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Can I dramatise this scene? June 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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Source: mindset.yoursabbatical.com

A few weeks ago we were discussing the use of free indirect discourse in class.  I didn’t even know what it was, even though I had been using it throughout my writings for years.

Free indirect discourse is a way of representing a character’s speech or thoughts using a combination of direct discourse and narratorial commentary.  The simplest example I can think of is instead of writing a whole conversation between two people where you write down every word uttered (followed by ‘he said’ or ‘she said’), you summarise the conversation with narrative (eg, ‘They had a conversation about X’).

It’s used in just about every novel out there, but it’s something I never really thought much about before until I started struggling with my own writing.  Some conversations in my WIP novel(s) didn’t really work or dragged on too long, and probably could have been dispensed with a narrative summary instead of a word by word account.  Conversely, other conversations which I summarised might have worked better if I strung it out more to give the characters more of a voice.

The problem extends beyond just speech for me.  Looking through some of my older drafts, I tended to have a problem of not knowing how to create a scene.  I might not know where to start or where to end a sequence or a series of actions, and it ends up being a long, drawn out, tedious scene where people just do things and talk and do things and talk for an extended period of time.  The pace sags and even if a lot of things are happening it still feels slow and boring.

However, if I just summarise the scenes they end up losing life and take the reader out of the action.

So it’s a delicate balance.  Knowing when to use free indirect discourse and when to summarise scenes and when to write them out in full is a true skill, and a difficult one to master.

The way I look at it now is that I’m a director of a film, and it’s up to me to decide which scenes I want to show, which scenes I want to omit, which parts I want to spell out for audiences and which parts I leave for them to fill in themselves.  Is this scene worthy of being dramatised?  Is the scene capable of creating drama or tension or helps develop a character or reveal something pertinent about the plot?  Is there a point in the reader having to read the entire conversation or know every little thing that a person saw or did in that scene?  Is there a purpose?  If the answers to the questions are yes, then I go ahead and craft the scene in detail.  If the answers are no, then I’ll have to think of an effective way to summarise it.

Either way, it’s not easy!


The “I can do better” writer’s syndrome April 22, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing.
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Could you do better than this man?

One thing I have noticed lately, especially on forums, is that certain nameless, faceless people think they can do better than some of the biggest selling authors out there — Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Stieg Larsson — just to name a few.  Even the ones that come short of actually saying it imply it with their trashing of the author’s writing and shock that their books have sold so well.

Sorry to break it to those people, but you can’t.  If you could, you would have done it already.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with critiquing a writer or a piece of work.  Even the most revered masterpieces have their critics.  People have different tastes, and no piece of writing is ever going to please every reader.

But to say you can do better is a big call.  There is so much that goes into putting together a novel than these ‘I can do better’ people can fathom.  Sure, luck does play a role, sometimes a significant one, but at the end of the day, a mixture of skill, talent, perseverance and determination is imperative in putting together a bestseller.  And time — finding the time to actually complete it is probably the biggest obstacle of all.

The truth is, good writing alone is not enough to sell books.  It’s about meeting the demands of the market, bring at the right place at the right time, and having an interesting idea.  An idea that appeals to the masses.

Dan Brown, the creator of The Da Vinci Code, is an oft-targeted author.  His writing is, admittedly, nothing spectacular from a technical standpoint, but it’s adequate.  He also has his strengths, being an excellent craftsman of page turners.  But is that why The Da Vinci Code was such an international phenomenon?  Of course not.  It’s because he identified something when he read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and realised that it would make an awesome premise for a thriller.  At least one that would be highly controversial.

But was that all he needed, a good idea?  Of course not again.  He must have spent hundreds of hours researching and piecing the story together, and who knows how long he spent creating the novel’s many cryptic puzzles?  Then, he had to actually write the damn thing.  I recall reading somewhere that for every page of The Da Vinci Code, there were another 10 pages that ended up on the cutting room floor.  How can anyone not find that an impressive effort?

There are times when I am reading a particular writer’s work and I don’t think it is any good, and I start wondering if I can write something better.  But I tell myself that it’s one thing to tell yourself that you may have the potential ability to do it, but it’s another thing altogether to actually get it done.

2532 Words March 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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City of Words by Vito Acconci, 1999

Yesterday wasn’t quite as productive as I anticipated.  I went to watch Red Riding Hood — I know — but it’s only because I had a free movie ticket that was expiring in a day or so and would have gone to waste otherwise.  Anyway, review coming soon, but for some reason the movie made me very lethargic and lacking inspiration.

Alas, more writing had to be done.  I powered through yesterday to 2532 words (meaning under 1000 words for a day).  I’ll still take that.  But I really started struggling as I reached the climax of the first chapter.  The wheels were in motion and the story was progressing, but it felt like something was missing.  The prose, the dialogue — none of it was as exciting as I had visualised in my mind.

I started committing the cardinal sin of editing while writing.  According to traditional wisdom, the first draft is supposed to be where you just pour it all out so you can rewrite it and fix it up later.  And it really slowed me down.  And the stuff I was amending wasn’t necessarily making it better.

I have a feeling it’s because I haven’t given enough thought to my protagonist, my narrator.  I’ve spent all my time and effort developing the six or seven other minor characters in the chapter and made them very intriguing people, but I’ve forgotten about the guy the readers are supposed to care most about.

Whatever.  The goal is to just get the first chapter DONE and worry about the rest later.  My guess is it’ll be around 3500 words or so and I’ll have to eventually trim it down to 3000.  Wish me luck.

1600 Words March 29, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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Source: sustain450.com.au

Just a quickie.

Yesterday, at long last, I commenced working on my new novel.  I know, I know, I haven’t even finished my old novel (stuck at around 110,000 words), but this one needs to take priority as it is a course project I must complete in the next few months.

So after a lengthy, difficult struggle and excessive planning (I always love to plan), I sat down and began to write (type).  Several hours, multiple breaks and countless procrastination sessions later, I had 1600 words.

A far cry from the 6000-8000 words Iused to pump out locked away in a room during the bitter winter of Cambridge, but I’ll take it considering how long it’s been since I last wrote fiction.

The best thing of all is that I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process.  It’s only a rough first draft at the moment, but I loved the feeling of getting the words in my mind on the page, even if I can never get it exactly right.

This begs the question — if I enjoy it so much, why don’t I write more?  Come on, start writing!

Pressure is a good thing March 23, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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Source: ninemsn.com.au

I had a first meeting with my supervisor today for the major writing project I am to complete this semester.  Well, I probably won’t complete the whole thing, but the intention is to get at least 20,000 to 30,000 words done before June to put me in a position to actually finish it, with potential for publication down the track.

My supervisor is quite a well-known and critically successful author (though I assume not commercially successful enough to not have to teach).  That said, I was still very surprised and impressed by how many great suggestions he/she had for me.  Before leaving for Shanghai I had compiled a 1.5 page outline/proposal for my project, which he/she provided a little bit of feedback on.  Upon my return, I beefed it up to a comprehensive 4 page proposal.

Using that 4-pager, my supervisor was able to tell me which books and authors I should read, which shows and films I should see, what I should aim for and what I should steer clear from.  He/she also immediately grasped what I needed to concentrate on and the things I needed to turn these 4 pages of pretty rough ideas into a proper narrative that would capture audiences.  The advice was all spot on.  He/She hit everything right on the nail and set off multiple light bulbs in my head.  Don’t you love it when that happens?

Now, with the short China trip out of the way, it’s time to get down to business.  Our next meeting is in a couple of weeks and I need to have words for my supervisor to see.  I need to have words for my other class to workshop.  I need to finish my next magazine article (due for publication in June).  I have to find a publisher for one of the other articles I completed last year.  I have books I need to finish quickly because I have recommended books to read.  I have books and short stories to read for class.  I have pieces I need to read and workshop.  I have to submit an entry for a short story writing competition.  I have heaps of posts I need to catch up on.  I need to check on how my domain change is going (haven’t heard a peep for a month).  And while I am doing all of this, I need to keep an eye out for potential jobs, because I’ll be graduating in a few months.

Do I feel a bit of pressure?  Of course I do.  But strangely, I welcome it.  I’ve spent too long NOT having any pressure and it hasn’t been healthy for my motivations and ambitions.  Maybe that’s why certain authors can keep churning out books faster than printers even though they are already successful — because they have contracts that require them to write more books and adhere to deadlines.  Maybe that’s why first-time novelists take so bloody long to finish that first novel.  I feel like I need a bit of a push right now, since having no push hasn’t been doing it for me.

Come on!

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