Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (March 2013)
Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its third month of articles for 2013, from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.
The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:
– provide a handy list of links to the articles for the past month, then to
– relate some of the content of these articles to my own novel writing to help novel writers and other interested people discover the month’s content and gain some insights into ways the month’s content can be engaged with in a practical context.
Articles for March 2013
This month’s articles and writing my novel
Lia Weston wrote: Regardless of what you write, there is someone out there who will irrevocably decide that you suck. […]
No-one is immune from a seething reader. The supremely talented, the sublimely subtle, the steady workhorse – all of them will attract someone’s ire at some point. This is easy to prove, too. Think of your favourite book (I know, I know; it’s a Sophie’s Choice of librarian proportions), the one that changed your life and made you curse the fact that you will never be able to produce such genius from your fingertips. Got the title? Great! Go to Goodreads or Amazon and look it up. Now look at the one-star and two-star reviews.
Ben Marshall wrote: It’s fine for you to let your characters reveal themselves along with your plot, but in television we have to know before we start plotting how a given character will react in any given situation. When given the wrong order at a burger joint or seeing a little old lady about to be run down, we need to know in advance how our characters will react. If we don’t, the show won’t be driven by its characters as much as it is by plot. In which case, viewers probably won’t care which characters get together or which characters die in a hail of bullets.
Imagine you’re starting a television series from scratch. You’ve got a budget, a limited number of core cast characters, a guest cast budget and some spare change for extras. The premise is familiar to your audience but has a fresh and interesting twist; likewise your characters. What you need is an ensemble who are interesting individually and likely to entertain us solo and en masse.
If you find you have two characters who act the same way and perform the same function, one is redundant.
Writing my own novel, set in 1939 Poland and discussed further in the January and February Month In Review Updates, Lia’s point that you can’t please everyone is something of which I am mindful. My novel is set amongst the people of western Poland – a region which was part of Germany prior to the Treaty of Versaille at the end of WW1 – where there were tensions between many Poles and many ethnic Germans, who stayed and held onto their sense of German nationality after the borders were changed. This was at a time when there was intense rivalry between various nations of people for control of land in continental Europe so their nation could be a proper country with its own sovereign territory. Many historical accounts of events in 1939 Poland are exaggerated in attempts to defend or glorify one nation over another, are based on theories to fill gaps between sparse evidence or, in some cases, are based on repeating incorrect information. In this situation, while the inclusion of a note on the historical context and a website with articles can help clarify finer points of the novel’s historical context, any handling of events in this setting is not going to please absolutely everybody. Of course, as Lia pointed out, no novel will please everybody – and that’s not the goal. Even a novel that appeals to only 1% of novel readers can still be read and enjoyed by more than a million people.
Ben’s point that a writer who has a good knowledge of their major characters and how they fit together as an ensemble is better prepared to write a story which fits with the personalities and desires of those characters is particularly relevant when writing a historical novel. Simply winging it without the research and forethought required to create realistic characters for a setting like 1939 Poland is likely to result in superficial or anachronistic characters. Likewise, winging it without giving forethought to aspects like character dynamics, plot and theme can also pose problems. Some people think winging it is the only way to write without spoiling the fun of the writing process, which is fine if you’re writing as a hobby, but if you’re writing for commercial publication the result of the writing process is also important. As the often-espoused saying ‘writing is rewriting’ suggests, much of the honing of a story often occurs after a full draft of a manuscript has been completed. With that said, what an experienced and intelligent storyteller, writer and reader with an extensive knowledge of their subject matter describes as winging it and writes in 3 months might be far more sophisticated than what another writer produces as the end result of a 3 year PhD in Creative Writing.
Writing Novels in Australia