Whilst waiting for the paid feedback from a professional editor, this week I shall be indulging in a bit of critical self-feedback based wholly on this serendipitous article that came my way last Saturday. Suggest you have a gander at it as it is quite long and the comments after are as illuminating as the article itself. Ok, how am I doing?
- There are no rules – Well if that’s the case then the rest of the article is a bit of a waste of time. Fair point though. I’m making it up as I go and ignoring all the texts on “How to write a novel“
- Your first line – Yup got one of those. Not sure it’s opening up my ribcage and grabbing my heart though.
- Don’t write what you know – Well I know bugger all about Victorian society so check. Actually to be more accurate I used to know bugger all. Now I know quite a bit.
- The terror of the white page – Haven’t suffered that yet. I find the routine of a twenty minute walk down to local library allows me to work on what today’s mini target/challenge will be. This has the effect of ensuring when I actually sit down I already have today’s first sentence in my head.
- Creating characters – All the feedback to-date has mentioned that they believe my characters are strong each with a singular voice. I concur. I now find their individual voices easy to summon. Often the characters will create their own dialogue, consistent with the situation and their motivation, without any conscious thought from me.
- Writing dialogue – The bit I enjoy most, probably due to writing and editing pantomimes, which are basically all dialogue. Take issue with the removal of “hmmm and err….” Sorry I find this does work in better informing the reader about the state of mind of the character and avoids cliché descriptions of dialogue. But what do I know?
- Seeking structure – Basically tell a story not just a plot. Agreed. I am attempting a narrative structure whereby the story unfolds from the (inter)actions of the individuals, cause and effect. Consequences arise directly from the characters personalities rather than just following contrived external drivers. The story emerges, the reader should only be able to guess what happens based on what they know and feel about the characters and how they might behave and react to the situation they find themselves in.
- Language and Plot – Yup, got both of those. It is a balance between dynamic and the languid. The beat of the plot and the intricate solo of a character, their background or the need to place them in a detailed and precise location. Pace vs. place. You need both. All creative processes seek to create a dynamic, a tension. Hold back then release. Tease and reward. Explain and
- Punctuation – Oh dear, my Achilles heel. If there is one constant in the feedback, it is that I don’t like punctuation, especially commas. But, in my defence that is what an editor can help me with. I need to tell the story, bring characters to life, entertain and enthral. I cant be arsed with prepositions and the use of the subjunctive clause and I’m damn sure my characters cant be either. Sorry.
- Research – Oh yes, with actual knobs on. Do it, then do some more. After that, even more. I find it gives me a complete mental picture of where my characters are. Research fuels the detail you can add to a scene. E.g. contemporary descriptions of Victorian slums has allowed me to describe The Devils Acre – a real slum or rookery. Architect drawings of the design of Victorian townhouses has allowed me to create the London base of the Cadre. I feel better and more confident in my creation knowing it is rooted in fact. Oh and Wikipedia is the greatest gift the internet has given us.
- Fail, fail, fail – Almost certainly, but that does not put me off, neither should it deter you. The world doesn’t need another book. But if it’s good it’ll find a space.
- Throw it all away – Sometimes you can be so enamoured with a bit of prose you fail to see that it is getting in the way of something more important. If a reviewer or editor says it doesn’t fit, they are almost certainly right. Don’t ever get too attached to some clever wordsmithery, it’s only code in a word processor.
- Your last line – I’ll let you know when I get there.
In other news the first draft has reached 70k, and I have concluded the first major section of the plot. Many questions remain unanswered and will be left to hang and mature/rot. Now for a change of scenery and a different set of issues for my motley band of heroes to suffer/solve.
See you next week.