Writing Advice
- Introduction
- A room of one's own?
- Where do you get your ideas?
- Where do I begin?
- What books do I need?
- How important is research?
- Should I join a writers' circle?
- Literary terms
- Typing it up
- Sending it off
- Penbenders
- Creating characters
- Constructing the story
- Short Fiction


Penbenders might be impossible. They might not. Making the attempt is what they’re all about, because in doing that you might find your imagination taking off in directions you hadn’t ever thought of before. And they are meant to be fun – the moment they feel like homework, give up. But some of the best writing in the world has come out of having to overcome severe limitations on what can be done, so try not to give up too soon.

The Shakespearean sonnet, for instance, has to be written within fourteen lines consisting of three quatrains with a rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEF and a rhyming couplet GG, in precisely one hundred and forty syllables, ten to the line.

Willis Hall’s The Long and the Short and the Tall was devised to accommodate an all-male group of actors performing in a space which was easier to exit than to enter. The play opens with all the characters on stage: a group of soldiers holed up during a battle. One by one, the soldiers leave, never to return. It is brilliant – but would he have thought of it without the strictures? Who knows?

Penbender #1

  1. Describe a cat chasing a butterfly on a lawn, without using the words cat, butterfly, or lawn.
  2. Write an intelligible telephone conversation in which we can hear only one speaker whose dialogue consists entirely of questions.
  3. Write a description of a famous landmark without mentioning what it is, where it is, or its name.

Aim at about a hundred words in each case; see if your friends know what you’ve written about!

Penbender #2

  1. Watch or listen to an episode of any soap opera, and then, using no more than one hundred words, summarise the entire story line, missing nothing out.
  2. Using as many words as you feel necessary, invent the story line for the next episode.
  3. Owing to a frightful row, the soap opera has been cancelled for good, and without notice. One character has to give a ten-minute talk to camera tying up all the story lines, and you have to write his talk for him.

Penbender #3

  1.  Describe, using no fewer than fifty words, an unbroken egg.
  2. Open an atlas at random, stick a pin in it, find the nearest town, mountain, river, whatever. Then find out all you can about it so that you can write a five-minute talk on it.
  3. Write out your favourite poem or song as prose, using dialogue, action and narrative.

Penbender #4

  1. Write your autobiography in one hundred words.
  2. Now write it in the form of an Elizabethan sonnet!

Penbender #5

Remember the three little pigs? One built his house from straw, one from sticks, and one from bricks. And the big bad wolf blew down the first two houses, but huffed and puffed and couldn’t blow down the third…

Rewrite the story of the three little pigs:

  1. From the point of view of the chairman of the Hay and Stick Retailing Council.
  2. From the point of view of the Managing Director of the firm which makes Woolphgon, the amazing wolf-repellent.
  3. From the point of view of the wolf.

Penbender #6

A young man is being asked where he was and what he did on a particular evening. At first he says he can’t remember, and then he recalls that he was at the cinema, and afterwards went to McDonald’s for something to eat. He says he was in the company of several other people, and then says that he took one of them, a girl, home. Write the conversation, using only dialogue, in the following circumstances:

  1. He is being asked by his girlfriend, who suspects that he is two-timing her, which he has not.
  2. The same again, except that he has.
  3. He is being asked by the police, who suspect that he has murdered her, which he has not.
  4. The same again, except that he has.

In each case, his answers must remain the same, and in the same order, but the questions can be whatever you want them to be.

Penbender #7

You are a camera. Using only what can be seen and heard, and without dialogue, tell the reader what he needs to know about a man alone in a waiting room in the following scenarios. Then get someone to read them to see if it’s worked!

  1. Before he goes in for a job interview as an illustrator for a comic-book publisher.
  2. Before he goes in for a doctor’s appointment for an embarrassing condition.
  3. Before he goes in to see his solicitor about his will.
Jill McGown
     View the full sitemap
All the text and images in this site are copyrighted to Jill McGown © unless otherwise stated