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Yorkshire Wolds Railway Competition - Hints and Tips

Yorkshire Wolds Railway LogoDo you know loads about railways but not much about writing stories?

Do you love the Wolds but find yourself stuck when it comes to writing about them?
Do you have some ideas but are stumped over where to start?
Would you simply like a leg up on to the first rung of what might be a prize winning story?

The editors at Fantastic Books were let out of their dungeons to run wild for a few hours. They were instructed to “think short story … think railways … think Yorkshire Wolds” and to come up with some advice, creative and practical, to help prospective entrants get their stories off the ground.

Here’s what they came up with.

 

IDEAS! PRACTICAL TIPS! EXAMPLES! OPENING LINES!

 

IDEAS

Some ideas to set you on the right overall path: The competition requires you to weave in some aspect of the Malton & Driffield Railway and to mention or describe the Yorkshire Wolds. If you’re familiar with the area, then set your story in a location you know. If you don’t know the area, there are plenty of places to do your research. Try these sources just for starters:-

 

The Yorkshire Wolds

The Malton & Driffield Railway

By all means base your story on your own experience but remember that you are writing fiction so feel free to embroider the facts to make a good story.

What type of story should you write?

Here you have free rein. You can write horror, science fiction, fantasy, crime, cowboy, space-ranger, comedy, tragedy, a love story or whatever you want. You can set your tale in the past, the present or the future. You can even set it on another planet as long as you mention the Wolds and the Malton & Driffield Railway.

 

PRACTICAL TIPS

Here are some tips to make your story a good read.

  • KEEP IT FOCUSED: Consider having just one main character and writing the story from that person’s point of view – keep asking yourself how it looks through this character’s eyes and don’t include anything that your character can’t see or sense. This will keep your story tight and focused. There are examples in the next section.
  • USE THE SENSES: And remember, although your story must feature the Wolds, don’t just think in terms of what the beautiful scenery looks like. Don’t forget the other senses, the melancholy wail of the curlew, the smell of fresh hay or new-mown grass, the melt-in-the-mouth taste of home-baked pastry from the woodland café and so on. 
  • Did you know that people have more than a dozen senses? We don’t advise you to try and get them all into a short story; just remember that description is not just a matter of what you can see. How do you use the senses in your writing? See the next section for some examples.
  • BE CAREFUL WITH DETAIL: Remember also that you are not writing a textbook or a guidebook. This is a story. Don’t go overboard with the detail. Why not? Check out the examples in the next section.
  • ADD A TOUCH OF DRAMA: And what is it that makes an interesting story? It’s a touch of drama, something to pique the reader’s curiosity. So give your character a problem and the reader will be right with you wanting to know how things turn out. What sort of problem? Take a look at the examples in the next section.
  • TAKE CARE WITH SPEECH: Be careful about what your characters say. Don’t try to mimic real speech with its ums and ahs and twists and turns. And don’t give your characters huge speeches to say as though they are addressing a formal conference.

 

EXAMPLES

Let’s look at some examples to illustrate the above tips.

 

Writing from one character’s viewpoint

In the following example we have Mike in a sticky situation with one enemy facing him and another creeping up behind him with an axe. The first version is written from Mike’s point of view.

Mike faced his adversary across the cinder path. He saw real hatred in the man’s eyes, but then a momentary break in concentration, so brief he couldn’t be sure he’d seen it at all – a flash of triumph.
Under the whisper of the breeze he heard the tiny snap of a twig and swung round, catching a glint of steel as he threw himself sideways out of range.

And here is the same situation but not sticking with Mike’s viewpoint:

Mike faced his adversary across the cinder path. He saw real hatred in the man’s eyes. The man watched Mike, then saw his friend creeping up under cover of the breeze. He held his gaze very still, not wanting to alert Mike. Mike was aware of a slight change in the man’s expression, but wasn’t sure what it meant.
The other man crept closer, raising the axe, poised to crash it down on Mike’s head. But he was taken by surprise when Mike suddenly swung round and dodged out of the way.

Can you see how the second version is less clear? We don’t really get to see anyone’s viewpoint clearly because we jump from Mike’s viewpoint to the man he is facing, back to Mike, then to the third man. In the first version, it is easier for the reader to put themselves in Mike’s shoes and feel the drama of the imminent attack. And if you want to grab a reader, get them to identify with your main character, then they will want to read on and see what happens.

 

Keeping control of the detail

In this example we have Kate setting off on a walk in the Wolds near Fridaythorpe. In the first version, there is a snapshot of description of the landscape of the Wolds

Kate stared at the steep gradient above her. She’d had no idea their ‘bit of a walk’ might be this demanding. The Fridaythorpe circuit had sounded like something warm and friendly, like the Women’s Institute or Pie Night at the local pub. Her first view from the top road had been of a gently rolling landscape, laced with picture-postcard views. This was going to be tough. With the breeze in her hair and the scent of fresh grass in her nostrils, she began to climb.

And now here is Kate again, describing the same landscape, but this time she seems to have swallowed a textbook.

Kate looked at the route of the Fridaythorpe circuit that they were about to tackle. She knew that the dry valleys of the Wolds had been created about 18,000 years ago, when the fast-running streams that signalled the end of the ice age carved out these valleys, and because the chalk landscape did not hold water, but allowed it to drain quickly away, the valleys had run dry leaving steep sided hills crisscrossing the landscape. She began to climb.

Can you see how the first example gives a taste of the landscape without overdoing it? The second is more like listening to a lecture. In the first there is a sense that Kate is going into the unknown, this is something of a challenge to her. She clearly didn’t know it would be this tough. It makes us start to wonder why that is a problem. Is she out to impress a companion? Is she doing a sponsored walk? Is it a dare? Is she in danger of being stranded after dark? All sorts of possibilities open up. In the second version we are pinned to our seats by the geography lesson and get little sense of any unfolding drama.

 

Being careful with dialogue

In this example we see two sisters, Jan and Caitlin, at a picnic spot.

The sun was high in the sky. Even here under the trees the wooden frames of the picnic tables were warm to the touch. Jan sighed as her sister called for water. She didn’t want to get up, she wanted to relax and enjoy the delicious scrunch and squidgy softness of the cheese and onion in her sandwiches.
‘Here, Caitlin, catch!’ she called.
Reaching out, she cupped the water bottle in her hand and tossed it in a high arc. Her heart lurched. She’d mistimed it. Caitlin made a desperate grab but it sailed past her and splattered hard against the wall, throwing out a spray of cold liquid to douse the bikers who had just arrived.
Uh-oh, Jan thought, now we’re in trouble.

And here they are again with more of their exchange spelt out:

The sun was high in the sky. Even here under the trees the wooden frames of the picnic tables were warm to the touch.
‘Jan,’ Caitlin called across. ‘Bring me the water bottle.’
Jan sighed. She didn’t want to get up, she wanted to relax and enjoy the delicious scrunch and squidgy softness of the cheese and onion in her sandwiches. ‘Come and get it yourself,’ she said.
‘I can’t. I’ve taken off one of my boots. Come on, Jan, you’re not doing anything.’
Jan reached out and pulled the bottle towards her. ‘I’m going to throw it, Caitlin,’ she called. ‘Catch!’
She tossed it in a high arc, but saw at once that she’d mistimed it. It was heading straight for a gang of bikers who had just arrived.
‘Oh no,’ squealed Caitlin as she made a grab for it but missed.
The bottle smashed on the wall high above the bikers’ heads, dousing them thoroughly. Uh-oh, Jan thought, now we’re in trouble.

Can you see how the second version is stodgier than the first? The first has just three words of direct speech (‘Here, Caitlin, catch!’) but it gets across everything that happened. In the second we take the reader every step of the way, spelling it all out. It becomes slower, more contrived, we have to invent a reason why Caitlin can’t just come and get the bottle of water for herself. The extra padding dilutes the drama of the accidental dousing of the bikers.

 

Using the senses and adding drama

If you look back at these examples you will also see use of the senses:-
Mike feels the cinder path under his feet (even if the words don’t fully spell that out), he hears the snap of a twig, Kate feels the breeze in her hair and smells the grass, Jan savours the texture of her sandwiches and feels the heat of the sun.
And you can also catch hints that the characters are facing some kind of problem or drama:-
Mike is very obviously in a sticky situation, Kate faces some kind of challenge that she isn’t sure she’s up to, and Jan and Caitlin have accidentally thrown water over a group of bikers.

 

OPENING LINES

Having trouble getting started? Here are some opening lines for what might turn into a horror tale, a science-fiction chronicle, a crime drama and a love story. If any one of them inspires you, please feel free to take it and use it.

There had been a station here once but the landscape had swallowed all trace of the railway decades ago, so what was that clatter, that hiss of steam, that rhythmic pumping of pistons growing louder and louder through the fog.

From the upper atmosphere, it had looked like a gently rolling landscape, an easy landing for a damaged spaceship. No problem to tuck it discreetly behind this stand of strange vegetation, plants with stout wooden stalks reaching for the stars. They’d spotted a settlement, a craft of some kind tied to the ground by long metal lines along which it puffed back and forth bellowing out great white clouds of what the sensors said was largely water vapour. It looked like a useful source of spare parts, and they were sure to need more repairs after that unexpectedly bouncy landing.

Kurt drew back into the shadow of the tall ash. The rolling landscape of the Wolds spread before him, cut in two by the long straight road down which his quarry would drive any minute now.

Daisy looked out over the rippling grasses, feeling the sun’s heat on her face, sensing the tang of the borage flowers from the crop that spread out behind her. It had all started here on a train. The landscape had long ago swallowed all trace of station or line, but in her mind’s eye it was as clear today as it had been all those years ago.

And now, jump aboard, pen your stories, send in your entries and delight our editors with your prose.

If you’re not intending to travel, please get down to the platform. This train is about to leave!

 

The Fantastic Yorkshire Wolds Railway Short Story Competition 2016

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