I see breakthroughs weekly in my writers' work and I thought I'd share some of the signs with you of a step-change in the quality of the work, from good to bloody brilliant. (Next stop publication!)
1. Hard work made harder. A writer has a work emergency or an illness and decides to work harder. Bingo, breakthrough. No hard work ever goes unrewarded when it comes to the craft of writing. A writer goes to extraordinary lengths, gets tired, loses patience with herself and cuts to the chase in her prose, and lo and behold we have writing worth reading, and then some. Sometimes you have to slog it. That first chapter, though! I don't exaggerate when I say to you I rewrite mine 1000 times. It can seem bloody-minded at times. Moving words in and out. You worry it will lose its liveliness. It doesn't. You cut the pretty bits. Someone's foot moves in a reflexive action off-camera, and you're on it. Your eyes are all over the scene suddenly. Write on, but return again and again to each scene in that first chapter until you've nailed it. The rest is much easier, easy even.
2. Using the blues. A writer feels down. The writers uses the 'damn hurt' as Hem described it to bring a new dimension to a character she's previously struggled to see. Bingo. We have a person in a novel, good and bad, to whom we can attach as readers.
3. Being square. A writer drops the innovations or the sloppy layout, and gets tidy and completely conservative with her manuscript, moving to Courier or Times and observing spelling and punctuation. Creativity needs discipline and a conservative presentation is crucial to winning the trust of a reader - first you, then the agent, and so on. You don't get given trust, you earn it. Then you can shock the shit out of everyone in your storyline. You have the right. If you're looking for the standard template for Word, simply open a new document and search using the word 'story manuscript' and set it to UK English and use!
4. Contradicting yourself. Our human stories are fictions in themselves, curated by monstrous liars. In our writing, we must realize that we the authors cannot ever see ourselves, so please don't try to be in the book. Don't choose your virtues to ascribe to a character, you will soon run out of material. Choose your faults and you're in with a chance. But better, stand back and let the people play as they would, each with their own motivations and needs firmly front of their mind, doggedly so. Revise, revise to show the breadth and multiplicity of every person who is at least as deceitful as you or as 'creative'. Undo them. If they are amiable, have them gloomily amiable or amiably gloomy. Even miserable bastards smile when someone falls over. A note of dissonance brings a paragraph alive. Don't fix your folks with your nib. Stay alive to their possibilities and they will surprise you, delight you and the reader too. Now, that's a book alive!
5. A big decision - to ditch a mechanic you've outgrown. For example , the difficult first person narrative. Sometimes it just has to go to enable you room to move. Sally Rooney uses a very close third which is about as tight to first as you can get. She gets the immersive experience but allows herself the option of various perspectives too. You can move between close thirds between two characters by change of the type of language you use and the kind of thought that's being expressed. Back to the first chapter, and try it another way, from close third.
6. Repetitions. Yes. Yes. Because we do. We do. We love a chorus. Tie up that chapter by going back to the first line and go for a reprise. In real life people say or think the same thing over and over again, in fiction you can let them say it just twice and that will count for multiple times.
7. You give up being 'original.' You give up being clever and go for being good. You'll know this when you hit it. You're just you. Not just the clever parts, not your learning, nor your reading, nor your plotting, nor your commercial market-based insights. You're you, warts and all, distributed amongst the cast. You've torn yourself into bits, and sat back in the glorious squalour of dismemberment. You're not prim at the desk, you're scruffy, mind and body. It's another of our beloved paradoxical precepts at The Novelry (where we ain't textbook, we're live!) - when you up trying to be original, you become so.
8. You give in to your cast. Your characters are people. It's probably taken you half the novel to get them there. So you go back to the start and rewrite the dialogue as each would really say it, and then you throw some spanners in the works, well they do. When you sit down to write, you start getting this funny feeling. It starts as a little splutter, something a bit like a cough. There's a filthy old man quality to it. Then you realize you're snorting. You're giggling. You're laughing.
Yes, my friend, you're writing, really writing, and the damn book's writing you too. When you go back to it tomorrow you're amongst friends. Wayward friends.
Remember when you all you wanted was to get to The End? Now, you don't.
And this for luck:
Your writing starts to be readable when you stop trying to be momentous. Purple prose. As Hem said a writer's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book. (Or a good book, even.)
If you haven’t taken a lot of punishment, and you think you have, those 'momentous' sentences might not work out too well for you.
But if you think you haven’t taken a lot of punishment, if you think you're lucky, well that's the right frame of mind to turn tricks from, and by that I mean, you'll understand you're creating an entertainment. You’ll accept you're not going to change anyone’s mind. Really you’re not. It’s not possible. And why should you? Your job is to show humanity, not give it a telling off. When you give up trying and give your reader some time off for good behaviour, you'll have it licked.
Welcome to the way of the writer.
Happy writing. x
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