Be like Beethoven


Here’s how Beethoven can influence your writing.

Stories have been and forever will be manipulated in structure for a taste of originality. The basic beginning – middle – end formula has been expanded upon, rearranged, reversed and altered countless times. They’re the basic blocks of story telling and they’re all necessary for a well developed piece to entice the consumer.

Similarly, classic symphonies are often composed of three or four movements. For example, it may look like this:

Allegro – Adagio or AndanteMenuetto or ScherzoFinale: Presto or Finale:Allegro.

Like a story, these can change for impact and gesture but all are generally considered needed for a complete piece.

While the structure is played around with and is most likely different for any piece of music or fiction, the duration of these pieces is equally important and shouldn’t be left untouched.

This is when Beethoven comes in. In his first and second symphonies, he stuck to the rules, more or less. A gentle introduction to grab your attention, to entice you into the piece, to let you hear what he had put together for your enjoyment. What followed were lengthy sections of melodies for each mood of the palate. However, in the third symphony, he did something different. He kept the structure but what he modified was the duration. Note the introduction…

That’s it. It’s two notes, two sounds that rush you into the melody of the exposition. He doesn’t just grab your attention, he takes it. At the time, this broke the rules but what’s important is the maverick decision worked. This reflected his ambition to stand out and now he’s globally recognised, for your attention has been caught and now you’re listening.

Writing needs to do this. In the same way people came to dance to the melodies of Beethoven, people pick up a book or watch a film for the story. They read the blurb or watch the trailer and think that that’s what they want to see. The details given in an introduction, most of the time, can be left out and will be told naturally by the rest of the story.

It’s the classic example of show, don’t tell. You don’t have to tell us about how little Timmy grew up to be a strong, brave boy who was emotionally crushed when his father died in the boating race he initially protested against. Show us in his reaction, show us in his interaction with others, show us in the substance of the moment.

Like Beethoven showing off his talent, he just got to the music. No faff, no fluff, no waffling. Be like Beethoven.

The Juggling Writer


I read somewhere a long time ago that writing was a lot like juggling. When a ball is thrown into the air, it’s an idea. That idea could be an introduction to a new character or a new plot line. It’s what we do when we write – we cast our ideas out which is vital for a narrative to drive. We introduce the brave but troubled protagonist or the bomb which will blow up the universe in 24 days.

However, it’s equally important for the ball to be caught. That idea cast into the air has to land back into the writer’s hands. If you catch that ball, it’s development done correctly, it’s that original idea following through to a conclusion. If that ball doesn’t get caught, it either stays in the air or it crashes. In other words, the idea never gets returned to or it fails, falls and smashes on the ground (presuming these aren’t bouncy balls.)

When you start writing, these balls thrown are usually one by one. However, the numbers of balls increases as the story goes on; ultimately, the balls have to keep being thrown and caught, the narrative has to go somewhere and as it progresses, you, as a writer, are juggling. Throwing and catching, throwing and catching.

In television, it’s easy to see where this works and where it doesn’t.
(I’m afraid I can’t find the original author of this analogy but it’s brilliant.)


Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) was very well crafted. In juggling terms, it only had six or seven balls representing individual characters and several major plot lines but each ball was elegantly thrown and caught with perfection. When a ball was thrown, it was with huge interest and when it was caught, it inflicted colossal influence.

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Game of Thrones (2011 – ) was, and still is, well crafted also. The GoT universe is much larger than that of Gilligan’s show (and most TV shows) and therefore a lot more balls are being thrown and a lot more are being caught. In addition, because the show has a huge universe, the time between the balls being thrown and caught can be much longer. The writers have done very well.

I understand fans will know some GoT balls weren’t caught. For example, Gendry, the Lord of Light, the Greyjoy’s and Brann & Co fizzled out.


Picture credit to Reddit user /u/BaronOlio.

But, remember, Game of Thrones will continue hopefully for another few books/seasons and we know, we’re sure to see more of them!


Lost (2004 – 2010) was a little bit different. The pilot episode was brilliant, absolutely amazing and in juggling terms, it was the writers throwing hundreds of balls into the air, hundreds of ideas and possibilities to be caught and continued, holding the audience hungry for more.

But it seems like after the balls were thrown, the jugglers just ran away. Nothing was really caught and while it was still fun in some respects to watch things nearly get finalised to a tidy package, it wasn’t juggling. It was throwing a ball to a batter who knocked it out of the park, never to be seen again.

It’s important for plot and characters to be developed. Change and progression are the nature of storytelling and it’s vital they’re executed routinely. Whether you’re juggling 5, 10 or 400 balls, the reader will always pick up on when things go missing, when characters vanish without explanation or why the bomb didn’t go off despite nobody defusing it.

The throwing and catching, as I’ve said before, has to happen. However, every writer will know it’s not always easy to throw a ball knowing it’ll be caught. But that’s okay. It’s important to remember that is you must throw the ball. A lot of writing is planning and structure and sticking to your notes and textbooks. In addition, a lot of writing in spontaneous. As you progress, in most cases it starts to become clear when and how the ball will be caught. Of course, this can only happen when an idea is cast into the air, outside the mind and onto paper or computer.

Don’t hold it in – it needs air, it needs to breathe and it needs perspective.

What Really Happened in The Tempest?


The final scene in Shakespeare’s final play is one of the most personal across his canon. Prospero’s epilogue is Shakespeare speaking to us through his protagonist. He thanks the audience and bids them farewell. It’s an incredible way to say goodbye, to sign off as one of the greatest playwrights to have lived.

However, for me, that final scene contains a small detail that’s budding with potential for a great story.

In Act V, Scene 1, the cast are gathered and are on levels of reconcilement. All is restored and all soon to be explained before the curtains fall. We’re gifted with a little surprise, too – the Master and the boatswain are alive and well! They survived the shipwreck! Gonzalo asks what happened to them. The boatswain replies:

If I did think, sir, I were well awake,
I’ld strive to tell you. We were dead of sleep,
And– how we know not — all clapp’d under hatches;
Where but even now with strange and several noises
Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains,
And more diversity of sounds, all horrible,
We were awaked; straightway, at liberty;
Where we, in all her trim, freshly beheld
Our royal, good and gallant ship, our master
Capering to eye her: on a trice, so please you,
Even in a dream, were we divided from them
And were brought moping hither.

And the scene continues, of course, now onto the important matters and with it, our attention focuses back to the main cast and the story continues.

I can’t help but think something seems fishy in the isle of The Tempest. No one really seems to react to this story. I understand, there’s nothing to react to. It’s pretty basic: they were asleep, they woke up, everything is okay, everything has been restored. Simple.


But that’s what’s odd. Their story – it’s too simple. It’s the equivalent of ‘I woke up and it was all a dream.’ Whilst the other members of the ship wandered the isle, fell in love, confessed their crimes, got hysterically drunk and had life changing, life altering experiences, they slept through it all?! 

What I find even more interesting is that the Master doesn’t speak. He’s nothing more than a silent participant. Now, he only has a total of 16 words in this piece, all which are said in the first 10 seconds of the play, so it’s not exactly out of place that he’s a quiet one.

What if – What if he doesn’t say anything because he can’t say anything?

What if there’s a whole other story we don’t know about? What if this whole time they were fighting to protect the rest of the ship, tackling hoards of ravenous cannibals that swarmed the beach they landed on with their blunt blades? And afterwards, they raided the mines with the natives to restore peace to the island once ruled by these rabid monsters? What if they got captured and the Master had his tongue removed? Or perhaps, he’s under a spell?

The play is packed with magic, fantasy, spells, illusions – would it be so hard to believe the Master is silenced? Spell locked? And why would the boatswain lie? What horrors did they see that they cannot bare to express to the group? There’s something there, there’s a story to be told.

Now, the Shakespeare ‘spin-off’ isn’t a new thing. Tom Stoppard did it brilliantly with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, an existentialist insight of the two ‘friends’ of Hamlet.

Rosenkranz und Gueldenstern / Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead GB/ 1990 Regie: Tom Stoppard Darsteller: Tim Roth, Gary Oldman Rollen: Gueldenstern, Rosenkranz

Their fate was detailed in Hamlet only by the First Ambassador in a single line, which became the title of Stoppard’s masterpiece – perhaps he felt they deserved more of a voice. Nevertheless, he was inspired and told a story from a story.

To assume there’s an actual secret hidden in Shakespeare’s final scene that has yet to be discovered is highly unlikely. They’re widely researched, analysed and this idea that there’s something more to this silence is nothing more than an itch scratched to the core. But with enough thought, a ‘what if’ can breed a modern tale from a classic piece.

There’s always a story within a story. Par the copyright claim, writing produces more writing, writing that has won Nobel prizes in literature, writing that is studied at schools and Universities.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre spawned Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe  led to J. M. Coetzee’s Foe.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet provoked Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest could lead to…?

We’ll see. If a writer claims to be thirsty for ideas but has nothing to drink, shove a book in their face. There can be an original leaf on a tree already flourishing with life.

What really happened in The Tempest? It’s up to you.

#6 Man Versus Book

#6 Man Versus Book

/u/MagicofFriendship submitted the writing prompt:
Write a story about your greatest fear and how you eventually overcome it.

“How do we do it?”

“How do we do it? Honey, you don’t have to do anything.” She was ready. Slippers on, cup of tea brewing by her side and a smile I hadn’t seen in a longtime. My hands were shaking. She noticed and placed her hand on mine. “You’ve still got your shoes on! Take them off, you can’t do it properly if your shoes aren’t off.”

With my shoes off, nestled beside the arm chair I sat in, I felt like I couldn’t escape. It wasn’t when I got into my loungewear, it wasn’t when she told me I couldn’t have my phone, it was then – making a quick escape and running back to The Mill in my socks was impossible, because it was fucking freezing outside.

“What have you got?” I asked.

“I’m about half way through. Here.” She handed me the book. I heard my phone ringing on the kitchen counter next door. She could tell I wanted to answer it, perhaps my hands were shaking even more, perhaps I began to sweat or perhaps she knew it was Alfie asking where I was. She held my gaze with reassuring confidence. “Read the back.”

I remember struggling to read it. I don’t have a problem with reading or anything, I’m not stupid, but it definitely felt odd holding something in my hand I couldn’t drink. It was about an old man fishing in a big lake. It said something about wrestling with a fish, man versus nature, that’s all I remember. I handed it back to her.

“Is it good?”

“It’s great. Here’s yours. I spent a lot of time trying to pick one you’d like. You said you wanted something funny. It’s not too complicated either. Here you go.”

“How do you know I’ll like it?”

“I found a line you could read. It’ll make you laugh. Then you’ll know.”

I opened the book to the dog flapped page. There was a sticky yellow tab pointing to a highlighted line.

In the beginning the Universe was created.

I couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking – what the fuck is this? She had tricked me into it, into this night in. I wasn’t at the The Mill. I wasn’t with Alfie, Ron, Toby, Ben, I wasn’t on the fruity, I wasn’t watching the football, I wasn’t enjoying the finest bitters, I wasn’t sharing jokes with Shelley at the bar, I wasn’t chasing spots or stripes or the big 180, I wasn’t where I should be, where I wanted to be. I was at home, at fucking home on a Friday night, and I had a fucking book in my hand and it sounded like it was fucking religious or something. It was 8 o’ clock and I was getting converted by my wife and some Douggy Adams bloke.

I sighed. I went to hand it back to her – I couldn’t do it.

She still held her smile and she read me so well. “Read the rest of the line.”

This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

I’ll admit – that book gave me the biggest laughs and that girl of mine changed my life.

When I have Fears That I May Cease To Be

“Lester Drinkwater died last week. Hands down, greatest bartender there ever was. Pulled the best pint, served the best food and without a doubt, he was the best story teller that I had ever met.”

“He told us he was a writer. You could tell, the stories he told stuck with you. Even when you were slumped over the bar, trying to keep the hiccups down, you’d remember every detail of he had to say. They were gripping, they were epic, they were remarkable.”

“Every time I went for a pint, he had a new story to tell. There was always a new one and they were always exciting. The Tramp in the Boxcar, he had the one about the channel swimmer and one about these girls who escaped this big festival fire. Publishers would have made millions off of him. Heck, Hollywood should have picked up him and produced the next 15 best films of the decade using his mind as a script.”

“Police told us to come and collect some of his things this morning. His will stated all the locals were entitled to the possessions in his flat above the pub. Now Drinkwater said he was a writer, but there was nothing of that matter in his home. I would have loved to take home a book he wrote or an anthology of poetry he created, but he had nothing. He never put pen to paper.”

“His stories will start fading, now. The ones we remember, none of us could tell them as well as he did. He died without ever having anything down for someone else to read. He never got to share his ideas outside the village. If other people didn’t enjoy them as much as we did, that would be okay, but he will never know how they would have done when shown to the world.”

“That got me thinking. I’ve got to start fucking writing.”

The Poem That’s Carried My Writing

Nesbit –

There’s a brilliant poem by the 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi, and I’ve found when writing drama, it’s been a go-to point for reminding me how to create an interesting element to a story. I first heard this poem at a gig a few years ago. It was a young man playing his guitar and before his final piece, he recited this poem. Being somewhat intoxicated, I rarely remember phrases let alone poems (and unfortunately cannot remember the artist – he was very good though!) but somehow, in my flooded brain of stout and cider, I was able to keep the poem buoyant and remembered word for word.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about. 
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

This poem has always been a starting ground for conflict in my writing. It’s those first two lines that epitomise how drama can be created, how conflict can erupt out of a piece to make it interesting. That ‘field’ Rumi speaks of is the grey area where our actions, our thoughts, our feelings are hard, if not impossible, to be categorised into good or bad. It’s beyond our ‘ideas,’ our laws, of wrongdoing and rightdoing, beyond what we label good and bad. An example:

Robbing a bank is obviously bad. But stealing only enough for a loaf of bread to feed your poor, cold, starving family? That’s when it gets grey – how do we feel about that?

Lying is generally considered wrong but to lie to someone to protect their feelings? Or from harm? That’s when it gets grey – is that the right thing to do?

Brilliant writing has evolved from a character acting or saying something and then ultimately, it becoming a grey area on whether or not they should have done or said it. The television series Breaking Bad springs to mind where you’re not sure how to feel about White’s actions. You’re conflicted, you’re on the fence about how you feel yet you can completely understand both sides; the like and hate groups for the protagonist (or antagonist!) appear to both make complete sense. It’s how you feel about the character. That’s great drama and it’s great storytelling.

It’s help me overcome a lot of problems in my writing and whenever I’ve been stuck or diagnosed with the classic block, I’ll remind myself of this piece. Where is that field? Who’s in it? What do you need to do to get into the field?

The Boss

The Boss – We’ve all got a boss. Sometimes they just try to fit in but can’t shake off what earning their title has made them.

The Boss

Values, service, desked elbows,
Red, raw and sore,
He holds them close to his sides,
And keeps one eye on the door,
The other on the clock, eager for it to reach four
And taste the fresh air outside.

They gather in the hall,
Receding hairlines, ties off and all,
Double doors slide, wearing their pride
“Seniors and peers, the weekend is finally here!”

Sleeves ups, earrings round, now it’s time to hit the town.
Unleash the hounds! Five shots for five pounds,
They talk about work for a change,

His cuffs unbuttoned, his collar releases his chin,
He holds his pint close to him, calls the beer piss and grim,
But to his mouth he brings the rim,
And downs the golden lager.

His speech lacks formality, his tongue hiccuped and slurred,
He tries to speak the common word, jokes and banter, bitter, absurd,
He calls the technician a skinny nerd,
And laughs the hardest.

His dart soars and nails the 180,
He calls his team the best of mates he’s
Had and glad he holds the top score,
Wants to play one more
But follows the herd out the door.

His ring comes off, as before, with ease,
Now he’s up for a bit of tease,
Without the guilt.
Holding his glass as a hilt
At his waist, a blunt blade,
His best efforts to persuade
Anyone drunk enough to see past
The man who sits alone at lunch.

A platoon leader in his eyes,
All for honesty without the lies,
A person no one could ever despise,
The one who has his own desk.

But you misinterpret what he meant
All of your awareness has been spent
On an image waiting compliment,
They’re calling you David Brent!
Which is highly evident
Because you dance like a cabbage.

You’re the backdrop to every photo,
Keeping your voice quiet and low
When talking about people you know,
There’s a quiet mutiny against the CEO
because you have your own desk.

And your every effort and every try,
Has made your mouth hungry and dry,
Your thought is lost and you seek the food
To bring you back into the mood
For attempt number two.

Believe or not, she’s taken.
You’re massively poor and mistaken
To think you were breaking
The ice.
It’s not that easy to be nice when you’ve
not spoken more than a ‘Good Morning’ to her.

Monday, values back in place,
Returns to his confided space,
Finishing coffee at a pace,
To gather by the vendor.
To catch up, converse and hear the mess
Of everyone’s attempt at success.
But you’re just there, like the press
To comment and asses
What they’ve done.

Jokes are lost, emails sent
“Next time, let’s not invite Mr. Brent
And everyone can come to mine.”

His tie is collared and his collar tight,
He’s going home late tonight.
Teeth are sparkling, white and clean,
The rage against the fax machine.
His sleeves are down, headache and frown,
Forehead almost facing the ground.
His words mechanical, far from cynical.
Nothing more than computer bleets
As the working week repeats.

The Drought

“I said goodbye to my Father today. Never got on with the man, to be honest. I probably did, once, when I was younger. Never considered him family. But for raising me up, for the shelter and food, and for my first car, I felt it was necessary to see him and thank him before he signed off.”

“I’m sorry to hear.”

“Left me with some last words.”

“What did he say?”

“You remember where we used to sit under that bridge? We took down big crates of Hollor’s and drank them all, lit up a big fire and tossed the empty bottles into the river? We tried to smash ’em on the far bank? We – we never reached it. Every single one sank. I think we went there every Sunday for seven months. Never missed a single Sunday, not until you had Joey, we stopped doing it after that. You being a dad and all.”

“I remember drinking with you every Sunday, of course.”

“One day, Father told me he could drop me off at the station. I was going up to visit Parker, this was before he got cancer. I agreed, you know, my car was still busted from Marcus slamming his bat into it. On the way, he took me to the bridge instead. Now, this was in ’82, back during the drought. And I knew I was in trouble when I saw the bottom of the river. The mud. The sand. There was a mountain of beer bottles that never got caught in the current. Instead, they were piled against a thick, concrete ridge on the river bed. There were hundreds of them, hundreds. And he knew half, if not more, were finished by myself and then tossed into the river.”

“He parked the car and told me to get out. He took me to the edge, right onto the black spot where our barrel fires scorched the earth, and he spoke to me in a very calm voice. “Remember kid, when I was never home? You were always angry at me. I was paying bills, you know. Paying for your tuition with Mr. Ronald, paying for your piano lessons, paying for you to be social. I paid for you to have occupation in your life so that in your life, you could get an occupation. I gave you the chance to be someone. But all I see now is a river bed. No water, nothing flowing, no current. Just dirt. Don’t come back until this river is full as are you, with talent and prosperity. I’m don’t expect you to.”

“Jesus, that’s quite dramatic. Just for drinking on a Sunday?”

“Every Sunday. He was a hard man. Strict, disciplined type. I still have the scars from sneaking sweets after dinner. ”

“How’d he know we’d been down there?”

“I guess he followed me one night. Probably thought nothing of it at first, kids being kids, underage drinking isn’t the worst thing he could find me doing. But seeing how often we’d done it when the drought kicked in, polluting the river and all, not a happy man afterwards. He probably knew as well we’d pissed into the river whilst drinking them. No respect for nature, as he called it. Anyway, didn’t see him for a week. Then a month. Then 25 years. I knew I’d see him again. I wanted to show him.”

“Show him?”

“That someday I would get an occupation, you know? I would get a job. Get a wife. Have kids. Get bonuses. Get a promotion. Wear a suit, wear a tie, shine my shoes, sit on a fat wallet in my office chair in my skyscraper, go to meetings, pitch ideas, talk business and make jokes by the water cooler. I would get what he prepared me for. I would have the water flowing in that river again.”

“So what did he say when you saw him? His last words?”

“He said, ‘I can still see the riverbed.’ I hate him for it.”


“Because he was right.”