Saturday 27 October 2012

Writing in layers

I had a wander round the city today. It has been a while and first of  all I ended up buying these shoes - bad woman - but I also had a little potter round my favourite art gallery where there were some amazing paintings (check these out: and It was positively restorative for a shattered mind and body.

But wandering around Winchester also allowed me time to think about my new work in progress. I had had some great feedback from my critique group, which I was delighted about, but it definitely needed work. I had already decided earlier in the week to kill off one of the characters. She was surplus and had nothing to say so there was no point having her there. Whilst I spent the morning people watching as I walked around another new idea came to mind. It was one of those surprise moments I mentioned in the post before last. I realised I wanted to start the story earlier and there needed to be a heightened sense of risk and tension. These kids were in danger and up until now I hadn't let the reader know that. I was the only one who knew.

It is a problem I often see with students and something I think we can all be guilty of at times. You read the story and it feels a bit flat and one dimensional because the important bits of the story are still be in the writer's head. We, the writers, know exactly what is going on in our story but have failed to put those hints on the page to enable a reader to work it out as well. It is all about layers. Creating characters that are fully rounded, settings that lift off the page and a plot that engages the reader - making them want to keep reading.

There is an art to going back over your work and making the links, developing those layers so that they all make sense. There is no easy route, it takes time and effort and is all part of the editing/rewriting as well as the actual writing process. But it is worth it. A good idea, when you are rewriting/editing, is to analyse your chapters and break them down ensuring that plots and sub plots are supported throughout and don't just drift off somewhere without conclusion. Also checking that your characters' behaviour and attitude is consistent and appropriate throughout. It is all in the small details that can ensure that the reader willingly suspends disbelief (check out Samuel Taylor Coleridge for this idea) and embraces the story.

Here is Zoe Keating playing Optimist. Watch how she creates the piece of music by creating layers - just like writing.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Too many good people lost this year....

Feeling sad
This is just a very brief post to celebrate a life and many others as too many wonderful writers and musicians have disappeared off our world this year. In particular it seems to have been a large number of children's authors - or perhaps I am just conscious of them as emails go around announcing the latest death and we all start remembering the first time we read one of their books.

Music is the same. I am certain I have a soundtrack to my life. There are so many songs which relate to particular moments in my life, it is always sad when one of those musicians are taken. It seem to make the memory fade just slightly.

This is actually for Michael Marra who I have just heard has died. He is someone that sadly I have only recently come across and for me, therefore, has definitely been taken too soon.

RIP Michael Marra

Sunday 14 October 2012

Writerly moments

This sign has suddenly appeared in the fields just outside our village and following a large explosion last week. (Thank you Debbie Found for allowing me to use her picture) We have all been walking through these fields for years and we had no idea. What a surprise that could have been!

Anyway in this blog I have previously spoken about Meg Rosoff and her idea of 'throughness' when writing - that moment when you feel totally connected. (If you are interested she wrote a brilliant article about it in Write4Children)  It is the most wonderful feeling when it happens, though I am sure we all know as writers, it doesn't happen that often unfortunately. Further to this I was talking with a good friend this week about how our respective writing projects were going. He told me about a moment when a character just suddenly appeared complete with name. It took him totally by surprise. He had no idea where they had come from. And it certainly is a very different character but I am not going to tell you about them, that is his story to tell.

What I am interested in is this idea of our writing taking us by surprise. We think we plan it, sometimes to the nth degree and that we know exactly where any story is going. But then suddenly it takes this about turn. It can be a new, unexpected character appearing, or even, and this has happened to me, a character turning round and saying 'But that's not what I would do!' Or they go to a place you had never thought about. Or do something you had never considered. Often all of them making the story better and stronger.  I find these moments can happen when you are so engrossed in your writing and I do wonder if it is our unconscious selves stepping in with ideas we didn't know we had because we hadn't taken the time to think about them.

There are other times when these surprise turns can happen. They are moments when you are doing something totally unrelated to writing. I have been stuck before now, not sure quite how to solve a plot problem or a character issue and I can almost guarantee that the answer will appear in the shower, when I am driving, doing the ironing or anything that means my brain is not really thinking and I have nothing to write with! There is a wonderful story, that I may have told before, of Tom Waits, the American singer-songwriter, who was driving along and ideas for songs kept coming. He apparently shouted to the sky, 'can't you see I am driving!' I think we have to have these moments in order to allow space in our over-active brains to let those ideas in. Unfortunately it is not that easy to contrive these situations, they just have to happen.

I was watching a glorious TED talk (I do love them) by Amy Tan on 'where does creativity hide?' She was talking about how she found when she was writing she would see hints everywhere. And this is something I also find. When I have an idea for a story I will often suddenly start seeing things that are related to it and that I have never noticed before. I always thought it was chance and it was a secret message to me that I was right to write the story. She, more logically and, I think probably rightly so, believes that it is because we are more focused. I do love the romance of chance though....

I am struggling to find the time to write at the moment let alone have wonderful surprise moments but maybe this week will be the week again. There are so many ideas buzzing around that need to be dealt with. I hope you have some wonderful writerly moments.

I heard this and fell in love with it. And it does what it says on the tin, it makes you feel like you are 'Wrapped in your arms' by Fireflight.