How I write

With difficulty at times! But good writing days make up for the not so good. Sometimes it feels like breaking through a barrier. Other times the words flow like water. I’d like to say that I write every day, but that is just not true. I do, however, work with words almost every day. And what I’m writing is in my head almost all of the time.

I recently read that John Connolly spent six months writing, and then re-writing over and over again, the prologue of his first novel. He admits to being a bit obsessive but ‘the prologue was crucial to what would follow’. I get this entirely but, for me, it’s every chapter.

I find it difficult to move on to the next chapter if something is bugging me about the chapter I’m working on, whether its plotline, character, setting, atmosphere or just colour and texture. I do often start the next chapter but find I’m pulled back to the previous because something has occurred to me that I need to put right, or re-write. Also, as I’m writing a new chapter, I will realise that I need to go back several chapters and re-write, delete or add maybe a line or two because it is now relevant, or irrelevant, to the way the plot is continuously developing. I always know where I’m going but not how to get there. Know the ending in advance, before you begin writing

Writing, for me, is a continuous process of writing and re-writing, and that’s before I get to editing my so-called first draft.

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Are the mad unlikeable characters?

How do you react to a character in fiction who is eccentric, far too out there or exhibits a cruel and irrational temper on the turn of a coin? Are you fascinated? Infuriated? Apprehensive? Do you read on or turn away?

The main character in my novel The Widow’s Tale is initially not very likeable. The story portrays her descent into madness as she confronts blocked memories of her sister’s mysterious death and her brutal role in her husband’s demise.

Yet as my sister-in-law, Kalash Thakor, said, ‘The picture of the mad woman is very clever because although Eustachia is not very likeable we do care about what happens to her so that when the court hearing goes her way there is relief, but she goes and makes another mess of things by being mad. Blanche, also, you want to have a good outcome and the dual narrative from their different perspectives made her character far more interesting.

I have to say some of Eustachia’s mad mutterings were familiar. Particularly the “what about me” rants! Also, I liked the way time moved in her head and that she only remembered certain things and the narrative in her head only touched on what is really happening around her. When you go off the rails, that is just what life is like.’

As in real life, if you go back far enough, you’ll find out why a character becomes who they are and why they do what they do.

 

 

 

 

 

A bit of a learning curve!

I came across this on Twitter: For most authors writing and finding your style has a bit of a learning curve. Writing today helps your writing tomorrow. [To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.] @WrtrStat

I read as far as ‘finding your style has a bit of a learning curve’ before my exclamation: A BIT OF A LEARNING CURVE! It took me years to develop my own style; I always had an idea of what I wanted to write but finding my own voice was a huge learning curve. What I wanted to write in the early days was probably cross-genre; never going to be easy. My favourite author was Ruth Rendell and her explorations of the misfits, the unbalanced and the downright mad. But, and here was my conundrum, I love historical novels and that sense of being transported into another time and place where life was very different. Yet even though people in medieval times thought differently, had different morals, laws, societal expectations and religious constraints, human emotions were the same. We all feel anger, betrayal, love, lust, hate, jealousy and the mad were still misfits.

In teaching myself to write, I found my style. And I realised, for me, I had to find historical characters, a place, a time and events to pin my imagination upon and to create fiction around, fiction that, as far as I was concerned, was going to be about the mad, the unbalanced, the misfits.

Displacement or Writer’s Block?

Displacement is defined as ‘an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult activity’, whereas writer’s block is a ‘condition in which you lose the ability to produce new work, or experience a creative slowdown’. I’m very good at displacement, not so good at writer’s block.

For me, displacement is a means of getting into the zone, a series of rituals that lead me into the world I’ve created; taking the dog out, closing all those irritating chores and admin tasks down in order to clear the decks. Or it can simply be a means of wasting time. You’d be surprised at how much time I can waste, or maybe you’re not? However, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes the only way is to walk away for the day because the writing is just not happening.

Displacement can be a way of ordering my thoughts, thinking about where I left off, collating all the light-bulb moment notes I’ve scribbled – the flashes of inspiration when an idea strikes, often at the strangest of times, and a twist in the plot or character’s motivation is resolved. And then there’s the organising of my immediate writing environment; putting away what I don’t need, making sure I’ve got what I do need to refer to is close by. This could also be called “knolling”, ‘the process of arranging related objects as a method of organization’ and, for me, it’s an aspect of the discipline of writing.

I never really believed in writer’s block until it happened. I was juggling too many things, over-tired, this needed doing, that needed doing. As the weeks went by and then months, a year, I convinced myself that I’d made a conscious decision to have a break from writing. There was absolutely no space in my head and whatever rituals I did, I just couldn’t get into the zone. But then I thought, it will come back, there will be space in my head again. Nothing ever stays the same, everything changes. Apparently under stress the human brain shifts control to the instinctive processes, the fight or flight response, and this hinders the creative processes.

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