“Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind.”
From “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur
I mostly follow other writers on Twitter, people I’ve never met or generally even heard of but who are the most supportive community you could ever hope to be a part of. There are also a few people I follow that I do actually know.
One of them, a friend and former non-writing colleague who is obsessed with things like renewable energy, electric cars and advances in technology, recently tweeted a link to a Gizmodo article with the headline “China claims to have a real-deal laser gun that inflicts ‘instant carbonisation’ of human skin”. His accompanying comment was, “Sounds too good to be true. The ability to put such an effective laser in such a small form and to be able to fire it, at least multiple times, have to be questioned until we see it.” A picture of the laser assault rifle, which looks a lot like those brick mobile phones from the 1980s except with a scope attached, was also included.
I’d seen a less descriptive headline and the same image on another website and scrolled past it earlier that same week. But the additional information in my friend’s tweet piqued my interest. I responded to him, “This sounds a lot like the storyline of a certain debut novel of mine…” He replied, “Ha ha yes.”Continue reading
I responded wittily, “There’s a reasonably famous quote that says there’s no such thing as a bad writer, only bad writing but maybe that’s just to make us all feel better about ourselves.” It’s a little ironic because in that moment, I was a bad writer. There is no such quote, at least not a famous one. I guess it’s my quote now. The quote I was actually referring to is by Oscar Wilde, who said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
Which just goes to show that being a bad writer isn’t a static state. Someone who has previously been a bad writer can become a good writer. And someone who has previously been a good writer can lapse into moments (hopefully not too many) of being a bad writer. (I hope that it’s not something I suffer from all the time and is more closely related to my laziness in confirming that the quote existed anywhere outside of my mind rather than my general ability to write.)Continue reading
“You make it look like work. I need to see the movement, not the effort behind it.”
Jonathan in Center Stage
Okay, Jonathan was talking about ballet but I have a theory that almost all of these types of statements can be applied to writing. And just like ballet, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes in writing that isn’t – or shouldn’t be – visible in the final published book.
I have no academic research to back this up but I suspect for a book that ends up around the 100,000 word mark, a writer would actually write closer to 200,000 words and discard the other 100,000 words as part of the editing process. Not all of those discarded words would be prose, of course. A lot of it would be research.
The problem with research is that no amount of it will help a writer to get to know their characters better. Because characters, like people, are more than just a collection of facts. They are human. They are unpredictable. And how they will react in any given situation is difficult to know. In fact, the only way a writer will know is to put them in that situation and see what happens.
The situations that might teach writers something about their characters may not necessarily make the final cut of their books. But writing them anyway can be a great way to get to know their characters better. So here are a few options for doing just that.Continue reading
Recently I was approaching a chapter that I knew would involve one of my main characters, Joseph, sitting down for a session with a counsellor. To prepare I wrote out a conversation (no prose, just dialogue) in expectation of using it as the basis for the chapter. This would be the chapter that revealed Joseph’s back story, not a crucial component of the plot but important in helping the audience understand why he reacts to certain plot points the way he does.