Saturday, 23 May 2009

Just make believe

I remember listening to Sebastian Faulks being asked how he managed to write about being in the trenches during WW1 so vividly and his reply was, that he simply made it up. The adverb, simply, is mine and the fact is, making things up can be quite hard work. I like to think of the imagination as being rather like a muscle. You have to keep exercising it so that it doesn't become flaccid or moribund.
Sebastian Faulks went on to describe how he imagined being in the skin of his protagonist, how would things taste, smell, what would he see and how would he be feeling. That requires effort because it has result has to be convincing and above all, real. It's no good using abstract language; he felt bad or the carnage was dreadful, that doesn't describe the real scene, that requires the reader to substitute his/her own pictures regurgitated from their own fragmentary memory. I keep saying in class, you have to be there, wherever there is they're writing about. This also includes to some extent becoming your fictional characters and for those LotR fans who dress up as Elves or Orcs, this is more than just in the imagination! (not me, I hasten to add)

So, it is important to remember that it is possible to write in the first person and have that character express views that are not yours. I am not a man, but I have just finished a story when I am thinking the man's thoughts. It is what writers do all the time. They make things up. I am not any of my characters. Sometimes I may agree with what they think and do, but not always.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Free help. Who needs it?

If you have downloaded iTunes or, like me, you are an Apple fan and have automatic access to the store, then you could do worse than download (for free) the series of podcasts entitled Roy's Writing Tools. These are fifty short podcasts of two or three minutes each during which the author Roy Peter Clark, examines one aspect of successful writing. Now, he is a journalist and as such favours the succinct, punchy style one associates with column inches, but his explanations of what does and doesn't work, backed up by succinct examples, is very useful indeed. 

Now, did you see that repetition of succinct? See Tool No 12 and my previous blog. 

Monday, 11 May 2009

Repetition again and the one about whether she's an astronaut or an actress.

Today, I'm sending off the story that I wrote during the Easter holidays. I put it aside for a few weeks and got on with something else. When I went back to the first story I found all sorts of, not exactly errors, but places that needed tightening up. I'm very good at repetition, for example, in this post I have already caught myself having written one three times. There. That's better. Now there are none and instead of three short sentences that I started this paragraph with, there are now two. Previously, I had opened with I'm sending off a story today. The one I wrote during the Easter holidays etc As yet, I don't think in beautiful syntax but I'm working on it.

Another habit I have, is to include unnecessary and distracting information. Not a good idea when writing short stories because the limited word count should force both writer and reader to look inward to the central thrust of the story and not gaze out the window during the journey. In the story I finished this week, I needed my protagonist's wife to be late home so as not to notice his detour into a strip club on his way home. Here's the sentence I wrote: Carrie was doing an evening shift at the warehouse, so wouldn't miss him. It's a perfectly ok sentence but in the redraft when I had to cut a couple of hundred words I got rid of at the warehouse. The point being that Carrie's job was not going to help move Ted's story forward one tiny bit, she could have been an astronaut or an actress. I needed to have some explanation but the slightest would do, especially as in the very next sentence we are in the strip club and suddenly, Carrie's job doesn't interest us at all.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Daily dilemma

I'm starting to think about the dilemma of my next class. That is, the dilemma of having dilemma as a theme. Should I research via Google or shall I go and look at my bookshelves in the hope that something occurs to me? Now, don't leap to the conclusion that Google is the best bet. My bookshelves are much more likely to come up with a more satisfactory way to go because I have actually read all the books on them so will therefore be able to start from a point of first hand knowing as opposed to second hand not really knowing. 
That does mean getting out of my chair and going upstairs to where my copious library resides. A trip that passes dangerously close to the kettle, will put me in sight of the piano and once upstairs, apart from on the way recognising the potential for the stair carpet to rise up and complain of neglect, I shall see the overflowing washing basket beckon. 
One of the myriad daily dilemmas I face. I'm so glad it isn't a matter of life and death. And they say you should write what you know. What? Is that you snoring?