Sunday, 28 June 2009

Sweating teeth

After writing the last blog, I spent a whole evening sweating over a particularly tricky chapter. Told myself I wasn't allowed to go to bed until I'd done it. My character's spat out their teeth as well as their words it seemed but I did write the bit that was most troublesome. It was the turning point in understanding of my heroine and she was in a confrontational scene. At the point where I had written the key passage, even though I hadn't finished the chapter, I went to bed.

Next morning, I romped through the rest of the chapter, easy as winking. I woke up thinking the worst was over and feeling optimistic. If I had given in the night before, I would have yet to face the difficulty.

It may well be that the whole thing gets redrafted and I end up editing out the chunk that gave me the most grief. It won't matter. What would matter is if I hung on to it because it gave me grief. It would be a poor book indeed if the reader could plot where the author got into trouble along the way.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Nothing to see here...

What? Not blogged for more than a week? Tut tut. If I were passing through here I'd be thinking that Ms Blogger has got bored or run out of ideas. Fact is, I'm rewriting the denouement (look it up or come back to a future blog) of my novel for the umpteenth time and all my focus is on that.

In the meantime, scroll down and read the poem that Faber have so kindly made available in widget form. I hope it makes you want to flex your own writing muscles.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Said, the Invincible Invisible.

Said is a superhero. In fact, I am thinking of making him come alive at the Superhero Factory linked to on the left. Said is responsible for all of our dialogue making sense in that very self effacing way of his that makes him so attractive and powerful. Said, you are my brother in arms.

Consider this dialogue:
'You've given my dialogue homework a D!' exclaimed Vlad.
'Because it was rubbish!' scoffed Ms Teacher.
'But you're supposed to be supportive and kind' Vlad protested.
'Pffft,' sneered Ms Teacher, 'I was. On a bad day you'd have got an F!'

Exclaimed, scoffed, protested and sneered. Charming words and so overwhelming in this context that if it weren't for the sheer and unmistakable brilliance of my witty dialogue, you may have slid over what the conversation was about altogether.

In some contemporary fiction, who says what, is used sparingly or missed out altogether and the reader has to take care to follow. Usually the quality of penmanship is high in these cases and Said only makes an occasional appearance for clarity's sake. (Clarity, another Superhero) When Said steps in we follow with ease. We don't get distracted away from the conversation and all's well with the world.

'Hurrah!' said Vlad, 'you've given me an A'
'That's because you're a star in the firmament that is my class and you deserved it,' said Ms Teacher, but all the while she was wondering whether Said ought to have an axe or a flame-thrower.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

BEEEEEEEEEP!!!!!! Ping...

Is touch typing on the school curriculum? It should be. And why not alongside learning to write? 
It is such a useful skill! Couldn't 'A' and 'a' be recognised on the keyboard and tapped only with the little finger of the left hand. Is that so hard? Perhaps it is. I learnt to touch type about ten years ago. I was dedicated and practised daily, keen in a way I never was when I learnt the piano. 

How text appears on a page matters. Really, really matters. At my last class I tried to demonstrate this with a very fun exercise where two aliens are having an argument. Their names are Beeper and Pingy. Beeper can only say beep and Pingy can only say ping. Punctuation was allowed along with variations on the words lettering, such as beeeep. Size, spacing and case all mattered. 

I had a lovely time. The results were fun, clearly expressive and, I hope, a first step in appreciating that there isn't one way to present text on a page. There are many. It is a question of style and content. An alien argument looks whacky. A letter has a template depending on what type of letter it is. E-mails have separated paragraphs and don't indent, like this blog and web page text. Novels come in a variety of styles but mostly there paragraphs and speech is indented and spaces are indicate new scenes or a lapse of time.

I'm such a fuss pot about all this. Isn't content much more important than presentation? Well, yes, but the teacher in me gets a little tetchy when I see the same inappropriate formatting over and over again. A general rule is that the reading of prose wants to run as smoothly as possible. The proof of the pudding is to read it out loud. So often, how something is written down, sabotages a good piece. Shame, I cry. And so unnecessary! 

Monday, 1 June 2009


On Saturday, Exeter Writers hosted an open afternoon for other writing groups in Devon. It was a jolly occasion and lots of tea and fairy cakes were consumed. Devon is the third largest county in England and it was good to see folk from as far away as Hartland and Barnstaple. Successes were shared and there were many interesting readings. It was a pleasure to be in the same room with so many people passionate about writing. 

I wonder if any research has been done into deafness within the writing profession. I am just about to start Deaf Sentence by David Lodge and on Saturday there was a frequent cry of speak up, I can't hear you! Admittedly, the acoustics were difficult and the majority of attendees must have been in possession of a bus pass but it also showed just how keen people were to listen. 

From my teaching experience I have gleaned that the best writers are often the best listeners too. A great deal of listening has to be done in class as students read their work out loud (another challenge) and while it is often entertaining, a huge amount of useful information is revealed for our delectation. Not just different ideas and content, but structural devices, use of tension and release, the effectiveness of repetition (that old chestnut) and varied syntax. Listening is a skill and can be honed. It rewards study.