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Posts tagged ‘writing process’

Writing Fiction For Emotional Engagement, by Sam Stephens

I believe even the greatest writer in the world can’t fully translate what is in their head onto paper. Something is always lost in between.

This is inevitable, when you think about it: the writer is living the world but the reader is simply reading about it. Sure, we do our best to draw the reader into our world but something is always lost and because of this we need to make sure that as writers we not only take the reader along for the ride but also point out not just the plot and the action, but also the fungus-infected sores along the way.

I found this out first hand a few years back: I had written a scene where a man was executed in front of a studio audience. I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I was writing it, and it affected me a lot more than I expected. But when I showed a few friends a funny thing happened: nothing. Nothing at all.

I was almost on my knees yelling, “How can you not be affected by this, you sickos!”

But I realised why it all seemed a little thin. It was such a hard scene for me to write that I skimmed over parts of the event. It’s not that I missed whole sections of the writing, it’s just that I didn’t paint the picture because I myself didn’t want to go there.

The problem with this is obvious: if we don’t go there ourselves, then the reader will never know that particular fungus-infected sore ever existed.

And this isn’t just for horror or dark thrillers – it’s for all genres. If you’re writing a romance, your heart breaks along with the protagonist’s heart, and you in turn have to break the reader’s heart.

It took awhile, but I finally dug into my boxed up little heart when I wrote “Daddy”. This was a short story about the pain, the love, the frustration, and the helplessness of fatherhood; the dark side that no one wants to talk about, but which every parent shares.

I wrote it for my own self-prescribed therapy. It took me a full day before I got the guts to tell my wife I actually wrote it, and then another day or so to show it to her. That story eventually won a short story competition, was published in Suspense Magazine and hit their top ten list for the year.

I still think it’s one of my best pieces of writing – not for its form, but simply because I cut a hole in my soul and let the contents pour out onto the page. Not just the rainbow coloured contents but the black sludge as well. I still think about that story when I’m writing, and I feel that urge to gloss over the painful bits. While the urge can even be subconscious, the reality is that unless we face the demons and embrace them, then our readers can never reach the heights that we feel when we write.

And for the curious amongst us, you can read “Daddy” here.

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Sam Stephens bio page

Writing for Emotional ImpactYou're NextOn Writing Horror: A Handbook by EquinoxThe Magician of Lhasa11.22.63Buried Secrets

Inspiration and the Writing Process, by Janet Marsh

“I write when I’m inspired

and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock

every morning.”

Peter De Vries

Peter De Vries was a prolific author who wrote short fiction, essays, reviews as well as twenty-three novels. He was also very witty. I enjoy this quote because, as an emerging writer, I find it wonderfully easy to write when I’m inspired: the words flow down from my head, through my fingers and onto the keyboard. Easy. The writing is great. The book will be published. Other ideas are flooding my brain: a sequel. No, a whole series in fact. Being a writer is brilliant – I was born for this. Yes!

Then come the not-so-flowing days when the words are constipated, the text is wooden, the plot is meaningless, the characters are flat and the entire setting is featureless. Despair settles like foggy dew. The sun has stopped shining and the cold chill of reality is seeping through every crack and crevice. And there are a lot of cracks and crevices. Suddenly everything seems pointless and even the good stuff from last week no longer seems that good after all. How on earth did I imagine I could write a book. How ridiculous …

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

De Vries offers a solution. What he says is inspiring. He says the routine, the habit, the custom – call it what you will – of writing will see you through. Yes. You simply carry on writing out all the dreadful stuff because sooner or later the inspiration will return.

I remember the summers when I lived in New Zealand. By four in the afternoon all the water in the pipes would be filled with a tepid and insipid liquid. You turned on the cold water tap and all you’d get was a gush of very warm water. It was awful. So, because it was NZ and not Australia, we used to let the tap run till the yucky stuff was out of the pipes and the delicious cool, artesian water was flowing again. Fantastic.

I’ve carried this metaphor into my writing life. Some days you turn on the creativity tap and all you get is a lukewarm flow. So what do you do? You carry on writing. Carry on until the boring bits are out of your system and the good stuff begins flowing again. It has to come at some point. It really does.

In fact I’ve come to regard the non-flowing days as rather healthy. Imagine if we were in top-notch, free flow ALL the time. How ghastly would that be? What if there was no release from pure inspiration. No possibility of sleep because words were pouring out of us and they had to be written because they represented such brilliant material. Imagine days, weeks, months and years of indisputable creativity … Imagine what we would be like to live with.

No thanks. I’ll be satisfied with the ebbs and flows of the writing life – hopefully more flows than ebbs – but not the dam-bursting flow of uninterrupted inspiration. I’d go mad; we’d all go mad. The world is filled with enough mad people as it is, so let’s not add to the supply.

The clock is ticking. It’s time to be inspired.

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Janet Marsh bio page

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold FryHearts in AtlantisKensuke's KingdomA Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing LifeThe Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's CraftWriter with a Day Job: Inspiration & Exercises to Help You Craft a Writing Life Alongside Your CareerThe Five-minute Writer: Exercise and Inspiration in Creative Writing in Five Minutes a Day

Time and Storytelling: Motivation, Time Management and Historical Setting, by Fiona McDonald

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,  “To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

This sounds awfully like procrastination if you ask me. I should be talking about the progress of my novel but I can only think about what the Walrus had to say.

Time is my enemy. Lack of time is my enemy. Lack of time and energy are my enemies.

What it really comes down to is a strange kind of mental lethargy. In other words, I’m stuck.

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it is a fear of not knowing where to go next or the beginnings of that inner critic questioning what has already been written. ‘It’s not good enough,’ the little voice whispers. ‘It’s all been done before.’ Or ‘Why bother? No-one is ever going to read it.’

Niggles of self doubt work on an innate laziness and add up to absolutely nothing. Over the last week that seems to be what I have achieved and I cannot believe that Thursday, the day for novel assessments and chats, is nearly here again. What I am going to do, with enormous effort, is delete that annoyingly addictive game on Facebook on which I have wasted so much time, ignore the housework, turn down offers of lunch and coffee and start writing.

What I was supposed to be doing this last week was to be thinking about whether I would set my YA novel, about a girl who inherits a toyshop but is being menaced by baddies who want to rip out her heart, in our real world, an altered version of our world or in a fictional world.

The time that the story is being played out in is the late 19th century, in a bustling city like London. I feel it sits naturally in England although I suppose it could be America instead. I do not think I can fit it into an Australian setting at that time as I want there to be ancient catacombs and man-made waterways, Cathedrals and other very old European things.

It has been suggested that I think about a real, historical setting and add lots of detail that has been properly researched. I must say I find this idea very attractive. I do love research. However, I have been imagining a particular fictional world as the setting for this story with its own religion based on a female deity. I think I need to put this version aside for a while and explore the possibilities of a real world setting. I think it is too easy to fall in love with one particular idea and ignore the other options.

What would it have been like for a young, unmarried woman from a well off middle class family to be running a business at the end of the 19th century? What would have been some of the difficulties socially and economically? What would Agatha have worn? How would she have conducted herself with strangers, business acquaintances, friends, her workers?

Perhaps there could be a background of some political or social unrest. More work, more time needed but I think I need to pause in the writing here to take a look into the past and to see if I’m not missing an opportunity to make this book a whole lot richer.

Some of the books that have been lingering at the back of my mind are Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, Chris Wooding’s The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray and several Dickensian novels. As it is raining today and I’m on holidays I think I should retire to a cosy corner and settle down for a day of reading novels. Or does this sound like more procrastination?

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Fiona McDonald bio page

His Dark Materials: The Haunting of Alaizabel CrayThe Haunting of Charles DickensKnitted Fairies: To Cherish and CharmBabes in the Wool: How to Knit Beautiful Fashion Dolls, Clothes and AccessoriesGothic KnitsTime Management: 24 Techniques to Make Each Minute Count at Work (McGraw-Hill Professional Education Series)

Writing Multiple-Perspective ‘Seniors Fiction’, by Janet Marsh

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” — James Thurber

This is really good advice coming from a seasoned author because one of the problems facing new or emerging writers is the idea that what we write has to be perfect the first time around. How ridiculous is that? So instead of ploughing on and attempting to get the first draft out we fuss around and try and make each chapter “just right”. Instead we ought to “just write”.

How vividly I remember my university days when, after completing an essay, I realised that  then, and only then, did I have enough knowledge of the subject to write a really decent assignment. Sadly, the deadline was always only hours away so that was never a realistic possibility. Nowadays, with my first novel seriously under way, that is my goal. Hence the urgency to get the first draft done so that I can then begin to polish it up to publishing standard.

Before signing up with The Australian Literature Review‘s I had circles of stories doing the rounds in my head. Sound familiar? It was all very “one day I’m going to write a book”… It’s taken the “deadline focus” of The Australian Literature Review to really get me working – and working hard too.

My niche market is going to be Seniors. People in the seventy-eighty-ninety age bracket. It’s a huge and growing market and I intend to offer stories that will evoke memories, stimulate emotions and provoke reactions. I hope as well that they’ll entertain, challenge and hopefully open doors of conversation that Seniors will have with other generations – like yours or mine.

I already have a collection of published and unpublished short stories written for this age-group but let’s face it shorter fiction isn’t the best entry point for fresh authors. So six weeks ago I began my first novel and have almost completed the first section of around 19,000 words.

This story revolves around the funeral of an old lady. As her family and friends respond to her death and plan the event they begin to realise that she’s not who they thought she was. The onion layers are peeling away and inevitably there are a lot of tears. My tag line is: will your secrets die with you?

I’ve always been an admirer of authors who can write stories from a myriad of viewpoints. Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible” was one of the first I read and is a stunning example of the craft. The same goes for Iain Pears and his intriguing book, “An Instance of the Fingerpost”. Writers like these are acknowledging the “warp and weft” of the fiction that makes up our lives.

We all have differing viewpoints of the same event. Try reading accounts of the second world war from Japanese, Jewish, German, Russian, British and American perspectives.  Is it the same event? At times one would wonder because the stories are so very different.

My aim is to write novels that acknowledge this interweaving of viewpoints. The greatest challenge I now face is how to make each voice authentic. If, for example, someone was reading aloud from my novel, without revealing the characters’ names, could the listener guess the which character is which by the style of the conversation or the inner dialogue? I would hope so. That’s my aim anyway.

So, back to the writing and forgetting – for the time being – the “righting”.

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Janet Marsh bio page

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