Monday, January 28, 2008

It is just me.

Is everyone out there intuitive about writing novels? Do you know how to do it without being told or reading up on it - just because you’re readers (or natural writers)? Do you have an innate understanding of structure?

Am I the only one struggling to understand how and what to do?

I’ve had another moment of realisation. In our house we call it an ‘Ohhhh, it’s a scythe…’ moment. (I think this is something to do with Monty Python, but I’m not sure. I don’t really appreciate MP humour I just know that the moment something dawns on you, you say ‘Ohhh, it’s a scythe.’)

Usually I call them epiphanies but I think I’m leading us all astray. I don’t think it’s true; these aren’t Archimedes type eureka moments. I can’t call them epiphanies when actually what I’m having are plain and simple moments of clarity through the fog of my stupid brain. As the lovely Hugh Laurie says as George in Blackadder: 'I'm thick. I'm as thick as the big print version of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens.' Exactly.

When I read I see what writers do to make me feel something. I did English A Level, I wrote essays on what techniques the writer employed to achieve something… I thought I understood enough but I don’t.

So my ‘clearing of the fog’ moment was while reading ‘Story’ (Robert McKee) which I first heard about in the days when I lurked at Kate Harrison’s blog, imagining myself one day being brave enough to actually do it.

Do you know what? I thought the hard part was saying out loud ‘I want to write.’ I thought the writing bit was going to be a doddle. Ha. Serves me right.

And just as I thought I was done here, Doctor Dictionary landed his email in my inbox, telling me the word for the day is neophyte.

Hmmm, I think he means me.


Helen said...

I don't have an innate understanding of anythng to do with writing or plotting a novel. I don't know if what I'm doing is right or wrong. I've bought the how to books but never read them. When people talk with clever words and phrases about writing I really don't understand what they are going on about. I've only just grasped first and (is it) third person!

You are not alone. There is someone out there who knows less than you!

laurie said...

i've only written short stories, never a novel. but i think you just have to have a really great story to tell.

books of advice don't help me, but reading how other writers create does.

you should look up some of those interviews in the old Paris Review--truman capote, and hemingway, and others, talking about how they create. (Capote wouldn't write if there were yellow roses in the room. )

i read an interview with anne tyler a while back where she talked about plotting, and putting information on index cards, and tacking them up above her desk.


One of my moments of realisation was while reading Billy Mernit's 'Writing the Romantic Comedy' - aimed at screenwriters, rather than novelists, but amazingly relevant in every way! Highly recommended :)

SueG said...

I'm new to these blogs and just came across yours. I have to say, as someone who did actually write a novel which is actually being published this spring, I think every novel is different. Everyone does it differently, and the more you wear your "editor" or "teacher" hat, the worse off you'll be. The advice I was given which worked for me and which I'll pass on to you is, just do it. Get the stuff down on paper and then find someone you trust, and gently, show it to them. I'm in the middle of writing my 2nd novel now (set in Cambodia, which drew me to you in the first place) and already I see myself going about it in a completely different way than the first. Saying out loud that you want to do it is a first big step. Well done and good luck!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I still don't really know how to do it - and I've done one! With help from a LOT of how-to books, including 'Story' (which I thought was excellent).

Angie said...

I think everyone is right - there isn't just one way to do it. After reading loads of books and dissecting them at university, I thought I would know how to write a novel, but I don't. Once you have a clear idea what your story is about, you just have to follow it. I find that I'm constantly writing myself into corners, and only then do I see where I need to go next.

Carol and Chris said...

This is why I could never ever be a writer......I just had to go and look up neophyte!!

You'll get there - I know you will!!

C x

JJ said...

Helen, but you're doing it, which must mean you have a sense of how... anyway, thanks for the understanding.

Laurie, yellow roses? Oh my god, how very weird. I shall go away and find some interviews from writers. Thanks.

Karen, Story is aimed at screenwriters too, and is brilliant.

SueG, yup, another realisation: stop talking/obsessing and just do it. Thanks for coming by and for your advice.

Zinnia, oh gawd, and that was after doing it, and you're still not sure? Perhaps I'd best get used to perpetual confusion, then.

Angie, It's the trial and error method, then, eh? Thanks.

Carol, thank you. I'm still trying.


Debs said...

Have you read On Writing by Stephen King, it is so easy to read and very clever. I've yet to see if my brain has retained any of the knowledge I picked up but hopefully I did.

JJ said...

Debs, I have, and I remember really enjoying it but I think I'd do some good rereading it too.

L-Plate Author said...

JJ, I started my first book with three characters and I had to write scenes in that order, chapter one character 1,2,3, chapter two, character 1,2,3. Not the best of plans when I was having to 'think' of something for a character to do because it was their slot.

Since then I've read every how to book and written it every way and back again. Do what you feel, go with your gut instinct. That's what makes you write in the first place xx

Victor said...

Ask yourself if you are drawing on your own past and experience or your interpretation of the "other" (other here being used as no more than a reference to a 3rd person point of view/reference that is otherwise wholly unfamiliar to your past and daily routine).

The first is often said to be easier for first time writers as it allows them to suffuse their characters with an intimacy and authenticity that might otherwise be lacking unless you intend to devote much research, observation and time into the background "set-up" of this novel.

Follow that up by asking the follwing questions. Who is your audience; what is the main plot; are there any subplots and for whom are you writing? Is this book intended for those who love good and masterful prose or a clever mystery? Is it a subdued but soulful tale of self-realization or an epic journey set against the backdrop of two battling empires? By answering these basic types of questions you will essentially be answering the question "WHAT IS IT THAT I MEAN TO WRITE".

Even the best of today's modern creative geniuses start with an idea and mould it into a conceptual structure then change it as need be in composing the final body of their work. It provides a framework within which to begin writing an opening vision and sequence for the storyline. It is not written in stone and they can alter it as they please (unless under contract, e.g. to deliver a mystery novel).

Unfortunately, well intentioned as it may seem and as good advice as it may be for A-level pupils, to heed the advice of the one writer to just put pen to paper and write the thing then have it edited, is, at best, a romantic notion.

Best of luck with your project,

Hope you are enjoing Thailand.