After two years of having no time, of always having that guilty feeling that I should really be doing college work, I am free.
I have the long two months to wait for my A Level results, to see if I have got into University. Terrifying? Yes. But it also means that I have a lot of time on my hands. Then I have until October, when term starts, and I am once again, swamped with work.
I am determined to make the most of this summer, and so, I intend to do copious amounts of three things:
The first two are probably self-explanatory as this is a writing blog. The third one comes from the fact that I haven’t cooked since I did my Food Technology GCSE, and would like to combine my love of food with a practical skill that might actually help me in life. Crazy, I know.
It is, however, the first one that I have a real plan for. If I were any good at names I would come up with a brilliant and witty one for what I have decided to call the ‘Book-a-Week Challenge’. My reading time has steadily decreased over the last two years, I was barely managing to read a book every few months, when earlier in my life (perhaps before the Internet) I would be reading two or three books a week.
Taking into account my job, and other things happening in my life, I have decided that a book a week is a sensible goal.
The first book I am going to read is The Outcast by Sadie Jones.
Wish me luck!
A while ago, a friend, on discovering I wrote fiction, said that it must be incredibly difficult, since everything has already been done.
He had a point. I may think that I’ve come up with an astoundingly original plot, but chances are, someone, somewhere, has beaten me to it.
I can’t read every book ever written, so I’m not going to know if my idea is totally original or not. But I can accept the fact that there are no completely original ideas, and understand that I can make old ideas unique simply because I have written them. No one else is going to have the same sequence of events, the same characters, the same themes as me.
Once I’ve accepted that, I can then feel confident collecting ideas from other people’s work. Not completely, obviously. That’s called plagiarism. Which is wrong.
No, I’m going to steal aspects of their work. The little idea that they never expanded on, the theme or the situation. Then I’m going
to make it my own. It doesn’t matter if their story is fictional or real, I can add my own slant to it.
A lot of the time, I do it unconsciously. I once had to write a monologue for my course, and reading it back, I realised it was influenced by a book I’d read a couple of weeks ago. But, looking at it, you wouldn’t think I had in any way copied the book.
As a writer starting out, it’s easy to believe that ideas should just appear out of nowhere. That professional and experienced writers should be able to just pluck ideas out of the aether. The fact is, that Shakespeare is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers in the English language, and he stole ideas all over the place.
Short stories are all well and good, I actually find myself enjoying writing them these days, when I’ve never really bothered before, but recently, I’ve been wanting to sink my teeth into a nice, juicy novel.
I want to revel in intertwined plotlines, meet a cast of characters whose lives are connected by one all-important thread, and keep writing and writing without worrying about tying everything up in under two thousand words.
Several years ago I started writing ‘novels’ all the time. And by that I mean, I wrote a chapter, maybe two, or sometimes even just a paragraph, and then got bored, or lost inspiration, or just moved on to something new. I was writing as I went, with no idea about my characters or plot. It wasn’t ideal, to say the least.
Now it seems like I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. The more I learn about the craft of writing, and more importantly, the craft of writing novels, the more I fear it.
It just seems very daunting. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have an idea of exactly how much writing and work is required to even write half the length of your average novel. I know you need an idea that’s going to sustain you through God knows how many weeks/months/years you spend working on your novel. I know structure is important, and that your characters need to be well-developed and have an arc.
Looking at all these factors from a safe distance is enough to put you off novel-writing for life. I have no intention of going back to writing without a plan or even a proper idea, back to the days when I knew next to nothing about writing, but I don’t want to be so over-cautious that I never start a novel because I’m still waiting for that Big Idea.
Like many things in life, it’s about balance. If you believe in that kind of thing, which I sort of do, because it has applied to me more than once, I am a Libra. The scales. I constantly strive for balance in all areas of my life. More often than not, I fail. My life, in particular, my writing life, seems to always be at extremes.
It’ll get better, or at least I hope it will. I think the more I write, the more things will balance out, and I’ll achieve some kind of writing zen.
Or not. But I’ll learn to cope at any rate.
South Riding was wonderful. I’ve never read the book, though I plan to now, but I couldn’t help noticing it all seemed very rushed. I was amazed they managed to fit an entire novel into three hour-long episodes. It’s been done before, obviously, perhaps the most relevant example is the BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, starring South Riding star David Morrissey. But I felt that this time, something which could have been exceptional was held back by it.
The acting was very good, Anna Maxwell Martin was brilliant as one of the most likable heroines I’ve seen in a long time, Sarah Burton. And David Morrissey was doing what he does best, heart-wrenching acting and looking moody in costume dramas. But I couldn’t help but feel like the story seemed rushed in places.
The only indication of Lydia’s brilliance was a single poem she wrote, before she is forced to give up everything to take over her late mother’s role. We saw very little of what Sarah had actually done to help the school and its pupils. Perhaps most noticeable was the relationship between Sarah and Robert Carne. Their relationship seemed to change drastically with only the shared experience of assisting with the birth of a calf in between.
If we’d seen the themes and relationships of certain characters developed a bit more, it might have lent more credibility to their actions. As it was, everything seemed to progress very quickly and the characters’ attitudes to one another seemed to change without reason.
Pacing is important. Writers need to take the time to develop themes, characters and relationships. Otherwise, it like half the actions are without motivation.
I really enjoyed South Riding, despite what it sounds like. But it could have benefitted so much from being four or five episodes long instead of three. Some said that Marchlands was too thinly spread over five episodes, but I think it built up tension well, despite the somewhat disappointing ending.
Ah, when did I get so cynical?
It’s been said that we live in a society that attaches too much importance to appearances. But when we read a piece of fiction, we automatically have some kind of mental image of what a character looks like. For some, it’s just a blurry outline, for others it’s a finely detailed model. Either way, it can be jarring when TV or film adaptation presents a character who is almost unrecognisable from the picture you had in your head.
Despite being largely an ensemble piece, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley are two of the most vivid characters. The only solid description we get of Aziraphale, is that he has plump, manicured hands and that people’s first impressions of him is:
…that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.
Most of what we understand about his appearance comes from his character. With Crowley, we get a little more:
Crowley had dark hair, and good cheekbones, and he was wearing snakeskin shoes, or at least presumably he was wearing shoes, and he could do really weird things with his tongue. And, whenever he forgot himself, he had a tendency to hiss.
Despite the little physical description we get, Aziraphale and Crowley are, for me, two very clear characters. I read about them with a certain picture in my mind. As far as I’m concerned, that is what they look like.
A television adaptation could change all that. I’m not saying that the casting of the characters is the only factor that matters. If the script and the acting is good, then I will still and watch, and most likely, enjoy it. But it will never be the real Good Omens.
Books have the wonderful benefit of being interactive. The reader isn’t just passively watching the characters and events go by, they are creating them in their mind at the suggestion of the author. Books offer the reader so much freedom, whereas television tells the viewer what the character looks like, and how the events happen.
Television adaptations will always be limited in the way that books aren’t. There will always be something that isn’t right for the reader-turned-viewer: you always imagined him a bit taller, you always thought she’d have curly hair…
I love television; there are some great dramas and comedies out there, and I’d like to try writing some screenplays myself at some point. But my first love will be books, because you can’t beat having the freedom to imagine the author’s world and the characters who inhabit it.
Learning good writing is about using the available resources. There is no easy route to success, as all writers know. No one becomes a bestselling author overnight. What I’ve learnt in my short time in writing is that setting goals is important. More importantly still, is setting goals you can attain.
Despite Douglas Adams never being able to stick to them, deadlines have always worked for me. At least when setting short-term goals. I have a tendency to leave things until the last minute, but without deadlines, I wouldn’t get them done at all. Deadlines help you focus, and they’re almost a test. If you never set yourself any time limits you’ll keep putting things off. This way, you can never fail, you can never disappoint yourself, or doubt yourself. It also means you won’t have that feeling of accomplishment after you’ve met a deadline and produced a piece of writing.
There are two resources I use that help you create a deadline and stick by it:
I swear by NaNoWriMo, and probably always will. It marked the turning point in my writing; the day I decided to take this whole putting words to paper lark seriously. NaNoWriMo gives you thirty days to write a novel. If you’ve written 50,000 words by midnight of November 30, you have won. The best thing is, you’re not alone. There are so many other people out there striving towards the same goal. Being one of the ones who make it feels incredible. NaNoWriMo is about quantity over quality, but contrary to the beliefs of some people, I think this is a good thing. NaNo encourages you to switch off your Inner Editor and just write, which, at the end of the day, is all we want to do really. There’s plenty of time for editing later.
This is a great resource if you’re looking for somewhat shorter deadlines. Here you can set a word count, a time limit, and the severity of the consequences should you stop. Then you write. It’s particularly effective if, like me, you have an overactive imagination and think that something terrible will actually happen to you if you stop writing. (Even thinking about it has me typing faster!). Actually, terrible things can happen. On the ‘kamikaze’ mode, if you stop writing for too long, the site starts deleting your words. If that’s not an incentive to keep going I don’t know what is. Write or Die is a great tool if you want to up your word count on a longterm project, or just want to do a bit of writing without being hindered by the Inner Editor.
By nature I am a quiet person. But get me with friends and you often won’t be able to shut me up. I’m even worse in my writing. My mind often seems to think, “why write one line when you can write ten?”
I’m trying to keep this post short because I am going out in a couple of hours and won’t have time to post when I come back. My target is 250 words maximum. Judging by my past record that will extend to about four hundred. Let’s see how it pans out.
There are some lucky people in the world who can fit so much into just a few short lines. I want to be one of those people; not only does it mean less editing, but it also makes your writing sharper and more gripping.
I’m trying different ways to make my writing more succinct, but one method I am particularly fond of is the drabble. A drabble is a story in a hundred words. And that’s it. I wrote quite a few when learning about my characters for my NaNoWriMo novel.
They really make you edit harshly, cutting out superfluous words and ending up with a concise, short piece of fiction. Like story they need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It can be difficult, but I find it surprisingly fun and therapeutic.
It’s particularly effective if you’re a bit obsessive about these things. Personally, I can’t sit there and know I’ve written 101 words or 102 when it could be a nice, round 100.
Including this, this post is 270 words. That’s only 20 words over. I’m getting better!