Monday, March 30, 2009

Sleep on it

Once you have taken your manuscript to the point where you are calling it a first draft, sleep on it.

I have tried reading a draft within a week of writing it and I missed so many mistakes because my head was still in the story and I was reading what I thought I wrote instead of what was on the page. Nowadays I give it to someone else to read while I take a hard earned rest for a 5 or 6 weeks and write some poetry. The person (if it is a gripping yarn) will get back to you inside a week and I have had them back to me before the weekend was over, and they will give you feedback on typos and on things they did not understand. Do not be tempted to reach for the bottom drawer where you have strategically put your copy of the manuscript to go through it and see what they are talking about. Let the feedback float around in the back of your mind and get back to that poetry. Its therapeutic.

When the time is right and you go back to it you will be amazed at what you find. I have been through a manuscript in the last six months where I changed over 75% of the lines (most in very small ways to do with wording)and I am sure I would not have made that many changes if my head was still where it was a week after writing it.

My sister read one of my books once and gave me feedback that the woman could not have done what she did in the time frame suggested, it was physically impossible for her to recover form the trauma she had been through in that time. The urge for me was to argue the point but I let it float around in my head for a month and then went back to the book. When I read that part I found I was right and my sister was wrong, and when I rang her and explained it she got it.

I put the phone down pretty happy with myself.

Then I began to think about this book being a bestseller and what my phone bill would be like if I had to ring every reader and explain the time line to them so it made sense! I rewrote the section thinking from the perspective of the reader and not the characters or myself, as we all knew what was going on!

Even when you are right you have to bow to the needs of the reader and if you rush into the revision phase of your work you may not see that as clearly as you would like.

So when you are done with that first draft, accept congratulations from me on a great effort, drink a bottle of champagne (and please put strawberries in the glass, it is so much better that way) and go and write poetry or short stories or perhaps just go on a little holiday. Whatever you do let your mind recharge and then tackle the hard stuff of revision.

And one last word, when revising be ready to cut what does not fit, even if it is brilliant writing.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Write, don't edit (yet!)

Today's post is a short one, which is odd given I am talking about ways to help you write more.

When you sit down to write, don't turn on the computer's auto editor, or the one inside your head. Let the words flow and avoid the distraction of having to get it all right as you go. There will be lots of time for that later so just let the story flow. your characters will thank you for it. There is nothing worse for an exciting character than to have his creator continually telling him or her to wait until they fix up something irrelevant to the story. Remember, your characters aren't interested at all in spelling and grammar, they want to get to the resolution of the story. They want to catch the bad guy, fall in love, or strike it filthy rich, and sometimes they want to do all that and more.

Let them be. Let them have their moment and enjoy themselves, for it wont be long until they are scrutinised by thousands, hopefully millions, and their lives will never be their own again.

If having errors in your manuscript is going to keep you asleep at night then after the days writing is done and the story has gone as far as it is going today, then jump in and do an edit, but make it a cursory one, for you will miss things in this pass anyway and we will talk later next week about when you come back and catch all those sneaky errors that hide so well even when in plain view.

Enjoy the story, let the editing come later. If, I mean WHEN, your manuscript is picked up by a publisher you will have had enough time already to do the first half dozen edits and when they say yes you will frantically edit again and look for all the mistakes you are now sure must still be there, so why spoil the fun of the first draft by swinging from creative writer to pedantic editor hundreds of times every session?

I put all this to the test last week and wrote for a whole session with the spell checker and grammar checkers on the entire time, and it was extremely successful in distracting me. So good was it in fact that anytime I don't really feel like writing I will turn it on because it will stop me in my tracks (not that I ever don't feel like writing).

So for now, write, don't edit, and when we get to that stage we will have so much more to edit!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Balls of fluff and their hidey holes

Here is a little thing I wrote this morning after seeing a painting (cozy Corner by Carl Larsson) on another blog, one of my favourites in fact.

Balls of fluff and their hidey holes

It was just a ball of fluff on the horizon but it looked like fun somehow
There was a scent in the air and it was coming from that direction
My senses went wild, my nose went up and my tail followed
Then it moved
Self-preservation ruled over instinct in that moment,
I wanted to eat without fuss tonight
She was nowhere in sight though
Nobody was telling me no
Instinct kicked in and my legs were moving
Taking me faster than the speed of light toward the ball of fluff
In my rush I forgot to keep quiet and the creature heard me coming
It was quick
The ball jumped more than ran and it swerved from side to side
As if that would worry me
The chase was on and I was winning
It disappeared over the top of the hill, and then I was on the ridge.
To my left, weaving between rocks I caught the light brown movement
Within striking distance
Long strides carried me over the surface and I was on his tail
What a funny tail, more like a little stick on cotton ball really
Not whippy and sleek like mine
He swerved to the right and then to left as my paws reached out for him
Then he was gone
As quick as he had appeared he had vanished again
The ground was thick with odours, many like him but not quite the same.
Then I found the one I was searching for and followed it
It led to a hole, big enough for my paw but not much more.
For hours I searched the hills
There were many holes like the one that had swallowed my prey but nothing of the strange creature
Tomorrow just after dawn I will be back in the hope of another encounter
Maybe this time the hole will be too far away for him
For now though, I must return home
She will be waiting
Wanting to pat me
Calling my name
Then just before dark she will feed me from a tin
Life is simpler that way
But first I will sleep with my head and body on the stripped rug
While the cool floor revives my legs and feet
Her discarded shoes will be close enough for me to feel the safety of her scent
She will join me and maybe she will read
We have been here a while and we know our place
And mine is not on the tempting blue and white stripped rug that covers the couch
This is home
I would not have it any other way

© Bernard J Rossi

Monday, March 23, 2009

Go with the flow

The question I get asked most in writing groups and other places where writing gets discussed is how can I wrote so much on a daily basis. I write anywhere up to seven thousand words a day when I am writing a manuscript and people often suggest that is a lot.

I had to think about why I am able to do that as until people started asking me I did not realise that was not necessarily normal. I guess there are broadly two reasons for my ability to churn out words and I will cover them both over my next two posts.

Today I want to talk about going with the flow. That is the first area in which some writers I have had long discussions with seem to vary from what I do. That si to say they do not go with the flow in the manner I do. Writers often get caught up in the need to paint the picture, to describe the setting so the reader can feel as though they are there. This is an important part of writing and perhaps one I do not do as well as some of the greats but to my mind it is also something that can slow a writer down, bog them down and get in the way of the story.

Have you ever thought about going back and adding it in later? Maybe even at the end of your writing session.

One of the reasons the words rush onto the page when I am writing and in the midst of a great scene is because I let the story flow. The action happens around me and through me and I do not get in its way. I amy come back later and make a few changes when the characters have all settled down and gone to bed for the night and that is when I can best paint the picture. If I try to do it when the characters are all in full swing they will either take over and force their wzy top the front or they will sulk and go off and hide. Then when I come back looking for them I have trouble finding them.

Perhaps for some people that seems a little bit like writer's block, but as I don't get it that would be hard for me to say. Maybe I don't get it because I don't allow things to get in the way of the flow.

So my first piece of advice for those who struggle to get a lot of words onto the screen in a writing session (and remember I do the washing and cook the dinner in between my seven thousand words) is to go with the flow and let the story rush onto the screen. But please don't forget to paint the picture at some point.

I am trying harder to paint the picture and not to ignore it just because I love the role of story teller, and if I can make myself paint the picture maybe you can let yourself go with the flow.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Opening

There have been many things said and written about openings and I do not want to open up any old wounds for my readers so I am going to be brief on this subject.

There is no point in me pretending I can sit at my PC for half an hour and give you the magic formula for openings. If I could I would be so busy writing great openings I would never have the time to write this blog. I have considered writing an opening for you that you could practice on and see where it took you, just as a writing exercise, but as I would be writing the opening in that instance all talk of that topic belongs to another day. Today it is your tun to think about openings.

My view on openings, whether I am writing or reading at the time, is simple. The first line is where it all begins and it needs to have that status. There is no point writing a humdrum first line as you give the necessary background to what is going to build into a really interesting opening if it means half the people who pick up your book in the bookstore put it down before they get to the good bits. The opening line needs to be either powerful, intriguing, leading or just plain brilliantly written. It may not end up being that important to the whole story, but it must grab the reader. Those who see it differently will say they don't care so much about the first line as people do not judge a book by it, and they are right in some cases. However it is the rest of the population who are not buying the book with the whimpy first line and I think you should be aiming for their interest as well.

So you have the great first line, what next? The opening paragraph of course. If the first line is great then this is the killer punch follow up. You may have the reader completely hooked by the end of it but in the end what you want is for them to be keen to read on. I would suggest you keep the pace up in the first page or two and pace can mean action, interest, intrigue or writing that draws you in because of its style or language.

If your opening can get your readers through the first chapter, at which point they hit a great hook as the last line of that chapter, many of your sins in the following chapters might be forgiven, at least in part.

The opening is also what you will give a potential publisher or agent and so it should, in the initial stages at least, be the most polished piece of work you have in your arsenal. If you get a chance with a publisher the odds are it will be your only chance with that publisher so make it count.

The opening of the manuscript you are now working on might just be the thing that makes you the next international best selling author, so do not rush it. Let it grow, nurture it, taking it out for a walk with friends and let them admire it or tell you why they would not own such a pet. Listen to what everyone has to say, consider their comments, and then act on those that show an understanding of what you are trying to achieve.

Think of your opening as a daughter. Would you rush her off to be married, or would you want her to wait until she was ready?

There is so much more to say about openings, but I will wait until you have thought about this short discussion first before I talk about the options we have when looking at building a strong, irresistible opening.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Point Of View (POV)

So now you have your idea and you are perched on your favourite chair, in the best writing place in the house (not the place with the best view please, we need to write without distraction) and you are ready to begin. Do you just begin and let the words flow or do you plan?

Both ways work but for you, one will work better then the other. There is no doubt you need to plan at least a little though, if you want to write a complete manuscript that might one day be a novel of great significance.

As writers we often do research and some of us plan out our novel in loose terms while others like to plan out every scene in every chapter. I prefer the surprise that comes with not knowing exactly where the characters might lead me but I do need to know roughly where we are heading so I can make the most of it. One of the things I have never planned though, until now, is Point of View (POV). I have always just written and let the POV take care of itself, however I am now in the midst of rewriting two thirds of my current work because I did not put enough thought into POV at the beginning.

What difference does POV make? First of all we all have a preference of POV, or at least our writing style does, and yet we do not always write in that way. Sometimes the story dictates we use a different angle and we listen to that. The best way perhaps, is to write in the way that is most comfortable fir us but at least forst consider the pros and cons of POV as it pertains to your planned adventure (some of you may call it a story or manuscript but for me they are all adventures, why else would I do it?).

First POV will give the reader greater intimacy with the narrator and you will be using terms like I and we. It is my favourite style but makes you are limited to what you see, hear and think and you cannot say what other people are thinking. You can of course, write from multiple view points as long as you do it in a way that will not confuse the reader.

Second person is rarely used in fiction and in this style the narrator refers to the main character as you. It can get very personal and takes great care.

The most popular viewpoint to writer is in third person. He, she, it, and they are all terms used with third person and there are many sub categories to write in under this style. I do not want to get into a full POV lesson here (as somebody might correct me!) but I did want to make the point that we need to consider POV before we write our manuscript. We spend a huge amount of time on the writing of our works and a few extra minutes planning might turn it from a book that is one of the mix to one that stands out.

All the planning in the world will not always get you the perfect answer of course, so if things change, be prepared to be flexible and rethink your decisions and your view points, and don't be afraid to write from multiple view points.

I'd love to hear from you on this subject. My writing group embarked on a ten minute discussions re POV last week and the discussion had to be called to a halt forty minutes later. There are many questions on this one small subject and lots of opinion.

What's your favourite POV to write in and does it differ from what you like to read in? Does the tense you write in change with the POV?


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The First Steps

Today I thought we'd start at the very beginning. A writing group I attend met last night and talked about why we write, what drives us, but that is not what I am talking about when I talk about the very beginning. You are here, doing what you do, or hoping to, because you have a passion and desire to write, and it does not matter so much why. What does matter is the story, and that's where we start.

The Story.

Where does it come from? Do you write about your own life, somebody else's or do you make something up from scratch? The most important thing in my view is to write about something that is important to you, or that you love.

When you find yourself sitting at the keyboard and nothing is happening, or you are walking the streets looking for the first idea don't try too hard. The ideas you have in your head will fit into the right story when the time comes.

My first book, Arlington Reef came from two news stories, which both appeared on the same day. One was on one of the morning shows on TV and was talking about why ships are not allowed to navigate on the inside of the Great Barrier Reef (in parts) and the other was in a newspaper and talked about an art robbery. I put the two things together and came up with drugs and murder. It was not such a big leap to take as reading the story would show.

Room 22 came next and I tried the same thing, but I was living in Cairns and for two weeks nothing remarkable happened! I finally took four of my short stories and put them together. It was amazing how ell all the characters got on and next thing I know there was murder and intrigue spilling all the way along the golden shores of Cairns.

Now the fact I think you should write about things you love does not mean that I love murder and mayhem, I just like the art of exploring people's minds.

Stories are all around us and we do not have to write them as they happen, that is why I deal in fiction. All we need is the one thread that strikes home and lets us get the first words out. One line, one paragraph, one page. A first chapter that has you wanting to write more. Then you are away.

The story may not come and tap you on the shoulder so you might have to be paying attention, but it is looking for you almost as hard as you are looking for it, and remember, when you first start writing it, don't worry about it being perfect, the story is a patient best, and it likes to hibernate every now and then.

Where have you found your stories? What is it that sparks your interest in sitting down and writing?