writeafirstnovel

follow a rookie writing his first novel

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Writing groups

A phrase that sums up my writing efforts for this week is ‘after the lord mayor’s show.’ Last week – lots of words; this week no words. In fact, I took the week off and had a grand old-time visiting various places in the county.

I often find that this is the best sort of activity to liberate the old grey matter and consider things related to, but not directly involved with, the writing project at hand. And this week has not been an exception.

The topic I have been thinking around is writing groups. A cursory foray into Google suggests that I do not have such a thing in my area. Given the number of groups that come up in a search, this seems surprising but that is how it is.

So, what is it exactly that a writing group actually does? Looking at some of the groups websites and back articles on such things in magazines, they would appear to fall somewhere between a support group and a forum for critique. Writing is (or can be) a lonely occupation. It is one reason perhaps, that we blog, in order to make contact with like-minded people. I can see the attraction then, of face to face meetings to talk about writing with others. I can also see the attraction of getting some honest feedback from people who have some expertise in the area. But.

I have been part of many interest groups in the past, and while they seem fine on paper, things can get a whole lot messier once you involve, well, people! They come with baggage, they come with agendas, and they can come with egos the size of a planet. Of course, this can all make for some hilarity if you observe the interactions casually, but more often you are intimately caught up in things and become embroiled yourself. As for running groups, if you haven’t tried it yet, go outside and hit your head against the wall, then take a pee into the wind, and that will give you some idea of how it can be. In my experience there are usually a few people who do everything and a lot of people who sit back and expect to be entertained. Ah,  the tales I could tell you about interest group committees that I have been part of (tries to control nervous facial tick).

But despite all that I have learned through bitter experience, I still find myself thinking of starting up such a group locally. Well. I guess I’m just a cup half full sort of person….

So, does anyone out there have any experiences to share about writing groups – do tell; I would love to hear.

Back story blues

As well as the psychological makeup a person possesses, it is often their personal history that provided the reasons for their actions. In writing, this personal history is sometimes called the back story.

While back story may be necessary, dumping it on a reader in one go can make them feel like they have had to stop at a train level crossing with the lights flashing and no train in site – frustrating.

The clever writer drip feeds it, a little at a time, only so much as is necessary for the current action and not so much that the reader notices.

But then there is another dilemma. What if the back story has actually been told elsewhere. The knowledgeable reader would already know it, but could we rely on that? Could we just point the reader to the fact of its existence and expect them to go off and find it out for themselves? Hmmm.

Well, this was my main problem this week. The characters are norse gods, plotting to liberate Baldur from Helheim. You see, some of you do know the story, but some of you wont. So what’s a writer to do? It isn’t a main plot of the overall story, in fact it is only a device to introduce a very pissed off Hella and give the main character another problem along the way, so I don’t want to spend much time on it and that makes the drip feed approach to the back story difficult.

At the moment I have settled for a brief (and hopefully) humorous account of how he ended up there in the first place and why he can’t come back which turns out to be about 800 words. Being a first draft I can get away with this but I’m sure there must be other ways to skin this particular cat.

So, what would you do?

Ways of editing

This week I have become fascinated by the various ways people say that they edit their work. I know, a bit presumptuous you say, given that I’m only 20.000 words into my novel. With about 60,000 to go, received wisdom says that I needn’t trouble my poor ageing brain with the problem of second drafting for at least, oh I don’t know, at this rate, a couple of years.

But, I came across something where the writer claims to do the editing as they go along; paragraph by paragraph. Heresy! But they have written several books and had them published, so whatever they are doing is clearly working for them.

Looking a little further, I then saw that some people need to actually add words to the second draft, rather than the commonly held opinion that a machete needs to be taken to the first draft (or at least pruning shears) because we always start off by adding extraneous detail that ought not to be there.

This actually resonates with me because looking over what I have written so far it does lack some detail as I fill in the plot scenes. I suspect that my second draft will add more than it subtracts. I wonder if this is a common problem with plotters and perhaps it is only pantsers who need the ‘edged weapons’. What do you think?

Another approach seems to be a combination, based more around time than progress, in that they spend their most creative part of the day getting words down, and the less creative editing what they have written; the writing always pulling ahead of the editing.

So, I am becoming convinced that there must be nearly as many ways to arrive at the second draft as there are writers. How do you get there?

 

This is not a lizard

My plastic lizard

Hat Tip to Renee Magritte for the title of this post.

You may be wondering what I’m talking about and why on a blog about writing am I showing you a picture of my pet Iguana; all in good time my friends, all in good time.

When Magritte called attention to the fact that his picture of a pipe was not the pipe itself but a representation of a pipe he was making a sound philosophical point. So, when you look at the picture of my scaly friend, you are looking at his image, at a point in time – even the image itself being  rendered from binary code; artifice upon artifice to produce an illusion of a lizard.

Now when I tell you that it isn’t even a real lizard, but a 16″ resin replica of a lizard, we are one more step removed from the truth – the original lizard, which by now is most likely dead and ceases to exist at all. Immortalized in resin. The symbol of a lizard, displaying ‘lizardness’. We do not neutrally see the picture, instead we interpret it, possibly loaded with emotion – perhaps it even reminds you of a lizard that you have known; I can’t know this, I can only provide the stimulus in the form of the image and attempt to guide your response with my words.

In our own writing we also intend to paint pictures in the mind’s eye of our readers. The very best writing goes beyond the immediate story and symbolizes something else entirely – think ‘Animal Farm’.

You might have also wondered why do I have a large replica Iguana anyway – after all, it’s not everyone’s choice of home decoration. Well, this is a special resin lizard. Once on holiday, when my daughter was a little girl, she got it into her head to win me a prize at bingo. You know the sort of thing, where you get points for a line or house that you can convert into a gift like key rings or chocolate bars. The large lizard however required a lot of points and took her many hours over the course of the holiday to win it; as you can see, she succeeded.

So when I look at the resin lizard, I don’t see a plastic monstrosity; I see the proud little girl offering it up to me. A symbol of a different order. And priceless.

 

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