the mutt

The Gut Stuff

Posted in Writing by grx20 on April 14, 2009

kurt_vonnegutNo, no, no! It’s not the English gut … it’s the German, goot, “gut”.
I’ve got some awesome stuff from Kurt Vonnegut – a lot of interesting writing tips and suggestions, all in his unique, succinct way.

I gave Slaughterhouse Five a shot a couple of years back, but I couldn’t finish it. I suspect it’s a cultural thing. The book is set in a different time, in a different place – both of which really have no relevance to where I come from. To be honest, I didn’t much take to his style back then. Still, he has some very useful advice. One may squint at the sun, wear shades and a hat and curse the glare. But one needs the rays.


Appetizer

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Second Course … and third and desert too. [This is really long, but worth your time]

Kurt Vonnegut also wrote a wonderful piece, simply titled: How to write with style? It’s easily available online, should you want a printer-friendly version. Please note that the copyright for this rests with International Paper Co.

How to write with style
By Kurt Vonnegut, © 1982 International Paper Co.

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful–? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead–or worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an empty-headed writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

Find a subject you care about.

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way–although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

Do not ramble, though.

I won’t ramble on about that.

Keep it simple.

As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound.
_______________________________________________
“Should I act upon the urgings that I feel, or remain passive and thus cease to exist?”
” “To be or not to be?”

_______________________________________________
“To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.

Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.

Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Have the guts to cut.

It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

Sound like yourself.

The writing style which is most natural to you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was the novelist Joseph Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.

In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.

All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens not to be standard English, and if it shows itself when you write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue.

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

Say what you mean to say.

I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but I am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable–and therefore understood.

And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.

Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.

Pity the readers.

They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school–twelve long years.

So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, ever willing to simplify and clarify–whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

For really detailed advice

For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, I commend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (Macmillan, 1979). E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.

You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or how badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say

(Pic courtesy: al.petfield.com)

Character Bombshell

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on April 9, 2009

Back from a rather hectic, yet fantastic trip to New Delhi and Agra. Spent more time travelling in trains, actually! At some point everybody has recommended a long train journey to someone else. The reasons have always been pretty much the same: disconnect, quiet time to think, see the countryside like you never would – and finally – meet interesting people.

I could list the rather colourful characters I met. People with a history that one would be hard pressed to equal merely by the force of imagination. This post, however, is not about that. This post is about what a person says, suddenly, that completely changes your understanding of her. It sheds new light on everything she has said before, and she will say after. In one second, that character explodes into your heart, never to leave.
mushroom cloud
It’s what I call a character bombshell. When a character says or does something suddenly, drops a nuke that completely transforms your understanding of her.

Old Man. Very old, needs support to make his bed, stand up, open food packets. All of which I gladly provide, not in a condescending way, for I have a grandfather of a similar age and I understand better what’s required of me. I consent, indicating there was never any question of having it any other way, that I would help him get off the train at the right station, and assist with his bag.

He talks about his home, where he worked, his life and so on.

He shares his food with me, insists when I refuse, nods his approval when I relent. Everything’s fine and normal. The usual. The only thing that has made me feel sad for him is that he has lost his wife. He mentions it with dignity, delicately and without maudlin.

The next morning we wait for his station to arrive. I get his bag out and keep it ready. While we wait, he starts talking again. It starts with what he’s already told me – where he worked, his age, his pension etc. And then Bombshell 1: He says, he has two sons. One of them is no more with us, left us when he was just 32. Suddenly, he breaks into a sob, his mouth curls with grief that cannot be gotten over. He tries to recover, and almost does, but another wave washes over him and his hands rush to hide his tear-filled eyes. All of a sudden, it’s no longer small talk. All of a sudden, he’s no longer just another old man in the train who likes to talk.

After a few minutes he recovers. The station is still ten minutes away. We start talking again. He tells me about the revision of his pension  and how his wife asked him not to reconsider his decision to retire although the others in his office suggested he put in a few more years. And then Bombshell 2: My wife has passed away you know – we climbed up to the temple at _________, she fell down the stairs and….

He starts to sob again. His nose is blocked and he draws his breath in gasps. He neither apologises nor attempts to hide the break in the dam he has built to contain emotions. He continues with an inane cliché that only makes my heart sag heavier with sorrow: they say, wife is life, but now … now … what is there to do … I just go on.

The station arrives and I help the old man get off. I wait till his daughter arrives to pick him up. We exchange goodbyes, he thanks me, blesses me – all in a very plain, matter-of-fact way. There was no indication of any bond between us. There was no acknowledgement of the fact that he’d made me privy to a deep and emotional part of his life.

The anecdote is not about my emotions, or his, for that matter. The anecdote is not about what he said, it’s not about the contents. It’s about how he said and when he said it. As a character, the old man and his life are still not exceptional, to be fair. But the two Bombshells he dropped suddenly changed the way I looked at him and his life. I could imagine stronger motivations for some of his beliefs. I could imagine a starker reality he confronted every morning when he awoke. He had flicked on a torch, for just a few seconds, and in that light, I saw him as he saw himself.

The old man dropped the two bombshells suddenly. If it were scripted, I would go as far as to say the author deliberately set me up by talking about inane trivialities prior to the revelation. The old man dropped the bombshell very plainly and without fanfare. Again, if it were scripted, I would say the author eschewed adverbs, adjectives and any need to adorn the statement.

And that’s what made the bombshells what they are. Unexpectedness and starkness.

While I post this anecdote from a writer’s perspective, in doing that I don’t intend to diminish the due respect and gravity it deserves. Character Bombshells (CB) embed characters in your mind like a wedge. A minor character, someone in the background, can storm her way to the main stage with a carefully timed CB. A CB is useful to jolt the reader and force him to reappraise a character. A well planned CB can make a character unforgettable.

If it works in real life, it will work in fiction too.

(If you have come across a Character Bombshell or something similar please do share it with me. Thanks.)

Whack#1 “A Moveable Feast”

Posted in General, Whack, Writing by grx20 on January 12, 2009

I’m starting a new section called Whack. It’s a place to share a piece of writing that has struck me as remarkable, for all the right reasons. I may not like the book or story in toto or enjoy the author’s style, but some parts might act like a whack from a wet fish between the eyes. Here’s the first one.

I came across this excerpt from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
Since we are talking about Hemingway, I’ll keep this brief and let the excerpt speak for itself.

This just plunged an ice sliver into my brain – this passage, it’s starkness and beauty has been haunting me the whole day.

(I got this from http://www.wherepilgrimsdisappear.wordpress.com – a lot more goodies there.)

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason. In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.

On Composting

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on December 31, 2008

composting

I’m delighted to end the year with composting.

Composting is what I’ve been doing for the last ten days, and it is simply delightful to say the least.

Yes, yes … you saw it coming a mile away – that composting has nothing to with any agricultural venture that I’m undertaking, and I will soon reveal its true meaning.

True meaning: composting is the process of mulling over story in one’s mind. It’s the process of turning it over, looking at it in different angles, pondering over it … cooking, stewing … composting.

Preparing the soil for the idea to grow. No wonder they say, a seed of an idea.

For over a month, I’ve been struggling with issues of voice, style and simply put, ‘what the hell to write about!’

Then, one evening, I got a germ of an idea in an introduction to Anna Karenina. And that germ has been well, germinating. I’ve planted it in my head and I keep watering it and the results are finally beginning to show.

A few conversations have already formed in my mind, a few ‘encounters’ scenes, if you like, are beginning to take shape and characters are beginning to acquire a personality.

I haven’t written a single word. I think I know how I want to begin the story, or at least at which point, but nothing has been transferred to paper yet. And for the first time, I’m finding it a very liberating and enjoyable process.

Composting is something all writers do. You toss it around, turn it around, mess with it, ask ‘what if’ questions, consider point of view issues, tone, and whole array of plots. And just because you haven’t clocked in a 1000 words a day, doesn’t mean you haven’t been working or that your story isn’t making progress.

I’ve heard of writers who have been toying around with an idea for years, some even decades, before finally getting down to writing it. One example that comes to mind rather quickly, (because I read about it recently) is Navtej Sarna’s new book – The Exile. In an interview he says, the subject has been around in his head for almost a decade.

The other thing with composting is timing. It doesn’t make sense to write it until the story is ready to be written and until you are ready to write it. The most awesome idea may require one to mature in years, experience and skill before finding scripting.

I’ve got some ideas I know I am not ready to write yet. I’ve already written some stories I should have written a few years from now. Composting is a critical critical part of writing. Not that I eschew spontaneous creativity or writing on the go, sometimes it is essential to pickle it.

Perhaps you too have been composting a thought – here’s to seeing it come alive.

BIC HOK TAM

Posted in Writing by grx20 on November 19, 2008

Been a while, hasn’t it?

BIC HOK TAM sounds like a Thai dish that one would look at suspiciously.
“It doesn’t have peacock ears, right?”
“No, ma’am, it not have the peacock ear.”

If you head over to this interesting site called book in a week, you will find their philosophy is captured in BIC HOK TAM.

BIC – Butt in chair
HOK – Hands on keyboard
TAM – Typing away madly.

snoopy typing

As they say, ‘this is the best way we know of to get any writing done.’ And I agree. I especially like TAM – Typing away madly. It brings to mind visions of a writer at his desk pounding away at his keyboard, a manic look burning through the paper (or screen), hands thrashing around and hair flailing, when the promise of dawn is still far away. I like TAM – it sounds good, inspiring almost. Type away madly – Swing Away (as in The Signs) … type madly, with abandon. Madly … like a brute, getting fingers wedged between the keys. The glazed, scary glint in the eyes is essential.

Get your story down on paper. Edit later. Make mistakes … hell, you will make mistakes. Don’t worry about it. No one’s going to see it. Not everything you write has to be published. Send your internal editor on a holiday under the Tuscan sky. If it sounds awful and terrible to read, that’s fine. You CANNOT get it dot-right on the first go. Books aren’t dropped at your doorstep by the Book Stork. It takes a lot … a lot of work. So focus on getting the entire story on paper, no matter how hard it seems.

It has worked for a lot of people – as their website will testify. And I agree with the fact that unless you get your BIC and HOK and TAM, you really will not get anywhere.

On a related note, I must mention that November is National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoMo, (NaNoWriMo, in some cases). Of course – that’s in the United States, not here, in India. But it is an interesting concept. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Write hot is the mantra. The idea is to get that difficult first draft done, without editing, without correcting, worrying, or bothering about how good it is. Like the site rightly says, most people don’t even get to writing the first draft. Don’t worry about the plot, character development, flow, and other related demons. That’s for later, when you edit. You might not even write in sequence. Maybe just random scenes each day. Start with the middle, shift to the end, maybe a few parts of the beginning later … whatever. Get 50,000 words done in a month. 50,000 isn’t quite novel length. It is about 30 to 40 thousand words short. But it’s a start. And getting 50,000 words under your belt is not a mean task. Check out the website, for more details.

I would like to invite you to read (or re-read) my post called, The Price Of Your Dreams. What if the price of all your dreams is writing 10 pages a day? Assuming 250 odd words a page, that is 2500 words a day. At the end of week one (a seven day week, Herr Escapist), is a cool 17,500 words. In a month, you should have knocked off a jaw-dropping 70,000 words. That, monsieur, is a novel. And to nicely tie things up, the key to getting this done is BIC HOK TAM.

See the pages stacking up.

Type away madly.

MADLY!

12.5 writing rules

Posted in Writing by grx20 on November 10, 2008

Came across this picture while surfing the net. Don’t agree with all of them, some are nice.

I think you can buy it at art.com

12-writing-rules

Nadeem Aslam – A writer every writer should know.

Posted in Writing by grx20 on November 4, 2008

(Caution: Long Post)

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a coincidence.

aslamSo when the name Nadeem Aslam cropped up twice in a week, I understood the signals. I googled up his name and came across some book reviews, biographies and an odd interview or two. After reading through all of them, I am left staggering. I’ve never come across a writer like him, and I haven’t read a single word of his work yet.

I have pulled out bits from each of these articles and interviews. These are parts, sentences and quotes that left me with the effect of being struck between the eyes with a wet fish. If you have the time, I strongly recommend you read the entire article.

When surfing channels a few days back, I chanced upon an interview with Aslam. He was incredibly articulate, spoke in a quiet and collected manner and wore an air of intensity that was overpowering. In a word, deep.

Let’s get ‘Who’ out of the way.
Nadeem Aslam was born in Pakistan and later moved to the UK with is family when he was 14. He quit studying biochemistry at Manchester University in his third year to write. His first novel, Season of the Rainbirds was published in 1993. This was followed by Maps for lost lovers in 2004 and his latest offering is the Wasted Vigil. Yes, he’s won a lot of awards, and was shortlisted for the Booker in 2004. The complete list is available at any of the links I’ve provided in this article.

Here we go …

(From: The Telegraph UK)

seasons of rainbirdsThe first page of the first book, which he started at 23, was the first creative writing he had done in English. He had no idea that literary agents even existed, and simply found the address of John Updike’s British publisher from a copy of one of his novels and sent off the manuscript. They got in touch within weeks, and he promptly started Maps for Lost Lovers.

At a time of whopping advances, world tours, glitzy launches, sudden Bookers, instant celebritification, Aslam reminds me of a boy who didn’t land up for the party. Instead, he shut himself in his room and wrote. He writes, slowly in long hand.

(From contemporarywriters.com)

There is a sense of craftsmanship about his writing, and a time-consuming attention to detail that is rare in a recent fiction. As Aslam has put it of his second novel:
I wanted every chapter of Maps for Lost Lovers to be like a Persian miniature. In these miniatures, a small piece of paper – no bigger than a sheet of A4 – holds an immense wealth of beauty, colour and detail. Trees have leaves each perfectly rendered. Flowers are moments old and the tilework of the palaces and mosques is lovingly detailed. That was the aim in Maps…”

Complaining of long working hours?
Aslam’s working style is the most extreme I’ve come across. He writes in complete isolation, shutting himself off from people by drawing black curtains across his windows, for as long as it takes – which is usually years.  

(From: The Independent UK)

mapsA few minutes into our conversation, Nadeem Aslam looks startled and asks, “Is it OK if I switch my mobile off?” He stares at it as if he’s never seen one before. For the last 11 years, Aslam has lived untroubled by must-have gadgetry. “I basically removed myself from the world,” he explains quietly. “My life has been so reduced. I didn’t have a mobile phone until I’d finished my book and could afford one, and until there was any need. Now I am trying to engage with the world – things like e-mail and the internet. I feel like Rip Van Winkle.”

For a while, he was also feeling bereft. Aslam was 26 when he embarked on his second novel, Maps for Lost Lovers (Faber & Faber, £16.99), thinking it might take two years to complete. “The only time I’m ever fully alive is when I’m writing. When I’d finished this book, I felt like a cage from which the songbird is being removed. For a month I just didn’t know what to do.”
But seclusion was essential. “I always think of the silence and the darkness of a root that enables the flower to grow.”

The joys of rewriting and editing … and rewriting and editing… and rewriting and editing
Over the 11 years of writing, the emotional content of the novel did not alter, although Aslam says his technical skills improved. He writes longhand, which may explain why Maps for Lost Lovers has a meditative feel. “Sometimes a sentence would take a whole page of crossing out.” He stringently revised, taking five years or so to get the opening chapter right and following a story about Kaukab for seven months, which he then rejected. Out of those 70 pages, he kept one sentence.

After the first two years, Aslam stopped working on the forward momentum of the novel altogether and spent four years producing 100-page biographies of the main characters. After that, “I fully understood what this family was. Then I was six years into the writing and in deep financial trouble.” He laughs: “But it had to be done.”

(From The Telegraph UK)

The author disappeared so utterly into his own world that he only found out about September 11 on September 20.

Did he not get lonely in his 11-year sequestration? “Yes, but there’s that wonderful line from Czeslaw Milosz. ‘Those greater than you suffered. Why not you?’ It just had to be done.” In effect, it took him six years to get to page one. Was there frustration that it took quite so long to finish? Didn’t he want to just wrap it up a bit more quickly? There follows a pause of about half a minute. Plainly, Aslam is used to such silences.

Finally, he breaks it. “It wouldn’t have been any good if I had let it go.” Then he adds: “People say that they like it and it’s good. My writing is so much a part of what I am that it’s like being praised for having a hand or for having blood. Does that make sense?”

The Vigil of Aslam’s family

(From bookbrowse.com)

wasted-vigil

Aslam’s latest novel, The Wasted Vigil, was written in seven months. During the time in which he was writing, he saw no one. His family brought him food while he was sleeping. In appreciation, he dedicated the novel to his sister and brother-in-law for their support. The title of the novel is derived from a painting by Pakistani artist Abdur Rahman Chugtai (1894-1975) with the same name. Aslam remarks on the connection between his novel and the painting, in which a well-dressed, smiling, hopeful woman sits waiting, saying “the artist and God knows that it ain’t gonna happen. So once you look at the title, it’s quite a chilling picture.”

And finally …
Maps for lost lovers is dedicated to Aslam’s father, “who advised me at the outset, all those years ago, to always write about love”.

I have rarely read about an author and then decided to pick up his book. Even in the case of some of my favourite authors – Orhan Pamuk (after he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006), I read My name is Red, first and then discovered the man behind the book. Same with Rohinton Mistry.

But never has a writer’s working style, passion and obsession with the craft filled me with so much awe. I have to discover the book behind this man.

Write now – a simple system to get started

Posted in Writing by grx20 on October 10, 2008

It started as a one-off exercise, but has evolved into a habit. A writing routine, that’s worked well for me – it keeps me motivated, improves my observation skills and my writing significantly. Maybe it will work for you as well. It is an exercise in writing, as much as it is an exercise in communication.

It comes from the fact that life happens as much during the big, momentous occasions as it does during the seconds that tick away with predictable monotony. And when I come across one such moment, I tuck it away in my mind (and later in a notebook).

Later, I recollect one such moment – usually it is a snapshot of a person, an expression, a conversation even. And I write about it. Some of these have the potential to be character profiles, some have the germ of a story in them, some have only enough for a single cliff-hanger moment. But they all have an element of human drama.

I challenge myself to capture it as best as I can. To be able to bring alive all that I felt and convey to the reader the scene as vividly as I saw and experienced it. The exercise forces me to find the right words, to look up the thesaurus, to be succinct.

The payoff? Hopefully, as I keep at it, as I practice, the quality of my writing will improve. And hopefully, writing about life and describing it will be just a little less daunting and intimidating.

The idea is to write for the sake of writing. Not to meet a word/page deadline, but just to write for experiencing the joy of writing. 

Lately, I’ve found that it works splendidly like a warm up. And something to write on the days I have nothing to write.

Example: Walking around in my apartment complex – I see a small girl walking away, slowly, dejected, with a badminton racquet hanging limply from her hands. She has no one to play with and the sadness is tangible.

Another one. One night, the train I was in was pulling out the station. In the distance, I see two cane chairs – easy chairs – suspended from the ceiling in a balcony. Lit by a dim fluorescent bulb, they stand out in the darkness – and in the light breeze come together, part, come together, part.

I ask myself, how can I best describe these moments with words?

If you have a similar system or something different, do write in.

My thoughts too…

Posted in Writing by grx20 on October 6, 2008

I came across this blog which has some excellent posts about writing and the craft of writing.
In fact, a lot of it is what I wanted to talk about here.
While she has saved me the trouble (and done it in style, I might add), she has also forced me to think of something else to say!

I highly recommend a dash over to her blog.

Kim W. Justesen has her blog here.

Some of my favourite posts are also at the sidebar on the right under the ‘Great Reading’ section.

Writing like Indiana Jones

Posted in Writing by grx20 on September 5, 2008

Dig writing? Get on your knees!
In his cult-classic, On Writing, Stephen King compares the creative process with archaeology. Not only does it sound interesting, I think it is also brilliantly true. It’s one of those things, that make you nod your head and say, ‘yeah, that’s true, that’s how it works for me.’

Pen in my hand, sand in my eyes.
King holds that stories and ideas are completely formed relics, buried and waiting to be discovered by the writer. The job of the writer then, is to carefully unearth as much of the story/idea as possible, while doing as little damage as possible.

The tools for the project are the elements of language and the more adept we are at handling gerunds, infinitives and adverbial clauses, the easier the task becomes.

This notion flies in the face of carefully detailed plot maps and character outlines. Instead of ‘thinking up’ plots, King asks us to shift our perspective. The story is already there, complete and perfect. Your job is merely to brush away the dust, clear the sand and bring it to light, without breaking too many bones.

So what exactly am I looking for?
It’s something that works for me. It is also liberating, in a way to know that the story is already there – the troublesome middle section has been worked out and that elusive ending has already been found. It lifts the burden off me. I don’t have to invent an ending, instead I have to ask myself if a particular development seems natural to the parent story – is it a bone, a part of the relic, or am I merely dusting up a stone?

No one told me my pants would get dirty.
This perhaps, takes the glamour off writing. Wasn’t it supposed to be a mystical and ethereal experience? I, however, don’t mind it at all. As any serious writer will agree, writing is bloody hard work. Sitting at the desk, toiling, fighting the urge to ‘do it later’ and dealing with the frightening prospect of getting it all wrong. It’s hard work – as much as sweating it out under an unforgiving summer sun.

Not that plotting, or making an outline is wrong. There are many who have found great success with this method. And will therefore swear by it. To be fair, I’ve tried making these lists and outlines and have found it hard hard work. Harder than archaeology.

I guess, they are the ones who feel, if they are going to start digging up stuff, they’d rather do it with all the details – knowing what the temperature and the humidity is.