From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Show Don’t Tell”

A Writer’s Week Done

Read:

2 junior novels

1 YA novel

Words Written:   4700

Words Edited:    9300

CONVICT SLANG:

bolter – one who runs away or leaves a place suddenly

crap’d – hanged

qock’d – forgetful, absent in mind

Wild horse familyDID YOU KNOW?

Horses in convict Tasmania were a rarity. The high cost of owning a horse was prohibitive and usually only wealthy settlers, senior officials and military officers rode or owned the animals.

Just one of the interesting snippets I’ve learned while researching my current WIP. I read heaps and did lots of research before even starting to write my story, but some of the everyday work/life details, I just merrily wrote in thinking that I would verify the details later. Horses and dogs seemed a given, but then I discovered – no, not so. It’s amazing how changing some of these small details can require significant changes to a chapter. We don’t just write ‘the man rode his horse’. We incorporate the imagery of that horse ride into the scene, which means that all the subsequent references, sounds of harness clinking, flicking a fly with the reins, smell of horse sweat have to go too. Of course, I would always rather discover such errors myself in draft stage rather than have someone pick up my mistake in a published book. Still it amazed me to discover that a horse, something I saw as part of ordinary, working day life in Australia, even in convict times, was such a rarity due to our immense isolation from mother England and the expense of shipping livestock so prohibitive. Nothing is certain in historical fiction until it’s cross-checked and verified. Even though fiction, it needs to be right.

 

Source: Convict slang A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language (Author James Hardy Vaux 1812)

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Don’t Write What You Know

“Are you French? No, then set your novel in Australia. Write what you know!”  Words to spark a blogpost and debate.

The jury is out on my Google search into who first spoke the words Write what you know, though Mark Twain and William Faulkner seem to be the main-listed culprits.

Write what you Know would probably have been the first (and most oft repeated) piece of advice I’ve heard quoted as a writer. For a long time, I stuck slavishly to it. Believed in it. Passed on the words of wisdom myself. UNTIL…the day I realised it was given and explained (to me) by someone who took it as literally as I took it from her. Too often “write what you know” advice is given to new writers without adding the all important addendum, until you learn to write and are ready to explore beyond the breadth of your own experience. Or boredom takes you out, whichever comes first.

I mean, was Anna Sewell ever a horse? Was Toni Morrison ever a slave? Did Geraldine Brooks ever live in a sixteenth-century village consumed by the plague?

No. And why didn’t they need to have lived the life, in the place, at the time of the characters and stories they were writing? Because one doesn’t have to be a horse to know how any warm-blooded creature feels to be beaten, starved or left out in the freezing cold. We all recognise and know pain. We all experience illness and the fear of our own mortality. Few of us escape the pain of loss of a loved one.

We live, therefore we experience. As writers we can take those emotions and feelings and impose them on our characters and story events, transport them to places and eras we’ve not personally lived in and make them real. Authenticity comes through connecting the reader to the emotional and lived experience in ways that resonate, in ways a reader can engage with and feel the pain, pleasure or emotional happenings in the story.

I find I sometimes draw subconsciously on my own personal, emotional experiences and don’t necessarily recognise the origins until later. A bit like dreams, I suppose. Some mean nothing and others we can see the wellspring, even if the dawning doesn’t come until much later on.

Sometimes my writing reveals that I know more than I think I know. This proves itself in those rare and wondrous moments when words appear on the page and I sit back and go, Wow! Where did that insight, knowledge, revelation come from? Other times, fine details and rich imagery of place and setting emerge out of much reading and research I may have done months or even years before.

Research, lots and lots of days and weeks of research, shows in the authenticity and emotional connection of good story and characterisation, not merely through the insertion of historical facts or costume/period details. So I can write about a girl in France, enmeshed in a war I did not fight in the trenches or on the homefront. I know how this girl feels to be betrayed, lied to, and scared on finding herself alone in the world, because I can summon up memories of those exact same feelings. I might need to magnify them significantly for my character’s usage, but I’ve been lied to, betrayed and found myself alone in a foreign country, albeit in the latter case by choice. I can impose like feelings and emotions onto my character and make her experience real through adding description and evoking the place.

Yes, I can write what I don’t know, what I’ve never experienced and yet still make it real. So I’m on the no side of the debate team that says “Don’t write what you know”.

If writers did not give themselves permission to write outside their experience, there’d be no science fiction, no spec fiction, no fantasy. No hobbits, or time-travelling Doctor Whos, no Star Wars, ET or Hunger Games.

Personal experience and emotions may be the foundation stone, but the walls and windows come from imagination. Otherwise we’d all be writing the same old same old.

Writing fiction takes courage and research and getting into the psyche of living, breathing people, or animals in Black Beauty’s case. If a writer can take me into the skin of a horse, a Frenchwoman, a soldier, a space warrior, or a Neanderthal tribesman and make it real, I’m happy to go on the journey with them. That is the writer’s job – to transport the reader beyond their disbelief, to a new place, time, life. The writer must believe in their story and bring it to life beyond what they knew when they started out the writing.

Do you write what you know? Or do you go where no man, woman or writer has gone before you? 

The Unresolved Ending

No time to blog properly at present.

Except to say… I’m excited. I’m getting so close to the finish line. Well, my WIP is.

I’ve just spent three days solid reworking the last chapter – and finally – I think – dare I say – it’s singing.

BUT…

It’s been giving me grief on two planes.

Knowing the final chapter overrun with telling. Telling that (for some, still unexplained, reason) I couldn’t see despite hours searching for it, fiddling, tweaking, changing around words, cutting out sentences. And then, all of a sudden, the ***TELLING*** blared out at me like a Las Vegas billboard. (The battle was fought and fraught but two days later I think I can say Chris 937 vs Telling 0. Alright perhaps Telling still has a point or two.)

Second major problem was trying to end the story in a way to satisfy readers, yet not resolve everything. A big part of my main character’s journey is coming to the realisation she has choices, a right to happiness; a polar view to the pre Great War era where the story begins, when demands of Church, Society, a domineering Irish Catholic mother, not to mention the drawback of being of the female gender, excluded such possibilities. 

The last thing I want for the ending is to leave this strong, young female character with her life tied up in a neat bow, and no scope to explore choices or see her future open with her having an active role. A tricky balance was required to ensure I leave readers able to imagine beyond the final page. I think I’ve accomplished it.

The best thing, and my safety net, is my workshop groups and Master’s tutor will no doubt pick it up if I haven’t.

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