The Scrivener’s Forge – finale



After a year, this writing tutorial has come to an end. Thanks to everyone who participated. There were some great stories. Though I will be closing the collection, here are two final exercises you can try on you own. Feel free to comment here about what you learned from these exercises.


“Write what you know” is standard advice to writers. And it’s good advice. But some philosophers would say we never really know anyone except ourselves. We have to work to understand other people and other lives. So research is also part of a writer’s craft. Through research you can extend what you know.


interview a friend. Ask them to describe their workplace, including any machines, special furniture or equipment. Ask them to describe the skills involved in their work and how they learned them. Incorporate some (not all) of these details into a scene in which a character is tired of their job and longs to leave it. Don’t overdo the details – just provide enough to give an atmosphere of authenticity.



Listeners of music enjoy rhythm and repeat elements. Readers do as well.  When elements of your story repeat and resonate with each other you can create a deeper sense of meaning. Resonance, in physics, is where a sound or vibration in one object is created by a sound or vibration in another. The reader feels rewarded when something they remember from the beginning of a story is repeated later on.  These links can be used as “hinges” where the storyline transitions to a different place or time. A well-known example is in the film, Schindler’s List, where the girl in the red coat provides the turning points for Schindler.

When characters, situations and timelines echo and resonate with each other, the writer can create an illusion of causal connection or bridges between elements that are, in the prosaic world, distinct. Stories where the ending resonates with the beginning are particularly satisfying.

This kind of resonance is usually added during editing stages, by carefully layering in additional detail. So this exercise will be a little artificial.


Revise a story you have already written or, if you don’t have a suitable one, write something new. You should add an element to the ending that repeats, echoes, or recalls in an altered form, an element from the beginning. This might be something like a colour, a sound, or an object. Objects, since they remain unchanged, are often useful devices for emphasising the passage of time. Consider how the resonance you’ve created adds to your story.

The Swan and the Company – Scrivener’s Forge 12

This is my response to the exercise on creativity which asks you to build a story combining two unrelated things. I followed the exercise literally and linked a swan and a company.


The swan looked morose, or at least self-involved, as it swept sedately down the river. Will knew how it felt.

Knowing how others felt was Will’s great gift. It wasn’t for nothing that Ben called him the Swan of Avon. He was celebrated at court and beloved by the groundlings. Or did Ben mean this was his swansong, the glorious music before he was taken to Apollo’s bosom? Yes that would be like Ben. Will frowned.

Portia’s speech came to him: “Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music.”

He hardly heard what Burbage babbled. “Will, you cannot, must not.”

Will struck a pose, chest out, gazing out over the reaches of the river. “It will be a wonderful play, a great play. My finest work.”

“Mayhaps, but it will be the death of us. Your Henrys were magnificent. The groundlings hissed with glee at your Richard. But you cannot write the story of the Queen’s Royal father. It is too bloody and too soon. Stick to history that nobody alive remembers and you can fashion the story as Her Majesty pleases.”

“Cannot? Cannot, you say?” Will thumped his chest. “I am William Shakespeare, the Bard, the Swan of Avon. Have I not proven my worth to good Queen Bess? Did not my piece for her revels delight her? May I not write as I please?”

Richard Burbage put a hand on his playwright’s arm and spoke gently. “Were it up to me, you could write whatever delighted you. But it is not up to me. Richard. Lord Robert has taken an interest in your latest work.”

Will waved an airy hand. “Pah, Robert Cecil, the Queen’s pygmy.”

“The Queen’s spymaster. Those in whom he takes an interest tend to end up lacking their heads. He has closed the Theatre and turned my company out into the streets.”

“My Henry VIII will rescue you and bring us glory, Burbage. If it be my swansong, then so be it – I am prepared to die for my art.”

Burbage sighed. Will was two people – the amiable jobbing wordsmith, always ready to rewrite a scene, and the vainglorious braggart. He took Will’s arm. “Let us to the tavern, Will. A pot of ale is what we need to aid us meditate upon this matter. Bring what you have written thus far and we will see.”

“An alehouse be not the place for my manuscript. There is too great a danger of spillage and ruin.”

Burbage smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes. “Fear not, Will. You can trust that I will ensure no harm comes to our endeavour.”

The Scrivener’s Forge 12 – An exercise in creativity


You can have all the technique in the world, but it won’t help without a great story idea. Luckily, there are techniques than can help you create new ideas. A big part of creativity is about making new links between old things. Metaphor, that staple of poetry, does exactly this (“shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”).


Write a scene in which you take two unrelated things (a swan and a company takeover for example) and make one flow from the other. The craft is in making the connection seem natural and urgent.

Rupture – Scrivener’s Forge 11

This is my response to the exercise in The Scrivener’s Forge on point of view, examining an incident from the point of view of two different characters.

Gilbert Garcin “La Rupture” Tightrope Walkers

Ayesha came to him.

“Zami, I’m pregnant.”

He said the usual silly things men say – What? How? Why? Are you sure?

‘It will be all right, won’t it?’ she asked. ‘You must marry me.’

‘Your brothers will never allow it,” he temporised.

“My brothers and father will kill me if I have a baby and I am unmarried.”

The moment of betrayal is always agonising. You recite for yourself all the reasons that make it right.  There’s duty. There’s the uncomfortable truth that you already have a wife and two vaguely C of E kids.  And those are good justifications. But you can only betray what you first love.

He walked away. He looked back once, and shed a tear.


Ayesha tracked him down.

“Zami, I’m pregnant.”

She searched his eyes as he stammered and asked all the stupid, obvious, irrelevant questions. She wanted to see love there, concern, and maybe even joy. She saw fear.

‘It will be all right, won’t it?’ she asked. ‘You must marry me.’

‘Your brothers will never allow it,’

How could he not understand? “My brothers and father will kill me if I have a baby and I am unmarried.”

The sound of her voice came to her through the numb bone of her skull flat, factual, unemotional. But her body shook.

She saw it in his eyes before he said anything. She saw his need for her, perhaps even caring. But his love was insufficient. Or maybe his duty was misplaced. Either way, she understood this was going to be her problem, not theirs. Men were animals, just like Mama said. Her arm lashed out, intending to slap him.

He flinched but didn’t draw away. She stopped her hand, an inch from his face, caressed his cheek and then spat in his face.

The Scrivener’s Forge 11 – Point of view again


This follows on from last month’s exercise on point of view.


Write a short scene with two characters in which your main character encounters a strange or difficult situation involving another character. Use what you know about your main character’s desires and fears to show how they respond to the other character. Now repeat the exercise, this time using the other character as your main character. Notice how this change of point-of-view alters the story.

Beans Talk – Scrivener’s Forge 10

This is my response to the Scrivener’s Forge 10 exercise on point of view




The boy was bad, clean bad, all the way through. Everybody knew it. Take the three bears, for example. He’d broken into their house, scarfed their porridge, and smashed up their furniture. Officer Krupke had called in Jack’s mother to give her a final warning – one more incident and the lad was headed for prison.

Bears, of course, are cuddly. Who doesn’t love a bear? It’s not the same with giants. When folk see me coming, they run and hide. And yeah, I can understand – I’m ugly and, if I don’t look where I’m going, I crush little creatures underfoot and topple small trees.

So it wasn’t really a surprise when Officer Krupke didn’t even bother turn up when I phoned in the complaint about Jack. Just said he’d file a report. So much for one more incident! The little bugger had sold his mother’s only cow for a handful of magic beans. Was out of his skull on them, otherwise he wouldn’t have dared worm and squirm his way into a giant’s home.

I guessed someone had broken in when my hoard of gold coins went missing. Yeah, I suspected Jack but I couldn’t prove it. So I got no help from the cops.

“Dust for prints, you can at least do that” I shouted into the tin can, making the string vibrate.

“You’ve been watching too much TV,” Krupke said. I could tell he was wondering where I’d got the gold coins from in the first place. Things have never been cool between me and the cops since I beat the crap out of that kid David for coming after me with a slingshot. Once you have a record, you never get a fair shake.

Anyhow, I sat guard after that. And sure enough, two days later there was Jack squeezing his scrawny little shoulders in through the burglar bars.  I kept mum to see what he’d do. He was hopped up on magic beans, eyes big, like one of those creatures, wombats or tasers or something. The kid knew what he was looking for, made straight for the hen house. Which is where I keep the goose.

Twelve years of experiments that goose cost me until I perfected a breed that deposited gold in the shell of her eggs. And Jack had her under his arm. That’s when I jumped out.

Well, the rest you’ve heard already. When the boy disappeared, his mother called the police. And they came straight to me because I’d made threats, so they said, found Jack locked in my basement. Suddenly I was the villain!

So that’s how come I’m in the slammer. And Jack? They say he and his ma moved to an executive home in that new development by the river. Like I don’t understand where they got the money for that! He steals my golden goose and I’m doing time? Yeah, right!

The Scrivener’s Forge 10 – Point of view


History, they say, is a story told by the winners. Stories change enormously depending on whose point of view they’re told from.


Rewrite a well-known fairy tale or legend from the viewpoint of the bad guy. Remember, bad guys rarely believe they’re bad guys and have their own reasons for behaving as they do. Make your point-of-view character believable.

Click the blue frog to post your story

The Scrivener’s Forge 9 – Reveals


A reveal is a twist in the tail. It can be like the punchline of a joke, suddenly taking the story onto a completely different terrain (the main character wasn’t a person after all, they were a worker bee, for example). Or it may suddenly show the machinery that was driving the story. Or it may make metaphorical and magical connections between events (this is often done by “mirroring” between an event and an earlier one).


Write a short story with a reveal. You may want to work backwards from the ending, as in exercise 8

Hunting – Scrivener’s Forge 8

This is my submission for the Scrivener’s Forge exercise on Plot and Endings.


I wove my way through the bright allure of market stalls, and the seductive scents of cafes. She was near now. My com told me she liked chocolate violets, so I stopped at a chocolatier’s to pick up a bag. Any speciality you wanted, the market had it. I wondered about flowers. Lilies, were her favourites, again according to my com. No – flowers would be overdoing it.

The GPS told me she’d left the market, and was walking along the canal bank. I just had to find her. You don’t pass up 86.7% compatibility.  And that was just overall: our reading purchases overlapped by a whopping 92%, and leisure activity spending by category was 88%.

I need the chase, and Camden Lock was always good hunting territory for me. I’d already by-passed possibilities in the high 70s and one at 81.2%. But he was male, and I lean more to women. Still, he had been pretty. I hadn’t been immune to the smooth brown skin and smouldering eyes, when I checked him out.

When I turned onto the towpath, I knew I’d been right to pass over smouldering eyes. She was just ahead of me, disappearing into the darkness below a bridge. I saw a mane of blonde hair tumbling in ringlets down her back. I love blondes. There was a seductive sway to her hips, and long legs all the way up to the denim tight arse.  To be fair, her legs could be judged a little too thin. I appreciated meat on a woman. But I definitely liked what I’d seen so far, as the towpath took a bend and she disappeared.

I wondered why she was walking the towpath. There were no commercial outlets here. There was something vaguely ungrateful about not consuming. Consuming was how you contributed to society. After most of the jobs were automated, grants from the Administrators replaced salaries. Most of us had become consumers rather than workers. I was quite proud that I qualified for a category B grant, because my tastes included the arts, and most artists and theatres hovered always on the edge of redundancy.

I put on a turn of speed, and caught up with her.

‘Hi there,’ I said, ‘chocolate violets for the lady.’

When she turned, I felt a surge of disappointment. Of course, she hadn’t included her appearance on her profile. Lots of people don’t. But still, from behind she’d looked hot. Her face was foxy, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean really, like a fox, thin and drawn into a snout, with a kind of feral alertness about her eyes. Her breasts were pretty good though.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I don’t like chocolate. I’m allergic to it.’

‘But your consumer profile says chocolate violets are your favourites.’

She chuckled and took a step towards me. ‘The profile is a lie. It’s fake.’

‘How? I mean, I didn’t know you could do that.  And why, why would you want to fake it?’

‘It’s easy enough. It’s all digital. You can rig a relay to transmit anything you like. I don’t have an implant. As for why, that’s easy too: privacy. I’m a person, not a consumer. You are too, did you but know it.’

None of this was going as I’d intended. I should have just pulled up a chair at smouldering eyes’ table. I wasn’t sure whether it was legal not to have an implanted com. In any case, she felt wrong, disquieting.

‘If I want privacy, I go to a shield,’ I said

‘And pay the admission charge to the shield, registering that as a consumption preference? I want my preferences to remain my business, not marketing data.’

It felt wrong, and dangerous, but it was exciting too. Her canine features were beginning to seem attractive to me; what the French call ‘jolie laid.’ I was beginning to wonder just how unusual and illicit her tastes might be.

‘And what are your preferences?’ I tried to keep the leer off my face, and out of my tone.

‘Subverting the system,’ she replied with the most captivating laugh. ‘Zapping the citizenry. My relay picked up your profile from your com, and when you locked onto me, adjusted what it sent out according to your profile.’

I had to laugh. ‘No wonder it was 86.7% compatibility then.’

‘I could as easily have made it 96.7%, but somehow that wouldn’t be so believable.’

’So who the hell are you really?’

She laughed again. ‘To know that, you’d have to get to know me; in the old fashioned way. Not my data, but me.’

I was confused. ‘But we might not be compatible.’

‘Well that’s the fun,’ she replied. ‘It’s all in the finding out.’

This time, her laugh scared me.

The Scrivener’s Forge 8 – Plot and Endings


A simple way to think about plot is as the events seen in the light of their endings. Endings are important, and one of the most difficult parts of story-telling. A good ending should be both surprising and inevitable.


Write a cracking-good ending (a paragraph or two). Then work backwards and develop the sequence of events (the plot) that leads up to this ending. Note that this may feel very artificial for writers who like to “discover” their ending in the course of writing. But it’s an exercise to help us be aware of the sequence of causes that create good endings. It’s also a great technique when you’re editing a story to do a “backwards pass” and check that you have properly motivated the ending. A “backwards pass” is exactly this process of working backwards from the ending.