My writers often ask about first or third person, past or present tense and all the wonderful variations of those.
One of my favourite books of all time, and Mr Graham Greene's too, is Ford Madox Ford's 'The Good Soldier.'
The clue is most certainly in the title. 'The Good Soldier' is meant as in 'the good sort' or 'the good egg'. It's sly.
Ford Madox Ford writes as 'I' with what turns out to be knowing 'melancholy' about an event in the recent past, and the self-pity is pure cyanide.... it could not have been written in present tense, because he is an unreliable narrator.
He begins the book with formidable élan, unreliably, apparently with heartfelt poignancy. "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."
As Julian Barnes put it 'What could be more simple and declaratory, a statement of such high plangency and enormous claim that the reader assumes it must be not just an impression, or even a powerful opinion, but a "fact"? Yet it is one of the most misleading first...
By Cate Guthleben
I've started many books over the years but, until today, I'd only finished one. That one came from an MA in Creative Writing and took nearly two years to write. After I'd finished I sent it off to agents and publishers and got some nice comments on my writing, but no enthusiasm at all for the book. I knew it was flawed but didn't know how to fix it.
A little while later I started another. This one was going to be the one. It had a cracking premise and a protagonist I really cared about. I took a synopsis and three chapters to a Writers' Workshop conference in York and got really positive feedback from three agents. One wanted to see it as soon as I had finished. But I couldn't finish it. I got stuck somewhere around the middle and stayed stuck for a year. Then I read a review in the Sunday Times of my book. Same premise, same setting, same main character name for God's sake!
I wallowed for another year, flip-flopping between writing mine anyway and throwing it...
As part of our peering over writers' shoulders to see whether we are in any way 'normal' please find here the calibrations.
It's a little like the old shoe-sizer which we put our tootsies onto at 'back to school' time. I don't know about you but it gave me a funny little thrill. I hope this gives you a funny little thrill...
As for me? I'm deviant as often as I can be. Last Saturday it was 7,500 but when I'm on the first draft, I'll write about 1000 (rather poor words.) Some days it will be a cryptic misspelt-by-Siri note in my iphone notes programme, supposedly revelatory of a major insight (see last blog.)
I wwrite hundreds of thousands of words to reduce down to the 80k or so for a novel. This is a fool's economy of course, but then as Dolly might have said 'it takes a lot of money to look this cheap'.
During the first draft, please don't worry about word count, you will find your way, just be regular.
If you need to get your novel done in 90...
From our collaboration as novelists working side by side - shush - beyond The Novelry prescription of discipline and routine- have popped three things in the last few weeks:
We're hunkering down for another season’s write, beginning September, driving forward first or second drafts, propelled by the knowledge that writers from Steinbeck to Stephen King came to know the virtue of the 90 day write.
We know now that a draft of a novel is not only possible but more possible than not,...
By Janice Cumberlidge.
If you’re anything like me, you have a new idea for a story as often as you change your pants. Not only that, you also want to write them all. You might even start writing, but maybe lose your way or simply lose interest, so you stop, and start on your next big idea instead. This was my life until I joined The Ninety Day Novel course at the end of May 2017.
I’d been trying to finish a novel--not even a finished novel, just a first draft--for about 6 months, but always got stuck knowing whether my story was ‘good enough’ or knowing how to go from a few chapter ideas to a complete novel. In short, I didn’t have the confidence to follow through and finish the damn thing!
Desperate for help, I Googled something in the vein of ‘novel mentor’ and up popped Louise Dean’s course. Apart from the series of daily lessons and vlogs she provides, I saw that included was a monthly chat with Louise, where I could discuss...
"We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic." Gore Vidal.
In 2008, I was invited to the Galle Literary Festival to speak on conflict having published a work of historical fiction on The Troubles in Northern Ireland which detailed the Blanket Protest in the run up to the Hunger Strike.
For 'This Human Season' I had spent an year interviewing participants from both sides - the 'RA and the Proddies, been to the West and East Belfast on alternating visits, and sat with former prisoner officers, mothers, priests, and former 'soldiers' from either side including some of the most senior ranking members. I told the story of one mother and her son (in Long Kesh) and a former British soldier, 'looking after' her son as a prison guard in alternating chapters, one chapter female and Catholic, one male and Protestant. The book 'This Human Season' received kind praise both in...
1. At the core of every good concept is a paradox. (Find it, and you've got a story.)
2. Don't write for money. Don't write for free. In other words, don't write to make sure you can eat, but don't spill your words without getting paid for them. Making it your living is the best way to keep your standards high. Besides no one wants anything that's free.
3. A novel is best with one timeline for the main story, written in the present tense, narrated in the third person.Now we have that sorted let's move on.
4. 'The voice' is yours. Fix your mind on someone you care about and feel relaxed enough with to be yourself, probably someone dead, and talk to them. Sing your heart.
5. In the first chapter everything changes. It's all fucked up now. But remember, you and me both know it's going to get a whole lot worse for Mrs Wright or Mr Wrong.
6. Stop making excuses for not writing, like plotting or research. Do research late into the writing.
7. The plot...
Dear hearts don't be faint-hearted. It can be done. Don't be hard on yourself. Get your first draft down in 90 days so as to become acquainted with the story in a real sense.
I commend to you Mr John Steinbeck's good counsel:
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have...
It’s fun to write a book, isn’t it? What - it’s a mind-bending form of slow torture?
Then why does everybody want to do it? Okay not everybody, but many people, because when you conceive of an idea and become obsessed by it, there’s no escaping, and it becomes easier to write about than to avoid. That’s what happened after recent deaths of my family and friends, my parents ageing, and I’m heading towards fifty myself. Death seems inescapable.
Thinking about death is unusual for a cheery person like me, however I found that my thoughts were rarely gloomy. I thought along the lines of those having lived well being able to die well; I realised that my life has been a blessing in many ways, and why should my death not be also?
But what about people with terminal illnesses; those suffering from Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s diseases; from depression and dementia? Surely they would think very differently from my innocent simplification. What...
When I was living in New York in the late 1990's, in my early twenties, I wanted to be a writer. I was writing short stories and poems and thinking about writing a novel. I decided to learn as much as I could about the craft from writers themselves so when a great writer was in town, I was there. In those days everything was possible. I used to sit on the sidewalk downtown with my notebook and sketch in words what I saw passing me by which in New York was varied and bizarre enough to fill notebooks. A man riding a bike with an elephant trunk strapped to his face. A large black woman who has roughly whitewashed her body. These things moved me terribly.
Seamus Heaney came to read from his work and after the talk he gave I jogged up to him and asked him in my naive way - I was twenty five then - what it was all about, writing? He had kind eyes and a wry, bemused avuncular manner and he said to me 'It's all about starting and stopping and starting again.' I went to hear Annie...
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