The Creative Writing Blog
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Welcome to The Novelry blog. Your first stop for all things to do with novel writing. Peruse the articles to troubleshoot your writing problems and get that novel done! Happy writing!
Every novel presents such new challenges, it seems one has never written a novel before. An irksome and bewildering amnesia. Yet again, your judgement and taste exceed your abilities and you're the duffer who won't repeat old ways any which way. But there is hope.
"I think it’s true that with each new book, you make new mistakes... .You start off with different possible tonalities and the right one only gradually comes into play.... As you get older, you understand time, you understand fictional time better, how to move in time, how to move through time in fiction.... Updike, in his later work, he got very good, and canny and clever about time. So we do learn some new tricks." Julian Barnes.
So, it may take longer, this new novel of yours, than the last. Let it.
I write, probably like you do, because life is a lonely path, but paradoxically we are all differently and diversely the same. Our most common, most tragic flaw as a species is perhaps...
The Telegraph 10th June 2019.
"Marshwood Manor in the Vale of Marshwood, close to Bridport and Dorset’s Jurassic coast, is the venue for a series of creative writing retreats from The Novelry. A week-long novel-writing course includes an inspirational mix of morning lessons, one-to-one sessions and after-dinner readings, plus plenty of free time for personal reflection and composition. Guests are allocated their own private rooms in shared cottages, situated in the 13 acres of garden and woodland which surround the house. "
"It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads." Oliver Sacks.
In Musicophilia, Sacks tells some very moving stories about those with terrifyingly profound amnesia, or Alzheimer's disease, for whom music can "restore them to themselves". He claimed that music may be our best medicine.
I've often wondered about the connection between music and writing. Many of my writers use music, as do I, to enter the right mood for a piece of prose.
Oliver Sacks described as "amusic", those who do not seem to understand or feel music at all in his book Musicophilia. He considered with pity the case of Vladimir Nabokov, who famously said he experienced music merely as "an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"; and he wondered about how little music is mentioned in Henry James's work.
What are the mysterious connections between the two arts?
If there's an order of merit, many writers would accord first place...
Know the purpose of every character in your novel.
Each and every character in a story has a single purpose for the storyteller - and that is their role or agency vis a vis the moral development of the protagonist, hero or heroine, the subject of your novel. They either assist or hinder.
Who are the key players?
There are filler characters, the door holders, and bag carriers, the petrol pump attendants, and these too may have something to add, but you need to concern yourself with the players on your team first and foremost. Some 3-15 players.
What's the nexus?
Wherever you are in your novel, you should be looking at the crucible - the hell Sartre might have dubbed it or heaven - that is the nexus of relationships. What people want from your main player and what he or she wants from them. The relationships - the push and pull of their reciprocal wants and needs - will range from highly negative and reversing (antagonist) to assistance, affection, love and self-sacrifice (the friend...
Wherever you are with your novel, here's something which could help you see the big picture of plot fast.
On my fourth draft of a novel, and so mired in the material, I needed a very simple oversight of the drama in play. It came to me that when I am working on a novel I envision several key scenes and work from one to the other hopping on one foot of my purple prose.
Using the Visual Method to Outline a Novel
I begin a novel with a key 'visual' or vision, a scene that intrigues me, and work out how on earth it all came about, then I add other scenes. But of course, I forget about the simplicity of that and get bogged down in detail.
At any stage of your novel try seeing it like a moving picture. Think of it as a movie, and press fast forward x 30. You won't be paying attention to the talking heads but the space around them. The locations. The sets. The camera angles and then the key shot for each. Whose face? Whose feet? What object?
See it as series of...
Immersive writing and insight are intimately related and inextricably so.
This is what Tolstoy shows us. It's what makes Tolstoy a great writer.
Following on from the last blog on the ten-draft four-year development process for the writing of the book often described as the greatest novel, I want to show you what Tolstoy achieved with his writing, how he approached, and why.
“Therein is the whole business of one’s life; to seek out and save in the soul that which is perishing.”
The Gospel in Brief - Leo Tolstoy
(My second book This Human Season cites this quotation from Tolstoy at the frontispiece.)
The business of his life, his work, was to honour this passage from the Gospel, which he read and re-read as his favourite book.
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Matthew 7:5
Seen this way, you can understand the wholeness of his approach to his work,...
In the 1870's Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828 - 1910) experienced a profound moral crisis. During the writing of Anna Karenina, he went through a personal metamorphosis from sensualist to ascetic. This had a dramatic effect on his literary output and the novels after Anna Karenina are of a different tone, and more didactic.
Writing Anna Karenina required many drafts over four years, and evolved from a rather superficial treatment of a 'fallen woman' to a more nuanced and sympathetic evocation of Anna, the literary heroine.
The novel accrued greater depth over those drafts. The constant in the concept was Anna herself, though her character changed in the early drafts. With Anna, Tolstoy was able to put his finger on his own flaw or failing; the sensualist. Writing Anna enabled him to see the flaw, name it and move past it.
There are one or two ways to write a novel.
1. A fast first draft and multiple successive drafts. (For this method ideally you need a sounding board - an agent...
Sally Rooney is my writer of the year. 'Conversations with Friends' - my book of the year.
At just halfway through the year, and with Ms Rooney just 26, you may think this is a moment of ill-considered or reckless admiration on my part. You may think I'm really stretching things to claim she is the heir apparent to Hemingway, based on one novel.
But I will make a case for that based not just on that novel but the short story 'Mr Salary' for which Rooney was Winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. I should add that with her new novel 'Normal People' being published next month, Ms Rooney is not a one-book wonder.
Sally Rooney writes with such a painstaking candour and more as I will show below, that I am sure we have great things to come from her.
It is the case that the 'truth' will set you free as a writer, as Hemingway himself practised sp robustly, and Sally Rooney purveys the same...
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913
A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.
Murderpedia is a free online encyclopedic dictionary of murderers and the largest
database about serial killers and mass murderers around the world.
UK Missing Persons Unit
Says our thriller writer, author Helen Callaghan, "It's the little details about the victims that are most affecting and really make you think. So I often visit here too: UK Missing Persons. The lists of possessions, tattoos, etc get me every time."
Says Helen, "The other place I use is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust as they have great insights and advice into stalking and threat."
Suzy Lamplugh Charity
"The other thing for crime research...
How to become a published author? Get good at taking criticism.
As author of four published novels now, I remember the step-change in my writing came back in the beginning when I learnt to take it on the chin. And more.
I became hungry for criticism, harsh criticism because I wanted to get better at my craft fast. Taking the blows - in style - was the difference between being an amateur and a pro.
A published book has seen many interventions post the author's first draft. Better to get these under your belt sooner rather than later and go out looking dandy when you show your work to the big guns - the agents, publishers and readers. For that reason, all insults, slurs and calumnies should be most gratefully received at any point between second draft and twenty-second.
Order of merit.
- You crit. (The Editing Course, after resting that first draft for a month to become a reader.)
- Peer crit.
- Prof crit.
- Publisher crit.
- Publish - and don't look back!
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