writeafirstnovel

follow a rookie writing his first novel

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Not about real life

We all know that novels are fiction. I don’t mean just in the sense of whether the events portrayed actually happened, but also what events the novel contains. Think about it; when was the last time that a novel you read contained events that had absolutely no bearing on the plot – for example, someone getting their hair cut, or dyed a different colour. Or going to bed, or the toilet. We all do these things (yes, even I had the front of my hair dyed gold in the 70’s), but in a novel they are rarely if ever mentioned unless it has a direct bearing on the story.

I can think of a few exceptions off the top of my head. The girl with the dragon tattoo trilogy for example seems to have a curious fascination with people’s coffee drinking habits; incidentally, I read another crime fiction novel by a different Swedish writer and that did the same, so maybe its a cultural thing. I also read a book called ‘Don Juan and the art of sexual energy’ which kept describing what people were eating for their meals for no particular reason that I could fathom. In these cases because it isn’t the usually done thing, it draws our attention and we can find ourselves almost waiting for the next time the author does it, which distracts from the plot.

Then there is the dialogue. In a novel it is always neat and crisp and to the point. Rarely if ever do we see the ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ that litter normal speech, unless it is to make a point. Dialogue as written in a novel then is really too good to be true.

Taken together then, actions and dialogue, as written, bear little resemblance to reality and yet somehow, when read it seems so right. A piece of prose written as close to reality as possible is almost unreadable or at best boring as hell. Am I the only one that finds this fascinating and strange? What is your opinion…

 

Turns of phrase

As a child growing up in the  early 60’s I was fascinated by the phrase ‘turning round to say things’. I noted that it only seemed to be adults that did the ‘turning’, usually women, the statements they were making once turned around always seemed to have some emotional dimension (no one ever turned around to say what a nice weather we were having) and more intriguingly for me as a child were always doing it in the recent past. I looked long and hard to see someone, anyone, actually turning around before they said anything. I even remember someone saying something like ‘so she turned around and said…, so I turned around and said…’ I wondered, did they start off back to back in a dual like stance or whirl like dervishes before delivering their pithy comments. Sadly by the time I grew up no one seemed to turn round to say things any more; ah well, I suppose some things you are just not meant to know…

Then there was the business of ‘chums’. My hero at the time, William Brown had chums, but all I had were mates which were sometimes referred to as ‘muckers’ by adult men that had been in the armed forces. Oh how I longed for a chum, but they were long gone. Perhaps my dad had chums, but I’m guessing that coming from such a poor background he too was excluded – it seems chums were the preserve of the middle and ruling classes…

Now I note that younger people ‘like’ things a lot. I’ve listened hard and it isn’t that they are actually expressing a preference for anything in particular, rather it is using the word in its meaning as an approximation – ‘so I said, like, where do you want to go’ Does this mean they didn’t use those actual words but said something else and are describing the general meaning? Hmm, not sure. I also notice the overuse of the word gives a distancing effect from the phrase it is associated with, almost as if it wasn’t them they were talking about; precautions in these more litigious times perhaps…

Anyway, my point here is that the use of some phrases define the temporal setting and they do not last forever. In fact a lot of them seem to have quite a short shelf life. Setting a novel in the past then, means that we have to become aware of the verbal phrasing in use at the time although if we go back very far the only source material might be the dialogue in novels written at that time.

You might argue, why bother. Why not use contemporary phrasing that people now will relate to. My problem with that is that words aren’t neutral. They define (or at the very least describe) attitudes and worldviews – contrast the very understated language of the 1920’s to describe even the most horrific events as opposed to the (in my view) near hysterical language used now for the most mundane of things. I think the subtle use of such phrases would help give a real feel of the past in, for example, flashback events. It is at least worthy of consideration.

But as ever, what do you think? Are there any phrases you particularly remember from childhood that are no longer used? Do tell…

 

 

Happy birthday blog

Well, here we are, a whole year has passed since I started this blog. I thought I would take a time out to review the progress so far. I have to say that if this was one of my old school reports it would probably read ‘could do better’ (which, by the way, they often did).

When I started this novel I thought (naively perhaps) that within the year it would be a done deal. There I would be, living it up in the Seychelles or somewhere similar, just popping home to do the odd chat show or attend a posh dinner. Having it all and then some.

The reality is though that I am just short of half way through the first draft. If this were ‘The Apprentice’ it would be the greasy spoon and recriminations for me, rather than the treat. Never mind; we are where we are.

So, what to do.

As I see it, here are my basic options:

PLAN A – Just keep plodding on as I am. An appealing option as it requires little or no thought (and thinking makes my head hurt). The downside is that at this rate, by this time next year, I’ll be about 80% through the first draft and another whole year away from the finish line (Seychelles and all).

PLAN B – Get a personality transplant. I think I’ve referred to my complete lack of urgency (aka bone idleness) before. It’s not entirely my fault of course, its in my genes. You see I managed to trace my family tree back to around 1460; well, my dad did or rather to be honest about it, he started and had the good fortune to stumble across someone who had already done most of the work. Anyway, the reason we can go back that far isn’t because we have noble connections, but rather that our family comes from a very small village and seems to have stayed there. In point of fact it took the family three hundred years to move seven miles up the road to the nearest big town – way to go! So you see, I come from a long line of procrastinators so what’s a boy to do? The pro’s of this option are I could have the thing finished in a fortnight and the cons are its science fiction and anyway, I rather like being me!

Plan C – The Homer Simpson option – As the great yellow-skinned man says ‘If at first you don’t succeed, give up, because it’s obviously too hard and do something else.’ Trouble is with this option, my Taurean nature steps in and says once I’ve started I will see it through to the bitter end – even if it kills me.

On balance then, it looks like Plan A has it and so you’ll be stuck with me and my blog for the foreseeable future. Onwards and upwards…

 

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