Thursday, September 20, 2007

Light Bulb Moment or 'Oh, it's a scythe...'

Mmm, I promised to come and talk about my writing today. I think some of this might be known to all of you already, but it’s come as a bit of an epiphany to me. I’ve always been a bit behind the times, probably because I spend my time thinking about big animal bottoms instead of what’s going on around me.

Can’t I talk more about bottoms, instead?

Oh alright then.

So I’m still reading ‘Structuring Your Novel’ by Robert C Meredith and John D Fitzgerald and I’m doing the exercises at the end of each chapter. They have two sets of exercises: one lot refers to the novel that the reader is trying to write, and the other ones are about the devices used in the example books they suggest we look at. I’m doing the ones that refer to my novel because I haven’t read the example novels that they are using to illustrate the techniques.

(They use Madame Bovary, Tom Jones, The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, From Here to Eternity, To Kill A Mockingbird and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Tom Jones has been on my classics TBR pile for years and all the others apart from the spy one will probably go on as I find them in secondhand bookshops. For someone who loves books I’ve a shocking great abyss in my knowledge of some of the classics. That could be a post for another day.)

It’s an odd book. I can’t tell if they make it more complicated than it really is, or whether it’s the way it’s written. But with my reservations come an absolute certainty that it’s what I need right now. I’ve finished loads of books and promised myself I’d go back and examine, dissect and pull apart exactly what the author did to construct it and make me feel the stuff I felt and yes, never ever gone back and done it. But they’ve done it for me. Even though I haven’t read the books, they are all so famous I know enough to get what’s going on.

They can say deeply irritating things, such as: ‘A very popular type (of novel) mainly written by women for women readers – though one suspects clever male writers may author some of them – is the romance novel.’ Page 143. Clever men? Written by not-clever women for not-clever women? Why are the men who write them clever, but not the women? Am I being a bit touchy?

And they can sound a bit patronising: when they want you to concentrate really hard on one of the theories they write the point in bold. One feels a little like they might say it really sloooowwwwly and quite loudly were they speaking aloud to you.

They talk about the different between a story with a plot and a story with a storyline. A story with a plot has an emphasis on events (event driven, as I know it) and a story with a storyline the emphasis is on character (character driven) the essential difference is that in the second one the character changes as a result of the incidents. I was under the impression that all/most stories now are character driven.

So if lots of it is irritating, why is it a book that I need?

I’ve been pottering along, knowing roughly what my story was and what I planned to happen but I’d never put down clearly what I felt about my intentions. That thing of writing down the story in one sentence… one of the Novel Racers wrote about that months ago; I thought about it then and went running for the hills. I couldn’t locate succinct words - I got rambling verbal diarrhoea without a great sense of what ... what I …

I HADN’T THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT I INTENDED. What was my attitude to what I was writing? What was the purpose to the story – what did I believe in that made me want to tell it?

So none of it is rocket science, but they've made me stop to think … I should really have thought before I began writing, but I didn’t. So I apologise if you all know all this, but I thought I could just ramble through it making it up as I went along. Maybe some people do, but it’s not worked for me.

This is getting a bit long, but lastly it's made me wonder about starting again ... again. Or maybe planning and then writing from the start (again) for NanoWriMo.


Flowerpot said...

Have you read Escaping Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg? I found it wonderful - inspirational and reallyhelpful. I got it off Amazon. Of course all these books are very personal but it worked for me!

Rebecca said...

mmm - I write without much of a plan or plot - just a vague idea - and the plot kind of reveals itself to me as I go. I'm happy with the results so far.

But everyone really DOES write differently and I think it's quite important to find a way that suits you (or your story) and go with it.

I'm not sure how far into your current wip you are....but are you sure you need to start again? (seems a waste)Is there someone who can read it for you and offer their truthful opinion???

JJ said...

Flowerpot, you have hit on one that I DON'T have in my library of 'how tos'. I shall have a look at it on Amazon.

Rebecca, Mmmm, I tried that approach and it didn't really work. I felt as though I was wading through custard.

I'm 16k into the wip, but after reading this book it feels like I need to start again. The problem with having someone look at it is that it's so rough, true first draft, not in proper scenic order, and so I'm too embarrassed to show it yet.

I've started the story in the right place, but I've continued from there and I think I have to cut to three months later in the story. Maybe a prologue... so a lot of those 16,000 words will be axed anyway (I suspect)

Ooooh, so scary.


Carol and Chris said...

JJ - I don't know what the best advice is but I do know that you are happier when you are actually writing. You do tend to go a bit bonkers when your planning (I mean that in the nicest possible way!!) and I'm slightly worried that this might be your demon returning in a different guise.

Feel free to tell me I am completely wrong!!

C x

JJ said...

Carol, Mmmmm, *thinks*.

Am I bonkers at the moment?

Are you talking about the bottoms?

Haven't I just always been a bit odd?

You might be right about the demon, I did suspect he might be back last week.


Jen said...

Don't start again. Just start writing again. You can re-write the beginning when you come to edit the finished novel. Or start it n a different place.

How many times are you going to re-start!?!?

Ooh, hark at me, gone all fierce and telling-off.

Carol and Chris said...

Jen - I think you may have just said what I was trying to say!!!

JJ sweetie....your always kind of bonkers which is why I think your fab (and believe me it has nothing to do with bottoms!!) but I do think that the whole restarting thing is your demon talking and not you....

C x

Lane said...

That book sounds incredibly irritating.
I would echo what they 'above me' have already said. Don't start again. Keep to your plan (mine is all over the place) and just try to get it all down.
'Character driven?' 'Plot driven?' 'Intentions?'. You can sort all that out later (says she whose progress is painfully slow this week).

Jon M said...

I need to have an outline. I'm still plotting a story using Index cards which is quite fun, linking up the scenes and swapping them around. Don't do a total rewrite, you've got your whole life ahaead of you! :-)

How to write a Blockbuster. Hodder Helen Corner Lee Wetherley. They talk a lot about editing and planning/plotting.

Angie said...

It seems you could do the plotting/planning you need to do now, and just continue on with the story and then go back to the beginning when you begin your edits. It's very tempting to get the beginning of the story perfect straight off, but if you keep writing, your plan should become clear. That's my experience anyway, feel free to disregard, because as Rececca said, everyone writes differently and you have to find what works for you. Good luck! And tell that demon to get lost.

Ang xx

JJ said...

Thank you all for your advice. Yes, I am eating humble pie today. I don't need to restart at the beginning, I just need to get on with it from where I left off.

I do need a plot structure to help me map the way, though!

Thanks all.



I have tried writng to a set system but found the only way I can write is to just do it.I am not sure if this is beacause I am a very visual thinker or merely becasue I am to lazy to follow the instrucitons!

ps popped in to say hello as a new novel racer,

JJ said...

Un peu loufoque, I have a visual mind too, but i can't seem to do it without having some kind of a plan.

Of course, this might not work and then I'll be buggered!