Thursday, 25 February 2010

WAX ON, WAX OFF

Some tips on writing here from them what do it well.

I would follow some, ignore others. You’ll have to work out which.

Monday, 22 February 2010

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAD A BEARD IN THE LAST SCENE?

Back online. Apologies for my tardiness; the lovely people who send me the interweb pressed the wrong button, and of course they couldn’t simply press another one to fix it. Many phone battles later (one of which saw me ask the ‘Customer Service’ chap if he’d won many awards for his charm), and here I am.

The timing gods appear in tricksy mood, though, as the new kitchen has just been delivered, and is expecting to be fitted. Given that the previous one is now in various piles at the recycling centre, this now takes priority. An unproductive week creatively, I fear.

Anywho, back to rewriting. As Roz (you can find her excellent blog here) pointed out below, language is something you’ll probably come to later in revision. (Not that I want to be prescriptive here.) But, if things have gone to plan, you’ll have 300 pages or so of words, some of them even in the right order. Some sections and scenes will work better than others; some may be better suited in a different order. Have a good look at your ms as if you were looking at a story board. Are there sufficient rises and falls in tension? Have you opted for an explosive, sensational opening chapter, only to amble along in back story and dense characterization for the next fifty pages? Perhaps you’ve revealed too much too soon. Does the exposition flow sufficiently, so the reader always knows where and when the action is occurring? And make sure this is drip fed, subtly woven into the action.

This will be a good time to spot anomalies, inconsistencies. A reader will spot a continuity error at a hundred paces, so if your character got a taxi to the pub, don’t have them driving home. If someone is making a call in the early 1990s, they’re unlikely to be using a mobile phone. Don’t assume certain flora grows where your scene takes place: go and check. You’ve probably done this at the start, but a list of all your characters, their ages, DOBs and years significant events occurred, is invaluable.

Right, where’s that toolbox?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

DON'T ATTEMPT ANYTHING WITHOUT THE GLOVES

Hint #47: Expect certain aspects of domesticity to be neglected during rewrites.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

NOW THE WORK CAN BEGIN

Right. Some sagacious person said ‘writing is rewriting; another that ‘the first draft of anything is shit’. With that in mind, best get on with it. The next few posts will be devoted to this activity.

For now the manuscript lies on my desk, looking rather impressive, yet it’s only now the proper work begins. Another, nameless I’m afraid, person regarded a first draft analogous with a block of ice, or stone, and as the sculptor, you could now start to chip away, begin to shape it. I like that, apart from writing that first draft was a bit tougher than wheeling in said block.

So where to start?

You’ll have your own approaches, but the goal remains to transform your ms from a muddled, muddied, disjointed, error-strewn, inconsistent, over-written, unsubtle clump of text (albeit one with promise), into something that does it justice. Something resembling a story – one that sings and radiates, giving ethereal pleasure to publishers, agents and readers alike as they drink your beautifully crafted words.

Almost certainly there will be too many words: weak sections that do nothing but kill momentum; Pretty writing, waxing lyrical about something's appearance (usually the weather) - some is fine, but overdo it and you risk literary masturbation; too much philosophising, too much internal monologue, character introspection. But mostly too many adverbs, adjectives. And repetitions. Tautologies too (these especially kill prose for me, and can take a number of forms – one of the most common being speech tags: ‘Piss off,’ said the aggrieved woman). Read your dialogue closely and see if you need to attribute it at all. You can often go pages without a ‘he said, she said’ and not lose the reader. The result is sharper, punchier, more authentic dialogue.

This links nicely to my next point: read your work out loud, into a mirror if you can bear to. Or record it and play it back. You’ll be surprised how different it sounds, how many more mistakes and weak phrases leap out at you. Just because it’s not poetry, doesn’t mean you can neglect rhythm and metre in your writing. If you can, imagine this is the first time you’ve come across the words, and that someone else has written them. How do the words sound in your head now? Is reading it a pleasurable experience? (Probably not if it’s a first draft, but you’ll do this through several drafts, and eventually it will.)

Well, that'll do for starters. Much, much more to follow soon.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

THE WEST DARTMOOR WRITERS' RETREAT


Who fancies it? Untamed landscape, windswept tors. Verdant valleys, waterfalls. Ancient woodlands, primeaval beauty. Bronze Age settlements. Pubs everywhere. Herons, larks, curlews, ravens. Hundreds of species of moss and lichen. The perfect setting to just write, ensconced in nature's rhythms. Did I mention the pubs?

Okay, so it doesn't exist yet. And, alas, I don't do the lottery. I don't even write commercial fiction. But I'm working on it. And you're all invited.

Monday, 8 February 2010

PASSING IT ON

The title of my short story collection, currently shortlisted for Salt's ‘Scott Prize’, is a bit of a mouthful. They May Not Mean To But They Do comes from the oft quoted Larkin poem:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.


Let’s just say many of the stories have a seam of dubious parenting running through them.

I’ve never turned my hand to poetry, for fear it will be like this.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

END OF THE BEGINNING, OR BEGINNING OF THE END?

Well, there it is. Look at it, sitting there all full of itself. 81,423 words (for now). A first draft. Finished. Done. Look closely (or click on the picture) and you'll see a title too. (I know what you're thinking - that, like the money in suitcases in films, all those sheets of paper beneath are blank! Well, you'll just have to trust me.) It's a couple of months late, but at a few days over eleven months, I’ll take that. There was a house move, some rubbish health, 600 short stories to appraise, plus the usual distractions of cricket and beer and self-doubt and that thing some people term writer’s block.

So what now? Well, several of these to start with.

And then I might just look lovingly at the ms for a while, before whisking it away somewhere safe (from fear of spilling something on it rather than any paranoia about plagiarising). And that’s it for two weeks. I want to come back refreshed, when both the unconscious and conscious mind will have had a chance to masticate on the book. A period of revising, re-writing, cutting and pasting, tweaking, sculpting, polishing and general loving will take place. (I’ll post a little about how I go about this soon.)

And then it’s the rather scary part of allowing someone to see it, to offer an opinion or two. Of course, they’ll find one or two (er-hum) continuity errors, mistakes in tense (I used two throughout), POV and narrative. Some character will have gone to the pub in trousers, returning in jeans. That sort of thing.

For now, though, I’m just bloated with satisfaction, which is preferable to the sense of that what-the-fuck-have-I-signed-up-for feeling last March.

And as for the story, I actually believe in it. Phew.