Carrbridge in Winter - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography





Saturday, 29 September 2012

Language



Last year I began to study Latin again, after a break of more than 30 years.  I’ve found it fascinating, not just in itself but for what it shows me about our own language.

Latin is so elegant compared with English.  Take, for example,
quo, moriture, ruis?
Which translates as ‘where are you rushing to, you who are about to die?’  Those 3 evocative words are so much more expressive than the unwieldy English sentence.  This make me want to examine my own use of language.

I will never, obviously, be able to write with that clear brevity, or in Latin (although the Harry Potter books were translated into it – perhaps I should go and see how it worked).  However, I do want to use this new insight I have to try and improve my use of English.  I want to concentrate more on saying exactly what I want to say, in the fewest and best words.

Poetry is one place where we have to concentrate on making every word count.  For example in Mary Smith’s short poem Graptolites we have

writing on the rock
stories of ocean life
aeons ago
(from Thousands Pass Here Every Day by Mary Smith, Indigo Dreams Publishing)

So much is told in those few lines, each word counts for many.  I feel myself wanting to wander off into textual analysis but I don’t need to, because those few words do speak for themselves.  I need to get out of the habit of over-explaining.

Taking care like this doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m determined to try harder.  My sloppiness is, I fear, natural, but it can be overcome.  As they say in Latin – vincit qui se vincit (she conquers who conquers herself).

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Dealing with the sagging middle of a novel



Dealing with the sagging middle - of a novel - not a body!

Following on from the two previous blog posts re procrastination and self-doubt I confess these two faults usually hit me around the middle of a novel. I have to remind myself that although things seem to be moving far too slowly it takes me three times longer to type the pages than it will take to read them, so it is not so slow as I think.
Even so I often feel the middle of my novel is in danger of becoming a muddle, or worse still coming to a halt, or sometimes the end is rushing forward too early. So what can we do at such a time? One successful writer I know half- jokingly suggests a rape. Drastic remedies do not always suit the story, or the characters concerned. Their introduction can have far reaching effects, as they do in real life. We might introduce an unexpected flood, a thunderstorm with a lightening strike, a robbery, a fire, a snow storm - so long as it is not in mid-summer of course. Then there are the air, sea and traffic accidents, even an earthquake, depending how drastic the author wants the action to be, and whether the story can deal with far reaching consequences. If it is relatively short term then we can use only the news of the accident and the possibility of a serious injury or death. Later conclude the story with the news being false or exaggerated, so long as it has served the purpose of introducing tension at a point when it was needed to lift the sagging middle of the novel.
Beware the event does not feel contrived, or simply stuck in there as an extra bit of excitement. If it has been introduced out of the blue then consider it carefully in the revised draft and insert a hint or pointer(s). Keep it subtle but enough for the reader to realise later how or why such an event could happen. Make sure it fits or flows seamlessly into the story. In one of my novels I have a beautiful girl who dances everywhere like a fairy but her childlike mind is vacant and her concentration nil. She is fascinated by sunbeams and flickering flames in the fire place. I didn’t know when she appeared in the story that there would be a house fire but her fascination fitted in naturally when she picked up a lighted candle and danced with it. Although nobody was killed at the time the event had far reaching consequences, even affecting characters in the following novel.
I confess that the best ideas sometimes seem to come out of the black box I call my computer and I wonder if I am responsible for them at all. Then again I have procrastinated about writing this blog because my mind was a blank and I had no inspiration. I can only hope it does not seem too contrived.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Let’s get rid of self-doubt and learn to ignore our inner critic

Jenny Harper’s blog on procrastination and the reasons writers find for putting off the task of writing got me thinking about the other things which stop us committing our words to the page. One of those – perhaps the greatest of them all – is listening to that most hideous of creatures – our inner critic. You know the one who whispers: “Surely you don’t expect anyone to read this rubbish?”
I was recently at Catriona McPherson’s book launch of Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses, the latest of her crime novels featuring upper-crust sleuth Dandy Gilver. Despite this being the eighth in a hugely successful series, Catriona admitted she never believes the book she is working on is any good. She actually cries, convinced it is truly awful and unpublishable. But, she doesn’t give up on it.
I think maybe some of us are inclined to give up rather than push on with our writing through the bad bits and the boring bits because we have not found the way to ignore our inner critic (until we actually need her when we finally have to tackle the editing of the complete first draft). Or, we listen too closely to the whispering in our ear and start editing before we’ve finished until we have beautifully polished first chapters but have advanced no further. I think it’s why I never enter short story competitions. I listen to the inner critic and never actually finish anything before the deadline.
There must be something in the air about this issue of self doubt and the search for perfection in our writing as a few blogs I’ve read recently have addressed the issue including one on Indies Unlimited. And successful Indie author Lexi Revellian, who has sold well over 50,000 copies of her eBooks, posted some advice on her blog (lexirevellian.blogspot.com) which she copies into her notebook for each WIP. The advice comes in the form of a set of rules from Jerry Cleaver and I am going to try to remember them whenever I think I’m writing rubbish.
  • Creating isn't normal reality. 
  • You will make a mess. 
  • You must write badly first. 
  • Mistakes lead to discovery. 
  • Letting yourself be bad is the best way to become good. 
  • Everything can be fixed. 
  • The less you care, the better you write. 
  • Everything that happens is OK. 
  • Progress is never even. 
  • It will get good again—always. 
  • Keep writing no matter how awful it feels. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Procrastination

Oh dear, I'm late for a very important date...

Although it's my turn to blog this week, I've had a busy time, what with a dear friend's significant birthday, the decorator being here, Andy Murray winning his amazing US Open final (and yes, I did stay up to watch it)... So I'm late. And I'm sorry. And I can't make up my mind if it's because I genuinely forgot, or because I've been procrastinating. For very good reasons, of course...

Procrastination is the enemy of writers. We all do it – well, everyone I know does it. anyway. Apparently, we all procrastinate sometimes, but 20 per cent of us can be described as chronic procrastinators, putting off difficult tasks by deliberately seeking out distractions. It's either because we 'perform better under pressure' or because we simply lack control.

Today I have:

*   taken a friend to my aqua fit class and had coffee afterwards
*   had another coffee over the papers at home, to keep my husband company
*   helped the decorator get some of our bigger pictures up
*   had a light lunch with a friend who arrived
*   emailed friends about arrangements for an October away weekend
*   realised I was overdue on my blog and finally sat down to it.

What I really should be doing, of course, is WRITING!!

Since starting this blog, I have looked up some quotations about procrastinating. They're so dispiriting!

'You may delay, but time will not.' (Benjamin Franklin)
'The time to begin most things is ten years ago.' (Mignon McLaughlin)
'Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.' (unknown)

See what I mean? And the ones meant to goad you into action are even worse:

'Don't wait. The time will never be just right.' (Napoleon Hill)
'Begin while others are procrastinating. Work while others are wishing.  (William Arthur Ward).
'Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.' (Dale Carnegie)

Okay, so I'll just write my novel first, will I? No clean clothes or meals for a year...

Stop it woman. You're procrastinating again.

Anyone out there who doesn't suffer, even a teensy weensy little bit? Dare you confess?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

WELL, I'M BRITISH SO.....

...I'm going to talk about the weather.
Do we write about it enough in our fiction given it governs what we do most of the time? This summer I've had to have Plan B, then Plan C as the weather has scuppered the first two plans.
In womag fiction summer is summer.....sunshine and beaches and splashing in the pool and sandcastles and balmy nights sipping cocktails. It takes us out of ourselves even if we haven't been able to experience any of those things for ourselves for whatever reason.
Autumn is falling leaves and bonfires.
Winter is ice and snow and mulled wine and Christmas.
Spring is new lambs and primroses and the promise of better things..
As a womag fiction writer myself I would stick to those rules. And, in fairness to womag fiction - which often gets a bad press from the literati - there isn't much space in a 1000 word or a 2000 word story to expand on the weather.
But what of novels? I've been reading quite a few recently - some of it in my Plan C - and I've noticed a distinct lack of mention of weather. Or even seasons to be honest, and I've been reading all sorts.
When I began to think about this blog post I looked through the book I'm currently reading - not going to name it as that wouldn't be kind to the very-excellent-in-every-other-way-except-the-lack-of-mention-of -weather.prose. And there wasn't a single clue about which season it might be even. There was no mention of scarves around necks, or strappy T-shirts being worn, or having to put a cardigan on the baby because it was getting a bit nippy in the mornings, no zipping up raincoats or hunting for brollies.
And yet the weather can change things for us just as it is so changeable in itself. Our heroine could step out, bandbox fresh, into a clear sky yet be soaked before she got to the stationb/the interview/the wedding at which she is a guest - and the whole story could change.

When I was wrote my debut novel, TO TURN FULL CIRCLE, I had my heroine, Emma, thinking back over a conversation she'd had with the hero, Seth, when they both began to realise their true feelings for one another. It went something like this:-.
'We talked of nothing much, save how noisy the oystercatchers were, and wasn't the thrift beautiful on the cliffs, and was it going to be as good a summer as it was last year. And yet something changed between us.....'
And then my edits came back. 'Was it a good summer in 1908? Evidence.'
Blimey!

I think, because I am profoundly deaf, I probably notice things more. I'm always the first in my house to notice rainspots on the balcony and the patterns they make. I'm usually the first to spot a rainbow  - now, do they get a mention in fiction very often? Unless it is the theme of a story, I mean. And I cloud watch. I don't know my nimbus from my cumulus but my late mother-in-law taught me that flat-bottomed clouds that look as though they've been sliced by a cheese-slicer mean it isn't going to rain even if those clouds are grey. Those wispy clouds that look like straggly vapour trails are fair-weather clouds and tomorrow will be sunny, too.

So...the weather.....it affects us all. And can thrill us all. I recently took my five year old grandson to London. He wanted to see the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History. And ride in a London taxi. And see Big Ben for himself instead of only on the TV. He did all of those things and more.
But what was the highlight of the trip for him?
The cracking thunderstorm that hit as we walked out of the Museum of Natural History. The clap of thunder was deafening, the lightning like a firework display, and the rain bounced off the pavement and halfway up our legs. And far from being terrifying it was rather thrilling....well, for Alex it was.