Shaken not stirred?

Bob French says, “James Bond’s famous tag line is actually a reversal of the original quote from Fleming’s books. The author used the line “stirred not shaken” to add yet another facet to Bond’s cool image. If a Martini is shaken, the alcohol becomes “bruised”, which detracts from the desired flavour – something which agent 007 would of course immediately notice and be suitably repulsed by. It was decided that the line “shaken not stirred” sounded much better, however, and so was adopted for the film – thus creating a character with a good collection of sound bytes, but a slightly odd taste in drinks.”

Author Dr. Saumya Dave gives candid advice to aspiring authors when she recounts taking 10 years and 200 agent rejections before getting her 2-book publishing deal. Her training as a psychiatrist helps her give deep insight into the lonely world of writers. One thing she mentioned is the importance of allowing time for ideas to germinate—that is, stirred, not shaken! There is an inherent danger in expecting to progress as a writer to a deadline. Finding a literary agent is not ‘speed dating’! Saumya says, “Writing was the first time I’m my life that I had played with failure and rejection.” But, she never gave up (well, she almost did). Check out her inspiring interview with  here.

Ideas bigger than your life!

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’!

The Hook and the Divine Moment

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!

Editing technique during writing

David McGowan, based in Liverpool in the UK, made the following comment during an interview:

From my first novel to my second, I have found that my writing is a lot more developed, but I think editing your work well is as important as writing a good story.

I also find that editing the last couple of scenes I have written when I sit down to write pulls me back into the story and helps me to focus and feel part of the world I have created.”

This is good advice gives cohesion to writing. Thanks, David. You can check out the full interview here.

Finding Characters!

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!

Ideas and Writing – Pt II with Stephen King

“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!

The Math of Writing: subtract to add!

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.

John Grisham makes writing error, but does he need an online checker?

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!

Good Judgment and Hard Work

I came across this quote during research for my new book:

“Putting a book together—really putting a book together—is a laborious, handcrafted process requiring years of experience, good judgment, and conscientious hard work” by Jonathan J. McCullough in ‘A Tale of Two Subs’.

How well put and a difficult target for any writer to aspire to. John Grisham echoes these sentiments when he talks about the discipline of his writing routine—three hours each morning, five days a week for six months. I wonder how many budding authors fail to appreciate the amount of hard work it takes to craft a novel? I am learning fast that it is a slow, painstaking process. Coffee helps!

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