Saturday, 28 March 2015

The blurb...

...advertising the book I have quoted from in my column "Good advice" is certainly inviting. There are so many books on how to write, including one by Steven King, who really can write! - that reading them becomes a fetish, and takes time from writing. One bit of advice on and in a book is "If you want to write, read", so I ordered a lot of books over a period of time covering many genres and proving disappointing for the most part. 

The plots of those fictional works were often brilliant, but the characters weak, or vice versa, or the writing was poor - bad grammar (the best-selling author M.C. Beaton is horribly guilty of grammar faux pas that make reading her books annoying, quite apart from their frequent shallowness and the feeling that they are often pieced together from bits of other writings, or borrow unduly from earlier books - and McCall Smith is guilty of the latter, but has pretty flawless English). Here's the blurb I mentioned:

Don't limit your fiction - LIBERATE IT All too often, following the "rules" of writing can constrict rather than inspire you. With Story Trumps Structure, you can shed those rules - about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more - to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories. Award-winning novelist Steven James explains how to trust the narrative process to make your story believable, compelling, and engaging, and debunks the common myths that hold writers back from creating their best work.* Ditch your outline and learn to write organically.* Set up promises for readers - and deliver on them.* Discover how to craft a satisfying climax.* Master the subtleties of characterization.* Add mind-blowing twists to your fiction.When you focus on what lies at the heart of story - tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, discovery - rather than plot templates and formulas, you'll begin to break out of the box and write fiction that resonates with your readers. Story Trumps Structure will transform the way you think about stories and the way you write them, forever.

To be honest, I do think of those things mentioned in the ad, but I'm still a beginner. I read my writings on my Kindle as PDF files and am often surprised at and amused by what I have written. Maybe I should get that book. It is different from the others I've read or dipped into - that does not make it better or more helpful. Second thoughts. I'm basically an autodidact. Should I be trying to take all that stuff on board? 

And do I want to read about characterization? Decades on the opera stage taught me how to bring characters to life, and I am already really good at constructing dialogue, though I say that myself. Since my books are - or have been up to now - a series, some of the main protagonists crop up in each book. I notice that I am developing the characters as I go along. They are evolving, as it were. I have to be aware of what they did in the previous novels. I think this is where the study of real books that are really clever comes in. I'm thinking of the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes volumes. The stories are incredibly consistent, given that they were written over quite a long period and character development is not vital for their outcomes except in exceptional circumstances. We as reader have to remember, for instance, that Sherlock Holmes is a master of disguise. He appears unrecognized in several stories and poor Dr Watson (an alter ego of the author?) is often kept in suspense, but because he is the mouthpiece in the stories, overcomes his humiliation to tell the truth about what happened. Isn't that a very human trait? Despite the uncanniness of Holmes, who used methods then unknown to forensic science and crime investigation, we are fascinated - probably as much by the magic of his personality - drug, addict, violinist, gay (?), as by the actual stories. Imagine what Holmes would have done with DNA? I could go on about those books for ages, but do I need to? There must be a good reason for them to be readable in this day and age, and be filmed as period pieces or modernised, whereby the modernised version of the character really spoils the magic for me. Holmes's reputation as a detecting wizard is spoilt if you have to have the feeling that he is ignoring modern techniques so that he can get busy with poisoned walking sticks and cigar ash. But I enjoy the stories over and over again. They get by without expletives and obscenities, and I try to do that, too.

Back to to my current novel now. It's about someone who.....well, you can read it soon, as I will post it chapter by chapter in April in a blog made especially for it. I will then link it to the NANOWRIMO format. The exciting part for me is that though I have started writing, which I do not normally do until the designated month (this time it's April) because I did not know I would write for NANOWRIMO this time, I still have research to complete for one of the two main themes - and yes, I tend to have more than one baddie in a book. Weaving them into one strand is part of the sport!

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