Now that we’ve sorted out the peripherals, we can get down the process itself and examine some of the rules of writing from a beginner’s perspective. A lot of what is written about the art of writing applies to those who’ve been writing a while. It’s easy to get bogged down in does and don’ts even before you pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard.
But before I begin, I must add a note about a point I made a few posts ago. Regulars to this blog might remember I was having a go at Stieg Larsson for leaving a plot point hanging – see the ‘Chekhov’s Rifle’ post. Well, I have some humble pie to eat. I complained that one of the main characters in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ had a perfect opportunity to use a weapon she had previously dropped into her pocket, but she didn’t. I wondered at the time whether Larsson had just forgotten about it.
I had a bit of a mental meltdown this week, and I couldn’t think of anything to blog about until I found myself talking with some like-minded people about the lamentable and ongoing corruption of the English language. That got me thinking. I mentioned a well-known apocryphal tale from the First World War as a humorous illustration. You know the one – the message, “send reinforcements, were going to advance“, is sent from the battlefield back up the chain of command. When it arrives at its destination, the message is received as “send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance“. It’s an extreme example but it demonstrates how easily our language can be altered and distorted when we rely on the spoken word.
As writers we are often called upon to critique another’s work. Maybe in a creative writing class, a writing group or even a friend who needs some independent input. But whenever we produce a sizeable piece of work ourselves, we should also be able to take a step back and look at it dispassionately. Just as we have a mental checklist to guide us through an assessment for a third party, so there are a number of points to check when reviewing our own work. This list is presented in no particular order of relevance or importance.
So, you’ve written those immortal words, ‘The End’. You’ve had your masterpiece (final draft, right?) read by some well-meaning friends and family who all agree that it’s brilliant. It can’t fail, they say.
Hang on though. Before you parcel up your precious manuscript and send it out for consideration, there are a few things that you should double check. And then check again.
Lots of talk on the interweb about the poor old apostrophe. Apparently Waterstone’s are going to phase theirs out. Let me nail my colours to the mast straight away – I LOVE apostrophes!
The apostrophe is probably the most misunderstood and misused piece of punctuation in the English language, but it’s fundamental to making our work comprehensible.
Lynne Truss, in her seminal work about English punctuation ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’, mentions her ‘inner stickler’ who rails against the incorrect use of the apostrophe. Me too – although I appreciate that I can come across as rather pedantic whenever I bring it up. Eyes glaze over; people start humming snatches of ‘Here I go again’. Do I care? No.