I came across a wonderful quote recently, by Gloria Gaither. She said, “You need to have ideas bigger than your life.” How profound and how ideal to sum up a writer’s goal. Novels, like paintings, can lift us above the ordinary and create worlds far bigger than our own lives; far longer than our histories and far removed from our world. Thank you, Gloria, for inspiring us to have ‘Ideas bigger than our lives’!
Hello again! Publishers look for the ‘hook’ in a thriller, etc. As writers, we look for the ‘divine moment’ that gives us the hook, or at least an important plot. My second thriller (shh, no name yet) was inspired by a small newspaper clipping that mentioned submarines—which explains the picture below :-). The article fascinated me and led to a world-wide hunt (including visits to the USA, Croatia, Gibraltar, etc.) for more information. I am grateful for contacts who expanded my ‘Aha!’ moment, and provide fresh insights to help put the book together. Yes, divine moments are key to my writing!
The standard cliché regarding sentence lengths in a novel is to vary them, to keep the reader interested in the action. I agree, but with this caveat–the sentence lengths and variation should also suit the pace of the plot. For example, in my latest novel, sentences are longer when the pace is slower, and shorter when the action or drama increases. The following illustrates this contrast (using ProWritingAid). You can guess which chapter contains fast—paced action and which is slower? This will why I ignored the red dot warning in in chapter 15! Such analysis is a useful guide to writers.
How does an author find their characters? Here’s a clue—look around you when out and about, at the cafe or while shopping. Everyone you meet and everyone you see has the potential to be a character in your novel! I have used friends and even people sitting opposite me on a train (well, their shoes got into a novel). You can have fun when writing to invent a character who is a blend of a few people. Take someone’s nickname, another’s hairdo. Add a dress from a shop window, and a handbag from a google search. Next, add some details—a hook nose, bald head, unshaven, tattooed, limping, sunken eyes, etc. In my new novel, one of my characters wears lots of yellow. This may not seem significant, but it does later in the book when Sir Christopher Jenson (based a someone close to me) discovers a woman wearing yellow who is cuddling up to another character who has just lost his wife in a skiing accident. Yellow connects these two women for the reader and…I can’t tell you what happens!
I had to answer this question for myself: “How true is my writing to me?”
What does this mean? Put it another way; am I writing for me, or for others? The artist in me wants to write in my voice, my style. I want my writing to reflect my thinking—the way I see my world and how I connect dissimilar objects and events. Steve Jobs, of Apple fame, had a great ad campaign called, “Think Different“. That sums it up for me. I need to “Write Different” as an author. I must be true to myself and not have to copy another author. Yes, I should learn from others, but develop my own style. I cannot stand the works of Dan Brown, yet I learned from him. Great artists break established ways of doing things—that is how new styles develop in Art. Writing is no different. I am still learning, but getting closer to my own style. How do I define that style? Here’s an example. During a trip to Venice I saw a lady wearing a fur coat, yet I never came across any cats. I saw an immediate connection between cat and coat! Unrelated events can be connected through the imagination and it is through “thinking different” that I am learning to “write different”, with a sense of discovery and, yes, fun. I love writing funny stuff in thrillers! I just hope me readers enjoy this style too!
“Your best work is more like being a secretary than being a creative person—you just take the stuff down.” Stephen King in an interview by BDN Maine. Stephen mentions that he never knows how his novels are going to finish. He waits until he gets there before choosing the end—much like choosing dessert after you have finished the main course. John Grisham disagrees and must have the last chapter figured out before he starts a new novel. Me? I have done both and can see merits in either approach. I love the freedom of seeing where the writing will take me, but also appreciate the discipline of plotting a novel before beginning. My first novel, 3 WISE MEN, was like following a string through the darkness. Even I was surprised how it ended and readers loved the spontaneous events that shocked them on the way through. In my second novel, I knew how and where it would end, but still had to fill in the details. The conclusion to Ideas and Writing? Both approaches work fine. It is up to the author. However, have you ever noticed some authors using a formula for their plot development? It gets boring! I’m one who likes to mess it up and surprise readers, as well as myself! I remember the strange experience of sitting down during a break in my teaching and the words poured out, and included an event that even shocked me. It might have been subconscious, but it was real and many commented that they “never saw it coming.” If your writing never sees an event coming, then your shock is magnified for readers!
Here’s the scenario: a sentence in my paragraph doesn’t work, no matter how much I change it. When this happens, I use the subtract rule. That is, take out the problematic sentence and see if the shorter paragraph is any better without it. Most times, it is. I call this the “subtract to add rule“, and I have used it more than a few times during editing of my latest novel. I know what you may be thinking—such a move reduces the word count. Yes, it does, and thank goodness! Think of this sentence culling like the fruit picture. If you take some of the fruit away, do you still have a tree full of inviting fruit? If yes, take away the ones that don’t add. The power of a novel can be in the words and sentences taken out, not in the ones that are left in! Happy fruit picking.
From my own experience, I have enjoyed using online grammatical aids, to a point! Here’s my humble take on them:
+ve: picks up repeated phrases, checks sentence length, and overuse of adverbs, etc. Psst, here’s where it would have helped John Grisham in “The Guardians”—on page 157, he writes, “He takes a drink and studies the ocean.” Then, on page 159, John writes, “He takes a drink and studies the ocean.” Well, software would pick that up.
-ve: does not help you develop your own writing style, nor flow or ‘voice’. There is often a cost.
Ask yourself this question: would Hemingway, et al, use an online writing tool? They might in their early days of writing, but I am convinced they would go up the wall after a while and stay their own course through the rough editing waters. Good writing and editing software are destined to call off their romance after just a few dates!
Novel #2 in Editing Mode: Such a relief to finish my second novel, which is now in the final editing stages. In summary:
write –> edit –> edit again (another full read through) —> ask trusted (brutally honest) friends to proof-read –> final edit –> seek a Literary Agent (more on that soon). On a funny note:
The other night I could not get to sleep and tossed and turned, mulling over my second full edit. I realized that I had made a minor continuity error and had to get up to fix it. Phew!
It really is encouraging that my brain is actively working on improvements all the time, even when half asleep! Motto?
A writer never sleeps!
PS: This pic is accurate, but the time is wrong – I was up at 2am.
This quote by Ernest Hemingway has an element of truth, although I certainly don’t ‘write drunk’. What rings true for me, though, is that you don’t have to be fully ‘with it’ when getting the rough story down. It might be a matter of grabbing a few minutes between meetings or, in my case, while waiting to teach a class. Some of my better writing seems to happen when I am mulling a plot or ‘what’s next’ while trying to sleep. In this case, I have to put the light on, get up and type the inspiration, just in case I forget when I wake up in the morning.Or, I might overhear a conversation while out and about and need to jot a thought down, ready to take back to my computer to bring into the story. For my second novel, I also set aside regular, early morning times to write. And, in the most part, I have kept to this schedule, even if the word output varies. On a good day I will type up about 800-1200 words and, on a bad day, 400-500. But, even the bad days can be good writing!
However, the editing needs time and concentration, plus a critical analysis of words, sentence structure/length, etc. Therefore, Hemingway is right—it is best done while ‘sober’. Incidentally, Hemingway also has a cameo part in my new novel, when two ladies meet an old man on the Croatian coast in a bar in Dubrovnik—the kind of place that Hemingway would, I am sure, have enjoyed!