Story Planning and Design

The highlight of my week has been attending a workshop on Story Planning and Design. In fact, I am just back from Sydney, ninety minutes up the road, which in Australian is expressed as “just around the corner”.

Since my first manuscript took seventeen “tinkerings” (I can’t say that each of them was a complete rewrite), then I guess it is time I learnt some rules before embarking on my next project, which I hope to be an historical novel. Although – I have just started working on a travel memoir to fill in the gaps until I feel I have done enough research for the novel.

It was a very compressed course – after all, what can one expect from five hours? We did, however, address the main issues: character, plot, theme, setting, point of view, voice and genre. We got to take the face of a man and woman and characterise them: give them a name, description, personality and so on. By the end of the day, we got to give them a storyline, book blurb and opening page.

At lunch, another writer and I got into a conversation about what a delicious word is “crap”, and how we are grateful to our older brothers for inadvertently introducing us to it when we were so very young and impressionable. Inevitably, that conversation re-surfaced in my writing. I can’t apologise. If I start apologising now for everything I may write in the future, then I may  never write another word again. I can only hope it does not cause too much offence 🙂 Please consider yourself warned.

The room was 80/20 in favour of the females. It was surprising how many of the women despatched the male character. One dealt with him by putting rat poison in the home-baked pastry. She is a writer of flash fiction, so he was done and dusted in the first page. Another’s female character was into sharpening the knives, in preparation for the day she couldn’t cope with the twentieth call of ‘are you making a cuppa?’ Unfortunately, she had a slip with it in the kitchen, and he didn’t bother to tear himself away from watching the football to help stop the blood flow. There was a lot of blood flowing today. Another story started with a domestic violence scene. Let’s hope those two female characters get justice by the end of the novel.

We each had a book in front of us and were asked to fashion our ‘back of the book’ blurb around that example. Then were asked to select an opening line from about twenty on offer. We had fifteen minutes to write.

I always find this writing on the spot confrontational. I don’t suppose I am alone in that. But thanks to regular blogging, and reading the efforts of some of the bloggers I follow who are into flash fiction, I find it a little easier now.

So without any tidying up, here is what I came up with.


Liz Thurlow leads a comfortable life in Sydney’s leafy north shore. She has it all, successful husband, two children and beautiful house. But she is bored and hungry for change. When Tony Babic enters her life – a working class builder with an eye for the beautiful ladies – she is drawn to him, and to the excitement of an illicit affair. When her husband discovers them together, Liz’s life is changed forever. For the better. . . But it takes a murder first.

Opening (the bolded sentence is what I had to work from)

She was restless and more than a little bored. Liz Thurlow’s life was comfortable. Comfortable, safe and predictable. Twenty-five years married to Bob: Bob the banker, not Bob the builder. Two kids in uni, one of each type. The five-bedroom mansion in leafy Killara, every room professionally decorated, just like Liz, with her designer clothes moulding into her gym-toned body. She had it all.

But Liz was bored. So bored. She voiced it in her head. It’s crap. It’s all such crap. She liked the sound of it, tried it out on her tongue. My life is crap . . . Bloody crap . . . My bloody life is bloody crap. How she’d love to try that out on the old biddies a the tennis club. Bugger, bugger, bugger, my life is bloody crap. That would raise an eyebrow or two.

What if I told them it was effing bloody crap? Could I? she thought.

She was just getting her lips around the ‘eff’ when she noticed the van. It was trundling up the road towards her house. She imagined it was going to come straight into her driveway when at the last moment it swerved into her neighbour’s. She read the sign on the side: “Tony Babic Builder”.

She watched the driver jump out with an agile movement, saw the flash of a muscular thigh as his shorts rode up.

– and so ended my fifteen minutes –


23 thoughts on “Story Planning and Design

  1. Pingback: Ramblings from an ordinary Monday | The Reluctant Retiree

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  5. Pingback: Liz Thurlow, Part Six: Tony Unblocks her Pipes | The Reluctant Retiree

  6. Pingback: Liz Thurlow, Part Five: The Anticipation of Tony Babic | The Reluctant Retiree

  7. Pingback: Liz Thurlow, Part Four: Liz Keeps a Note | The Reluctant Retiree

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  10. Hi Gwen, I didn’t like this post at all. Especially the ending … How can you let us hang like this? What’s going on with Liz and her effing boring crap life??? I want to know!!!!


    • Ahh . . . so many places you could take it don’t you think? She can have the affair with bad boy Tony Babic, who can take her “places” if you get my drift. Then he can get sucked in that he is batting above his weight – not used to hanging around with a woman of her class. Wants more, wants to be in her life permanently. But she’s had her fun, ready to recommit, but her husband finds her our first. Then what? We could have Tony kill the husband. Or they can kill each other in a fight out. Or – the husband kills Tony, but realises what a boring old twat he has been, and that if he wants to keep his wife, he has to change his life. They run away to Bermuda together and he takes up bongo drumming and she becomes an exotic dancer. Or – – – we get Tony killed off and boring husband in jail, and Liz runs off with Tony’s wife. The two kids in uni are a problem, we’ll have to come up with something that still keeps their high regard of their mother. Maybe they can help her escape the law.


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