Friday, 14 March 2014

Attempting to be of Assistance - NO, REALLY - cont. - (a writing thing)

Today's attempt to be of assistance is a writing thing.  Yes, I am fully aware I know nothing - I am merely a toe-in-the-water type myself.  However, I am still a number of steps beyond the person who is still sitting scribbling in notebooks or typing like a fiend, imagining the day they finish..... The day they write that final word, open the back door to breath in cool, clear air, and, blinking into the sunlight, see an army of (hmm, not a very imaginative collective noun - how about a "safe bet of" or a "next JK of" or  a "goodness-only- knows how many shades of")  publishers and agents standing before them, oozing with expectation (possibly  a moment foretold by a prophecy, maybe read from the strewn entrails of a Hooded Crow?? ........... but maybe not). The bidding war begins - perhaps even with actual fisty cuffs - for the rights to the manuscript. Ahem...okay..........

I've read a few creative writing books for the first time recently, and to be honest, most of them state the bleedin' obvious and just break down into words stuff you probably know instinctively from reading all your life, which as a writer or aspiring writer, you probably have.  But here's a couple of things that maybe aren't so obvious that just might help you and stop you making mistakes that I made and will stop you wasting time I wasted:

Tip 1: Have another look at all your characters and evaluated how important they are to your plot. Be honest, be brutal. Are they required.  You may love them to bits, but readers who are not as deeply involved with your creation and this new person as you are can be very impatient with superfluous characters.  For example, in retrospect, I should have killed off "Charlie"  in my book "Two All - All for One"  - during the jail break, but it didn't even occur to me.  It was Charlie - I couldn't kill Charlie, my one true Highlander!  And I knew Charlie - everything about him, loads of stuff that no one else will ever know.  He was as real to me as anyone.  No he wasn't.  I don't know half as much about my nearest and dearest as I do about Charlie... I even know how he actually dies because I kept him alive, eventually, it's not memorable, it won't make any story, but I know.  But how much more Highland would a dramatic, heroic, noble death have been than ending up another cast member.  Sorry Charlie.
I did have another character that I did "kill off" but not in the story as it is now, this was before it even got to publication  and his character was absorbed by another - a composite character - that's how superfluous he was, but it took an early draft reader (the greatest people in the world) to point it out. I loved him too.  But - and here is the great revelation - it might feel like you are really attached to them - these characters you create - but you're not.  It's a weird thing and I wouldn't have believed it till I did it, but it's true. We, as writers, are as heartless as the most judgemental of gods.  Getting rid of people is not as hard as you think it will be, it doesn't hurt at all, it feels right and you don't miss them for more than a second after you say goodbye.  Same goes for passages you love because they are "brilliant" - works of genius - in my case, gags that have me laughing out loud that are going to have the whole world peeing their pants with hilarity - but you know in your heart they don't work or fit. :(  Stick them in a word document all of their own for your next book and carry on without it.  Trim the fat, people, trim the fat.

That said, if you are totally happy with it or them - leave it or them in. Fuck it - it's your book :) I have read too many books where I couldn't give a toss what happened to the characters because they have been left soulless because someone has cut too close to the bone.

Tip 2:  As I said, I have recently read stuff about creative writing (not a lot though, and maybe I should have done it before :S - I'm sure one isn't supposed to punctuate with sue me) and such instructive tomes suggest the reading of quality literature.  See now, I'd disagree there.  I have learned far more in the last while from reading really bad stuff and trying to learn from their mistakes  (easily found - on Amazon free kindle books - don't look for no stars - that just may mean they are new - look for lots of stars at about three or less).  You read a good book - it should flow over you, so you are in it and not studying the way the writer formed a particular character's arc or the way a scene could be broken down into the three main fundamentals - or whatever.  However, you read a bad book and - boy oh boy - not only do you get to feel smug as hell, but you learn.  Here's an eg: I read a novella recently. It was a good story (you could tell the author liked Steven King - it was a bit derivative, but it was still good) - however....POV - point of view - he had it all wrong. The story was written in the first person; an old man recalling events in his childhood. Trouble was I kept finding myself going: how would the kid know that?  Did his Aunty tell him?  Jeez - can't imagine when that conversation would have been appropriate. These mistakes with POV kept taking me out of the story and back to the real world. If you get one of those moments when your reading, look back and see what the writer did wrong that that happened and try not to do it in your writing.  But it's not just us newbes who make mistakes. I read a book by my favourite author - an established proper writer  - and there was a HUGE mistake near the end when a character who was supposed to be dead suddenly came back to life - it was an accidental name switch. But that was big old hardback - how many people hadn't done their jobs right for that to slip through :)  

If you are out there writing and you think I might be able to help - get in  touch.  When I had "Two All" done , I didn't know where to go and I contacted that favourite writer to ask and he never got back to me.  I'll get back :)
Tune: Because I'm going to see Fall Out Boy next weekend in Glasgow -  my new favourite song.

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