Saturday, 25 August 2012

Going Short, then Long

Everything is ready for the novel to be written but I thought I would hone my skills, albeit it to a slightly different plot method, by writing a short story first. The story is a back story to one of the characters in the novel and I have found it incredibly useful. It has become a summary of the more intricate character involvement that will be evident in the novel and I have managed to iron out some crinkles that could have turned into whopping great creases in the full-blown work. It is so useful that I am going to apply the same method to other main characters.

The exercise has reminded me of some key points in constructing a work of fiction and I hope to remember to carry them with me into the novel.

Get the Plot Moving and Introduce Key Characters Early On

There is less time for character and plot development in a short story so the way in which they are introduced, developed and brought to their denouement has to be tightly controlled. Still, the lessons are the same for both the short and longer style of writing: do not prevaricate or you will lose your reader. I introduced the main character from the very beginning - he is the action - and as the storyline progresses more information about him as a person and his history is fed in without slowing down or stopping the flow of the plot. I did not leave introducing any characters until the end of the story - it's not a badly written who-done-it where the long lost brother rocks up with the murder weapon in his hand in the last scene - they are introduced in a timely and fitting manner.

Do not go Overboard with Description

Description in a short story has to be limited to a few well-chosen words so that the scene is set without taking up precious space for the story. Scene setting is important in all lengths of writing and allowing the reader to enter your fictional world is crucial in getting them to believe in your characters and their situation. But Writer Beware! Today's readers are not as eager to be submerged in pages of decriptive prose as readers of yesteryear were.  A few well-chosen phrases will suffice and remember the old adage - SHOW DON'T TELL.

Introduce and Resolve Conflict - Do not Leave the Reader Hanging

A new scene requires some advancement of the plot and creating conflict is the way to do it. In a way it is as if each scene has its own mini-plot which relates back to the main plot. If one scene has introduced conflict then it must be resolved in another scene at some point. It is unfair on the reader to leave them with an unresolved issue, this is fiction not real life!

Let Your Voice Ring Out Loud and Clear

Your writing is your voice. Do not try and speak/write with someone else's voice because unless you are a first class mimic you are only going to come across as a fraud. When you have discovered your voice make sure it is clear, not muffled with unneccessary adjectives or cliches (this relates back to the description point). I started writing as I thought I ought to, only to realise after many wasted hours that the voice that best suits me is my own.


I referred at the beginning to a slight difference in plot methodology between novels and short stories and it would be rather remiss of me, considering my point about not leaving the reader hanging,  not to mention a little more on this point.

Plot demands that the different parts of your story relate to the main event. Chekhov had his gun principle - that if you bring a gun into the first act you'd better have used it before the curtain falls -  and this still holds true. Whilst a novel usually contains a series of events that link back to one coherence, hence the gun must have some link to the overall plot and storyline, a short story concentrates on one event and its background. So my short story, focusing as it does on one character and his history to another, revolves around that character. In the novel this character is one of many and his story in just one of a number of events and revelations that make up a rather more involved plot.

I am enjoying writing fiction seriously for the first time not only because I am allowing my imagination to run free but because I am learning the art. To my mind there is little more enjoyable in life than learning.


Thursday, 9 August 2012

Reading Inspires Writing

My book plan, my characters, the ethos of the book it is all ready, but with my first serious attempt at fiction writing about to get underway I got cold feet. I am just a teensy bit afraid of failure; so instead of going forth with confident step I found myself shuffling from one foot to the other, glancing around nervously. To calm my nerves I picked up a book and started to read.

My choice of book was Jean Anouilh's Antigone, not your standard fare by any means but a necessary piece of reading for my forthcoming Masters. As I read, and compared it to the Sophocles version, I relaxed and inspiration followed. I read Antigone's speech about how she only wanted to live and be married if her fiancé continued to love her the way he did then. I recognised the emotions she described. I studied the language more closely. This was not highfalutin language designed to demonstrate the author's grasp of poly-syllabic words, it was plain language which put across the desired feelings in a way which would grab the reader (or audience as this is the text for a play). In short, it was everyday language. I was reassured, beautiful literature does not need to be difficult langauge.

I read on. Antigone's fiancĂ©, Haemon, spoke about quarrels and happiness, and inspiration hit again. I heard one of my characters referring to Haemon's speech in an internal dialogue. It would work. My character is an artist, he is cultured, it would not be out of character for him to refer to literary works when conversing with himself. I scribbled the speech down in the back of the book - I did not have time to go in search of my notebook, the speech was fully and perfectly formed, it needed to be recorded immediately. And so, with a book in my hand I had become inspired and found the confidence to write.

I truly believe that a good or brilliant writer can only be born from a prolific reader. It is from reading that a writer can hone their art, learn the skills necessary to evoke the right sort of emotion in the right place and successfully convey meaning to the reader. When reading a writer absorbs, whether consciously or not, nuances of language and technique and can use them in their own works. I read voraciously, I only hope I have learned enough to make my writing good; though I shall strive for brilliance.

Young Woman Reading by Mary Cassatt. 1876
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