by three supernatural characters. It is through these visits that he sees how destructive the obsession with money is and changes his miserly ways. Basically, this is a very useful structural device that means that you think of three ways to resolve the main character’s problem or change their thinking.  You have to make sure that your character fails the first two times but resolves the problem on the third attempt.

Decision – Make a note of the three steps that your character is going to take to either change their ways or overcome their problem. Remember to make them fail the first two times.

Take a setting

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“Meanwhile the fog and the darkness thickened so that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages and conduct them on their way.”

For me, setting is as important as character and plot whether I am reading or writing. Not only does it create atmosphere but it also allows the story to become whole as the setting connects to each part of the story.  In other words, the setting is freezing cold and foggy – this echoes Scrooge’s heart. It is a ghost story so we can believe in its truth because of the background. This makes it easy to imagine. I know many people talk about clichés but at the end of the day a cliché is something that is tired from being overused, if you keep your story fresh by offering the true essence of yourself into it, you can use such backgrounds for a ghost story.

By this point, you may already have a setting for your Christmas story but in case you haven’t – here are some to choose from:

  • A luxury cruise liner
  • A log cabin in the woods deep in snow
  • An allotment site
  • A theatre
  • A ruined abbey

 

Decision – Make a note of your chosen setting for your Christmas story.

 

Your springboard sentences

You will have noticed that I have taken a sentence out of Christmas Carol to flavour what I am referring to. It is a good idea now to return to your plan and start concocting your own springboard sentences. The reason for this is that having to write one sentence only for each part of your story will actually make it easier for you to start writing. It is amazing how it takes away the fear of getting stuck in. Creative writing workshops are actually fear fighters.

The other reason for having springboard sentences is that because you only have to do one sentence, you will make sure that it is a good one, one that you can appreciate and this will build your confidence as a writer.  You can either do your springboard sentences now or you can do then with your checklist at the bottom, decide which is more comfortable for you.

 

Checklist

Still using Christmas Carol as an example – this is what your plan should look like for your Christmas story.

Genre – ghost story.

My springboard sentence is “His colour changed though when it came on through the heavy door and passed into the room before his eyes.”

Character – Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser. He loves money more than anything because deep down he is frightened of being poor and alone. I believe this comes from him seeing how utterly wretched the very poor are in Victorian society and he feels that he has to avoid this at all costs.

My springboard sentence is “He carried his own low temperature about with him.”

Plot – The aim of the story is to make Scrooge see that being a miser leaves you alone which in turn makes you the poorest person on earth. In essence, his miserly behaviour means that he will end up in the position that he is terrified of.

1st attempt to change Scrooge – a visit from the ghost of Christmas Past makes him see how he lost the true love of his life because of his love of money.

2nd attempt to change Scrooge – a visit from the ghost of Christmas Present shows him the love that takes place in both the Cratchit’s household and also his nephew’s too. He then sees two starving children, Ignorance and Want.

3rd attempt to change Scrooge – a visit from the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge how people act after his death and it is this behaviour that makes him realise what a dreadfully nasty old sod he had become. Finally, he changes his ways.

Springboard sentence – “Every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Setting

The setting for Christmas Carol is Victorian London on Christmas Eve.

My springboard sentence is “Meanwhile the fog and the darkness thickened so that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages and conduct them on their way.”

With your plan clear in your head, you will find it much easier to start writing.

I hope this has helped you – happy writing and Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Historical Fiction – Getting to Work in 19th Century London

It Wasn’t Easy

Here at Loony Literature, we love to get folks writing.

Writing historical fiction is a great way to learn something and transport yourself to another time and place. Your springboard for today is to imagine that you have an accident on the way to work. The only difference is that it happens in 19th century London. Think about who your character might be and what are the consequences of the accident are – do you get involved with someone you might never have met before? This could be to do with a romance or a crime.

London Bridge in the 19th century.

London Bridge in the 19th century.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled something for you to think about. For instance, you may be interested to know that if you had to travel across London in the 19th century, it was hard work even back then.

If you had an excellent job, you would navigate your way to work on horseback. However, this was indeed a costly business. We complain about the cost of parking these days but if you lived then and the horse was your mode of transport, you had to feed and stable the horse at home and also at a place which was near to where you worked. City livery rates were so exorbitant that many would ride half way on horseback and then the rest of the journey to work would be conducted by boat.

Getting Across The Thames

Of course, the Thames was a sort of highway for London but at the start of the 19th century there were only actually three fixed points to get across it. There was London Bridge which had been a crossing of some sort since Roman times or there was Blackfriars Bridge which was built in 1769 or Westminster Bridge which first came into being in 1750.

This meant that if you needed to travel across the river to get to work you would probably have used one of the 3,000 wherries or small boats which were available for hire. We can read about characters in books being rowed across the Thames, such as the dastardly Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

Happy writing.

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Loony Literary Links to Charles Dickens – Challenge!

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here at Loony Literature we enjoy both Literature and Family History.  Therefore we have decided to do a monthly feature- if the readers like it – on literary links which you may or may not be surprised about.   They are all true, apart from one – you have to decide which one it is.  Please put your answers in the comment box.  The true culprit will be identified in next month’s challenge.

Emily Dickinson, a poet to be remembered.

Charles Dickens is Emily Dickinson’s 5th cousin 3 times removed.

John Steinbeck – author and Nobel prize winner.

Charles Dickens is John Steinbeck’s 5th cousin 4 times removed.

Author J.M. Barrie – best remembered for Peter Pan

Charles Dickens is J.M. Barrie’s 2nd cousin 5 times removed.

Jonathan Swift fascinated thousands with “Gulliver’s Travels”.

Charles Dickens is Jonathan Swift’s 3rd cousin 4 times removed.

Jane Austen – author and wit.

Charles Dickens is Jane Austen’s 7th cousin 1 time removed.

Robert Louis Stevenson – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will never be forgotten.

Charles Dickens is Robert Louis Stevenson’s 7th cousin 2 times removed.

Sir Walter Scott – novelist and poet.

Charles Dickens is Sir Walter Scott’s 6th cousin 4 times removed.

Elvis Presley – what hips!

Charles Dickens is Elvis Presley’s 5th cousin 6 times removed.

George Eliot – author – used a male name to be taken seriously as a writer.

Charles Dickens is George Eliot’s 5th cousin 7 times removed.

Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock lives on.

Charles Dickens is Arthur Conan Doyle’s 6th cousin 4 times removed.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning – poet and wife of poet, Robert Browning.

Charles Dickens is Elizabeth Barratt Browning’s 7th cousin.

Aldous Huxley – a brave, new author?

Charles Dickens is Aldous Huxley’s  8th cousin 4 times removed.

Disclaimer – this is just for fun and all information is taken from Ancestry.co.uk who allow families to upload their history.  Neither Loony Literature or Ancestry.co.uk can be held responsible for any errors therefore.

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Loony Literature Holds a Party for Charles Dickens.

Loony Literature is holding aparty for Charles  Dickens.  Sadly, it all goes wrong.

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Loony Literature hold a party for Charles Dickens

 

 

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6 Great Dickens Related Activities To Share With Your Child

I have a theory that if children are casually introduced to our literary heritage when they are young, they will go on to do well with English and Literature when older.  I have come across so many people who dismiss Literature because they don’t understand Shakespeare or say it’s all boring.  Quite often, I can see fear in their eyes.  Yes, it is true.  People see books written in the Victorian period as alien.  Plays written in Elizabeth I’s time, well we don’t mention those at all.  The reason for this, I am sure, is that they were not casually introduced to them as children.  When I use the word ‘casually’, I mean not making a big issue of it.  Enjoying great literature is simply a way of life.  It enriches all our lives.  It doesn’t matter if we haven’t got two pennies to rub together, NOBODY, can take away that feeling which rises through the body when we have fusion with a work of great literature.  My fourteen year old recently chose to perform the end monologue from Doctor Faustus by Marlowe for his acting exam.  He is expecting a great result because he felt so confident with it.  At the age of thirteen he got a distinction in his exam for a Richard II monologue, again something he had chosen.  He simply has no fear of great literature; this is because it has always been there in his life.  I have to hastily add, that I have never fed it to him in great dollops or made him watch or read any of it.  It has always been casually offered.

Watch Great Expectations together.  This is a good one to introduce children to Dickens.  The atmosphere of the marshes and the graves makes it eerie. Also, children can empathise with Pip’s fear when the escaped convict, Magwitch threatens him.  Even if we just watch a clip of the beginning of the film on Youtube, it’s a start to introducing our children to Charles Dickens.

Have a communal reading session together.  Make the room cosy, have something available to eat and drink, then sit around with the kids and read a few pages of Dickens to them.  Pickwick Papers has some wonderful comedy scenes which children will react to.  Always ask their opinions of the characters.  Tell them they can say exactly what they think because there is no right or wrong answer in Literature as long as they have the evidence from the text to back themselves up.  If any of the children say that it’s rubbish or they are bored, tell them that is an excellent critical opinion if they can explain what it is about the text which makes them think that way.

This is a bit eerie.  Find a graveyard with Victorian headstones and ask the children to take photographs of the headstones from that period.  Lead the children into noticing the ages when people died.  The chances are that quite a few of them would be children themselves.  This offers a discussion opportunity about the lives of children in the Victorian period.  Later use extracts from Oliver Twist to demonstrate how difficult some children’s lives were.

Visit a Charles Dickens site.  There is Dickens World in Kent, Charles Dickens Museum in London and Charles Dickens Museum in Portsmouth – the place of his birth.  There are also London Charles Dickens Walking Tours.  Taking children to places which celebrate writers and their works’ demonstrates the writer’s value in our society.  It diminishes the image of a dead person from long ago writing a dusty old book.

Dickens would walk for hours and hours.  Walking helps to give clarity with plots, character motives and helps ideas for settings.  Take the children on a Dickens type inspirational walk.  Give them notebooks, pens and a camera.  If possible, go somewhere they have not been before so that they are seeing with new eyes.  Be playful, bounce ideas around.  Something strange has probably happened in this place before – what could it be? – Who was involved?  Get important words written down in notebooks.  If the children are too young to write or simply don’t like writing yet, don’t worry, it’s the ideas which are important.  The object of the exercise is to let them see that there are creative opportunities around every corner.

Take a scene from a Dickens novel, a television adaptation or film and get the child or children to act it out in their own words.  If there are not enough children the adults can join in.  It’s great fun.  The object of this exercise is to get the child to interpret what is happening in the scene.  Also, as a language exercise, discuss how language has changed since Victorian times.  If the scene contains an upper class person (that sounds dreadful, but it is the English class terminology from then) and someone with a cockney accent, discuss the fact that the two people speak so differently.  It will give the children a valuable insight into the class system of Victorian England.  If possible, get some costumes or props.  It helps to create a Victorian atmosphere and adds to the fun.

I always make sure that I enjoy these types of activities because I know that if I don’t think they are fun, then the children involved certainly won’t.

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6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens.

Solitary reading is a recent pastime.  Traditionally, a book was read to an audience.  Since people could speak they have gathered around fires exchanging stories.  Wonderful family traditions can be built on communal reading – I read a Victorian ghost story to the family every Christmas Eve.  We sit by the fire in a candle lit room and collectively enjoy the atmosphere.  It’s very Charles Dickens.

Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in...

Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in Nottingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great literature wrestles with difficult subjects.  Sometimes when we try discussing a subject with our teens, it can sound like we are preaching and our well meant words fall on ear phone ears.  However, when we read to our teens, difficult subjects arise naturally and we can talk about them as part of our reading experience.  For instance, in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Doctor Jekyll takes chemical substances which change both his appearance and his behaviour.  In effect, it ruins his life.  When we chat with our teens about their opinion of Doctor Jekyll, we usually find that they have already made up their minds about him and his actions.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde po...

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde poster. Converted losslessly from .tif to .png by uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schools do not have time to cover a full novel because of their tight curriculum.    At this point, I expect parents are wondering, who does have time to read a full novel to a teenager especially as they could read it themselves.  To cover the last point first, many great novels are being overlooked because teenagers are not being introduced to them.  Many teenagers read novels from our literary heritage because they have to to pass exams.  This gives out the wrong message about these great works of fiction.  If we offer lounging on the sofa, having a piece of cake and being introduced to the world of Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie”, without having to write an essay on it, it’s an appealing proposition.  As for the time factor, reading sessions can replace: watching programmes which nobody really wants to watch, time spent complaining of boredom, time spent squabbling or staring at a computer screen because there seems nothing more interesting to do.

Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider ...

Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider press is just off the B4070, where the path leads up to Wickridge Hill. It's only a quarter of a mile from Slad where Laurie Lee, of "Cider with Rosie" fame was a regular at the Woolpack Inn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading to our teenagers aids bonding.  Before our children can read, most of us, read them bedtime stories at least.  The beaming child’s face gives us the sense of joy which only parenting can release. The child gets to a certain reading stage though and we feel that we no longer need to read to them.  Often, parents and teenagers can seem to grow apart because although they share a home, they live in different worlds.  Reading to our teenagers gives us something to share with them, therefore something to discuss.  I love Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, my teenage son doesn’t.  We have stimulating arguments about it.  It’s better than quarrelling over the fact that he hasn’t put his dirty socks in the wash.

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Br...

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Bride of Frankenstein as Frankenstein's monster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading to our teens balances the relationship between child and parent as it empowers them to read to us.  If we read to them, after a while they will choose books, stories etc to read to us. It gives them self esteem and therefore balances the teenager/parent struggle.  Teenagers who have a sense of control in their lives are easier to live with.  Having their parents listening to their choice of literature gives them a feeling of autonomy.

Teenagers are the adults of the future and we need them to embrace our great literary heritage.  We need them to read to their future children.  By reading to our teens we are promoting a love and understanding of literature.  We are sending out the message “do as I do, not as I say.”

Happy reading.

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