Sunday 19 May 2013

The importance of recycling

How many times have you been told to 'kill your darlings' when writing? I was talking about this last week and what I suggested was that you don't kill them but perhaps you move them and I don't mean within the same story. There are times when they just don't belong however beautiful and well crafted they are.

What I suggest you do is create a darlings document. You then can move all these precious words into it as you never know when you might be able to use them again. We all know how hard they were to write in the first place. Why waste them?

As I have already told you I am rewriting again and I have suddenly find a use for elements of a novel I wrote a few years ago. Moments of Disjointed, a novel I am unlikely to ever try and get published, have jumped ship and moved into Trafficking. I did't anticipate this and hadn't thought about Disjointed for ages but then suddenly a scene from that story bounced into my head. A perfect episode that summed up an issue I was having in the rewrite. It gave me the sense of tension I wanted.

But it doesn't just happen in fiction, I have spent the morning beginning to write a chapter I am doing in collaboration with a good friend.  So far again the words I am using have been inspired by text I have used elsewhere. They are not strictly the same ones and are very definitely in a different order but there is an element of inspiration drawn from established 'darlings' that were tucked away in a more recently ignored folder entitled 'PhD bits.' All things that had never quite made it into the final thesis.

See it is all about the recycling and don't be afraid of it.

There is a caveat of course. Don't use those darlings just because you are in love with them however beautiful or clever they are. Even when you move them to a new story, make sure they fit and you are not trying to shoehorn them in. Remember you have plenty of writing life ahead of you when you can utilise them.

White Buffalo 'Wish it were true' .

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Perfect words

A head full of words
I was reading some manuscripts in preparation for last Saturday's Golden Egg Academy Editorial Surgeries and I had one of those moments when a phrase just jumped out of the page. It was so perfect. The rest of the sentence needed a bit of work but that single phrase said so much, but then, oh joys, it happened again in a different manuscript. The phrases were just beautiful. They said everything they needed to in just a couple of words. And no, I am not going to tell you what the phrases were. I will leave that for the writers when they get their books published.

As an editor/lecturer, it is a wonderful feeling when you have those moments when reading someone else's work, but when it happens to you as a writer you feel just wonderful. For a brief moment you feel as if you are at one with the world. What you are hoping for is words that will stick in your reader's mind. They will see exactly what you are seeing. Some people assume it only happens in poetry but it doesn't. These beautifully crafted words can appear in any written text, in the same way it doesn't have to be fiction, be it adult or children's. I have read some stunning phraseology used in creative non fiction which has lifted the writing off the page, so the images danced in front of me.

Even as a lecturer in creative writing I can't turn to you and say 'write me a beautiful phrase, NOW!' Neither can I give you precise instructions on how to make it happen. That's not how it works. It comes with learning your craft, listening to your imagination and following your gut. You need to write, read, write, read some more and then do a bit more writing. Letting those images pirouette and having faith in them. But also, there's a caveat here, be prepared to kill them off, however beautiful they are, if they do not move the story/plot forward.

Speaking as a writer, I often find you may not even be aware you have created one of these phrases. It is only when someone read's your work and spots them that you become aware. You are just conscious of writing your story to the best of your ability. I am rewriting the first third of my novel. I have written nearly 18,000 words but at the moment I have no idea if they are in the right order. Will there be one of those wonderful dancing phrases in all those words? Who knows? We will have to wait and see. I have a fair few more words in my head waiting to get down on the page but at the moment life as an academic is definitely getting in the way sucking the life out of me.

I was going to list my favourite phrases here but then decided that I couldn't decide which ones to include so, instead, I have decided to ask you - what are your favourites?

Here is Gabrielle Aplin's Home. 'It is not just where you lay your head...' For me home is just as much about people as places and they don't all have to be in the same location either. It is just good to know they are there when your 'home' is rocked.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Beverley Birch and the physicality of verbs

Beverley Birch
I was lucky enough to attend the first morning of the weekend workshop that Beverley Birch was running at the Golden Egg Academy last weekend. Other work meant I had to come home early and not spend the whole weekend there, which I was desperately sad about. Beverley, an editor at Hodder until her recent retirement, was running a workshop on 'Through the Narrator's Eye.'

I only had a brief taster of Beverley's session but it was fascinating. It was all about the detail and how it can be used to convey the story. Beverley, as many of you know, is also a writer - check out one of her books Rift. She spoke to us about her writing processes. Her first draft is all about the idea and getting it down. The second draft is about pace. The third draft is all about characterization. The fourth about detail and so it goes on going back through pace/characterization/detail until she feels it is ready. Often she will go through 50-60+ drafts before she reaches this stage. As she pointed out, with the publishing industry as it is at the moment, you need to go that extra mile.

This means self editing, so you write the story but then you have to step back and see it from an editor's point of view. You have to be quite cold and calculating about what works and what doesn't. What messages you are trying to get across etc. Are you being consistent and is the voice apt? Beverley suggested that many editors now are looking for something that is pretty much there now. Gone are the times where an editor will spend hours getting it right with you. This is not because they don't want to but purely because they don't have time. Like the rest of the world they are under a huge amount of pressure.

It is all about reader reaction - do you want to read more or is your immediate thought, 'Nah, not interested.' You are looking to create an umbilical cord between your characters and your reader making them part of the story. You want to be looking for texture, for an ebb and flow in your story. Remember as an author, what you focus on is what the reader is going to see. You need to paint that picture and as such you need to think filmically when you write. As Beverley pointed out look at your language and think, is it said 'sufficiently and efficiently?'

For example, Beverley went on to talk about the physicality of verbs and how much they can convey about a situation and/or how a character is feeling. It also means you can cut down on those pesky adverbs. This is an example I use for my own students. 'The old man shuffled slowly towards the kitchen.' You can cut slowly out immediately as you can't do anything but shuffle slowly. Active verbs can build tension/drama/action when used appropriately. A basic example is suggesting the headteacher 'strode' towards the badly behaving teenagers. It is a much stronger image than just walking. It implies anger or at the very least, purpose.

It was wonderful to catch up with two students from Winchester as well. One former MA student, Sarah Bentley, and one about to be former student, Harrison Bulman. We worked in a group along with the wonderful Zoe Taylor who was the Golden Egg intern until recently. We had a wonderful time dissecting four excerpts that Beverley had given us. It was fascinating listening to everyone's opinion. Luckily we agreed on a lot of stuff.

This is just a mere taster of what Beverley covered last week. I wish I could share more but hopefully it has given you some things to think about when you are editing. I am now off to do some rewriting of my own. Happy weekend.

And because I am working on my dream I thought I would post Bruce Springstein's version: