As a fledgling writer I was advised that my reading pleasure would be ruined for ever; that I would minutely study everything I read, dissecting the dialogue, the use of language and vocabulary, the narrative style, to determine how it worked. I would treat every novel as a lesson. And I did, up to a point. For a newbie, it was a great way to learn. But I’m getting over that now. I still read a lot of fiction but I’m not obsessed with dismembering every book so I can scrutinise its inner workings in forensic detail. And I still learn a lot from my reading, that’s one of its pleasures. Facts I was previously unaware of, a novel approach to an everyday plot, the crafting of a story arc, I absorb it all. Some books are instantly forgettable; others stay in my head for a long time. Some take up permanent residence, and it’s these that I’d like to share with you. Continue reading
I’ve always been a sucker for unfamiliar words and a few have come to my attention recently. The Reader’s Digest used to advise that it pays to increase your word power, but what can we actually do with this unwieldy vocabulary? Do we collect it in pristine notebooks – a brand new one every year – to pore over and learn by heart, before returning it to the obscurity it richly deserves? Or do we use it to liven up our prose and sprinkle through our writing like stardust? Continue reading
We’ve had some good sessions discussing plot in the writing group lately, which is useful as I’m midway through the first draft of my next novel. The outline, plot and its overarching narrative has been established, but the story needs a subplot or two to allow me to explore the characters’ personalities more deeply and examine their motivations. I also need to be clear on the story. A plot doesn’t make a story but for there to be a story, something’s got to happen. I was all set to share some thoughts last week. Then life got in the way.
Last week’s writing group exercise explored the use of adjectives and adverbs. It was surprising how much trouble they caused. We could all remember examinations and other circumstances where we had to make up the word count with the spurious and often redundant use of the ad-words. We agreed that they could make our writing clear and interesting, but we also acknowledged that overuse could clutter our writing and make it confusing and less effective. And they certainly won’t improve bad writing.
On the news this week I heard a reporter refer to someone ‘traversing’ a road. Traversing? Whatever happened to ‘crossing’? Traversing implies a journey, possibly hazardous, negotiating the Yukon or the Andes, not a suburban road. Maybe he was taking the lunchtime traffic into account.
Still, it got me thinking about our use of language in creative writing and how selecting that inelegant synonym to avoid repetition, doesn’t always work.
I’ve been reading some Mary Higgins Clark short stories recently. Well I say short, but the first story in the volume is 50,000 words long. The others incline more towards the 4-5,000. Which begs the question, how long is short? I’ve heard of people e-publishing ‘novels’ of 5,000 words, which isn’t even a novella, but I suppose that’s the beauty of an e-book: it can be any length you like. And if you’re writing material that feels natural at this amount of words, where else are you going to get it published? Certainly the old, established markets for the short story are gradually drying up – women’s magazines are a prime example. More and more magazines are dropping their fiction pages in favour of real life, how-I-overcame-this-dreadful-situation-and–lived-to-tell-the-tale type stories.