Monday, 2 March 2009

Over my dead body of work

No Creative Writing teacher can ignore How NOT to write a novil: 200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.  Fortunately I live in a district where unusual behaviour, such as kneeling in the street to pray or random herding of errant shopping trolleys, is not unusual, so my sudden projectile vomiting of yogurt topped flapjack and cappuccino in the local cafe didn't even turn a hair. I blame the book. It's much too funny. 
But it has me worried. If my students read this and take on board all the vital advice to be found packed tight within, I might be out of a job. In fact, they might come to my classes and complain! What about those looking in the mirror exercises I gave them. The journey to class descriptive exercise? There it is in black and white that these are old and worn clichés to be avoided! 
Yes and no. Yes, avoid putting them in a finished piece but don't stop doing them. Explore them very thoroughly. Keep having your character looking at the mirror. I have all of my characters consider their reflection. If they say to themselves, oh look, I have eyes, a nose and a mouth, then I need to consider them further. If they always thinking about how old they're looking these days then I have to get myself out of my character's head. If my character, Sally, thinks she looks like Angelina Jolie then I, as the author, have to be prepared for Angelina Jolie or even  Lara Croft to pop into the readers' mind every time they see Sally's name. Is that what you want to happen to your character? Any famous person you mention in your book comes with this sort of baggage. Similarly, if you use attributes of celebrities or well known fictional characters, your reader will jump out of your book and into someone else's. Mention a cunning plan and we think of Baldrick; describe a scar as being like forked lightning and Harry Potter stands before you. 
I hope everyone who wants to write reads How not to write a novel, but thanks to ignorance, I have a body of work behind me in which the 200 mistakes have been extensively learnt from. I regard that as invaluable training. Laser sharp prose on thin skin? Death by a thousand cuts.

1 comment:

  1. I have the "How Not To" book too, and lost a whole morning to it when I was meant to be doing the shopping. Instead I sat in my car for a quick read after dropping the children off at school and the next thing I knew it was lunchtime... this is how my life passes. Reading, and blogging. Oh, and eating chocolate!