Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

Posted: December 12, 2012 by gustafhesse in On Writing
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Another useful post with tips and hints on how to keep your writing short, sharp and pithy.

 

 

 

The Daily Post

About Page 201

Your About page is the perfect opportunity to introduce what you’re doing with your blog — and why it matters — to your audience. In About Page 101: Making Them Care, we looked at getting the basics right in terms of knowing what you’re trying to do, telling a compelling story, keeping things brief, and writing in a style that doesn’t come off as more stilted than your Uncle Joe’s wedding party dance moves. Now we’re going to take all of the hard work you did there, all of the blood, sweat, and tears you poured into making your About page rock, and put them through the meat grinder. Because good enough isn’t good enough for us. Ready? Ready.

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Lee Child signing at Bouchercon 2009 in Indian...

In a recent post in The New York Times, Lee Child writes about the nature of suspense and how he approaches creating the narrative space into which he builds suspense within his writing.

According to Lee Child, the very question: “How do you create suspense?” is inherently a clumsy one – it is unhelpful, misleading and is posed in the interrogatory mode. He goes on to explain:

But it’s really much simpler than that. “How do you bake a cake?” has the wrong structure. It’s too indirect. The right structure and the right question is: “How do you make your family hungry?”

And the answer is: You make them wait four hours for dinner.

As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer.

In summary, the tools a writer uses to create suspense are questions posed at the beginning of the narrative: it’s about using the “whats, whos, and hows” effectively. These questions intrigue the reader and makes him/her want to read more, to turn the page and chase down the answers to these questions.

To read more about this, you can visit the article, posted here.

Useful post for writers who want a synopsis of the different POVs and narrative styles. I highly recommend it!

Typewriter

The Daily Post

“Point of view” or “narrative mode” describes the pronouns used when writing a story. At the most basic level, the points of view can be broken down as follows:

POV Pronouns
First person I, we
Second person you
Third person he, she, it, they

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Fifty Shades of Grey Toys Picture Source: hypable.com

Mention E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and most people would either gasp in delight or groan out loud. Or, if they have been ensconced in an ivory tower or desert island far from any broadsheet, radio programme and the water-cooler chatter, you might receive a quizzical look.

Initially appearing on fanfiction.net as a Twilight Fan Fiction Master of the Universe it has since taken on a life in the publishing world when it was published as Fifty Shades of Grey. Love it or loathe it, Fifty Shades of Grey is now regarded as a modern publishing phenomenon and one of the bestselling book in British history. Dubbed “mummy porn”, the erotic book has now sold in excess of 5.3 million copies in ebook and print. The second and third books, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, are also selling fast. UK sales are in excess of 3.6m and 3.2m respectively and combined UK sales for the trilogy are over 12m copies, with rights to the book sold around the world and published in languages including Polish, Albanian, Chinese, Russian, Serbian and Vietnamese.

E.L. James - Vijftig tinten donkerder

However, critics have not welcomed the book with the same unbridled enthusiasm as E.L. James’ fans. For instance, in his recent article in the London Review of Books, Andre O’Hagen described the “mummy porn” books as a “multi-million-selling contributor to the art of terrible writing about sex”.

He continues: “300-page gala of repetitive sex, most of it – give or take a few smacks on the arse – completely conventional. I suspect the book has taken the world’s mums by storm because there’s no mess on the carpet and there are hot showers afterwards. Everybody is comfortable and everybody is clean: they travel first-class, the rich give presents, the man uses condoms, and everything dark is resolved in a miasma of cuddles.”

Andre O’Hagen added: “It’s not that Fifty Shades of Grey and EL James’s other tie-me-up-tie-me-down spankbusters read as if feminism never happened: they read as if women never even got the vote.”

However, while it may be on the bestselling list, Fifty Shades of Grey is also on another list. It appears that E.L. James’ erotic novel is also the book that Britons are most likely to leave behind in their hotel room.

According to Travelodge, the budget hotel chain, around 7,000 copies of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey have been recovered from its rooms since its release earlier this year.

Apparently, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett; Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles; and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John Le Carre, made the top 20 of books left behind in hotel rooms.

Cover of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

                     Books left behind

1. Fifty Shades of Grey E.L. James
2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo     Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest Stieg Larsson
4. Fifty Shades Freed E.L. James
5. The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
6. The Girl Who Played With Fire Stieg Larsson

7. Fifty Shades Darker E.L. James
8. Catching Fire Suzanne Collins
9. Mockingjay Suzanne Collins
10. The Help Kathryn Stockett
11. One Day David Nicholls
12. A Tiny Bit Marvellous Dawn French
13. Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography Steve Jobs
14. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid Jeff Kinney
15. The Brightest Star In The Sky Marian Keyes
16. The Fry Chronicles Stephen Fry
17. Room Emma Donoghue
18. StrengthsFinder 2.0 Tom Rath
19. The Confession John Grisham
20. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carre

Personally, I can’t imagine leaving behind Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy much less The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. However, with Fifty Shades of Grey

Here comes the bride: fan art of Edward and Bella
Picture source: twitarded

Lately, Fan Fiction is in the spotlight because EL James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, admitted that she learned her writing chops writing Twilight fan fiction before she converted the names Bella and Edward to Anastasia and Christian Grey. What happened next is a publishing phenomenon which has taken trade publishers and Twilight fans by surprise. Judging from the number of fan fiction authors who have been published recently, for example, Tara Sue Me who is the latest example, publishers appear to believe they have found in fan fiction a new route to increasing their profit margins and are now no doubt scouring the slush piles in sites such as fanfiction.net for the next big thing.

But we should not forget that fan fiction is a craze that’s almost as old as writing itself. Just think The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, for instance.

One does wonder how those readers who still read books regard fan fiction. Are they sneery about these sites?

However, it is undoubted that  fan fiction – particularly its erotic-heavy along with its slash fiction strands – is a self-publishing phenomenon where amateur and aspiring authors write stories about the characters they are obsessed with. Just looking at the numbers of Twilight fan fics that are and have been published and the plethora of slash fan fiction that are written, for example, in homage of Spock/Captain Picard, it’s a phenomenon. If trade publishing is the tip of the iceberg, then fan fiction must be the vast unexplored world of a self-publishing phenomenon.

Desert Heat – Spock and Kirk by Gayle Feyrer Picture source: guardian.co.uk

It is a dark genre where Eric Northman and Sookie is depicted in bdsm Southern Vampire Fiction fics  and where Spock and Draco are ‘shipped’ in Alternate Universe slash fics.

Despite the successes of EL James and others who are following in her footsteps, a misconception remains that fan fiction is just silly girls’ fantasies scrawled on the underbelly of the internet. I suspect Fifty Shades of Grey has done little to rescue the reputation of the genre.

But here’s the counter-argument: most fan fiction is a rejection of the normative version of sexuality. Fan fiction offers a more honest way, if sometimes radical and wayward platforms to engage with and negotiate relationships, sex and gendered power relations.

Perhaps, another way of viewing fan fiction is that it offers a test bed to cut one’s teeth in writing. It offers anonymity and help aspiring writers to become better writers, and allowing them to explore sexuality in a ways which depart from the norms dictated by the Hollywood industrial complex, light entertainment industry and dominant forms of popular culture.

What do you think of fan fiction? Let me hear your thoughts!

Picture source for Twilight fan art : twitarded 

Picture source for Spock/Picard fan art: guardian.co.uk

 

Typewriter

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2 Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

3 Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

4 Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6 The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than “The Meta­morphosis”.

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8 It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.

Medieval writing desk

1 Write.

2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3 Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5 Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7 Laugh at your own jokes.

8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Charles Bukowski

If I Taught Creative Writing

by Charles Bukowski

oOOo

now, if you were teaching creative

writing, he asked, what would you

tell them?

I’d tell them to have an unhappy love

affair, hemorrhoids, bad teeth

and to drink cheap wine,

to keep switching the head of their

bed from wall to wall

and then I’d tell them to have

another unhappy love affair

and never to use a silk typewriter

ribbon,

avoid family picnics

or being photographed in a rose

garden;

read Hemingway only once,

skip Faulkner

ignore Gogol

stare at photos of Gertrude Stein

and read Sherwood Anderson in bed

while eating Ritz crackers,

realize that people who keep

talking about sexual liberation

are more frightened than you are.

listen to E. Power Biggs work the

organ on your radio while you’re

rolling Bull Durham in the dark

in a strange town

with one day left on the rent

after having given up

friends, relatives and jobs.

never consider yourself superior and /

or fair

and never try to be.

have another unhappy love affair.

watch a fly on a summer curtain.

never try to succeed.

don’t shoot pool.

be righteously angry when you

find your car has a flat tire.

take vitamins but don’t lift weights or jog.

then after all this

reverse the procedure.

have a good love affair.

and the thing

you might learn

is that nobody knows anything–

not the State, nor the mice

the garden hose or the North Star.

and if you ever catch me

teaching a creative writing class

and you read this back to me

I’ll give you a straight A

right up the pickle

barrel.

Elmore Leonard

 

oOOo

Avid readers will probably have heard of Elmore Leonard. Get Shorty and Out of Sight are but a few examples of his writing. His writing is remarkable. The sentences are constructed with such flourish, plotting is tight, characterisations are well-drawn and the way he writes dialogue is a masterclass in how it propells the action. Here are his rules on writing:

1  Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER
by Charles Bukowski
oooo
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

 
oooo
 
I just wanted to share this with all the aspiring writers out there.