Event report

Conference 2012 - Towards Zero - it’s all in the back story

Report published 21 July 2012

Anne Ashurst wowed us with her talk, using some of her favourite books, such as Rebecca, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice to highlight just how the back story is fed in. Each story can be worked back to one point, towards zero, the point where everything changes. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this, all we need is a story to tell.

Anne looks at each story as a mathematical formula, x plus y equals z. She refers to z as the MacGuffin. In Pride and Prejudice it’s the need to marry and in Persuasion it’s snobbery.

Whilst writing Anne has a jigsaw puzzle she does when needing time to think. She starts by finding the edges of the puzzle and building the frame. Once completed she fills in the middle much more easily and writing is like this.

By knowing your characters really well, knowing every little detail about them, you know how and why they react to certain situations. You may not need to use all every detail for your character, but knowing them will give the jigsaw frame. The characters are the building blocks of your story and knowing all you possibly can about them will give more rounded characters.

Anne then went on to talk about new ideas that intrude whilst you are writing. She likened it to walking on a beach when a baby seal comes out of the water and asks you to play with it. You tell it no, you’re busy writing and it goes back to the sea. A bit further on it will come out again, but this time it will have grown and be more forceful. Send it away again. Finally it comes out of the sea again and this time it’s massive, a fully grown seal and it won’t take no for an answer.

She told us to treat these intruding ideas like the seal, send it back to the sea, allowing it grow more. When it comes out again, send it back again, so that finally it will have grown from a seal pup to an adult seal. Only then is your idea ready to explore.

Written by Rachael Thomas

It's a fact

The first romantic novel – arguably the first modern novel in English – was 'Oroonoko' by Aphra Behn, published in 1688, full of drama, violence and cruelty; it ends tragically.