Archive | May 2011

Writing isn’t easy

I’m not sure where I picked it up but I had a belief that if you had a talent for something, then it should come easily to you. If you were good at art, then drawing well and finding things to draw would be a snitch. You’d sit down at your easel and knock off sketches and pictures feeling happy and joyful because you were doing something you loved and were good at. The energy would be high and you’d be really productive and you’d always want to do art instead of everything else.

Sometimes writing’s like that. But more often than not it’s really hard work. It’s a struggle to get anything down on the page, nevermind something good. It’s hard to say what I really want to say while making my characters come alive. What’s on the page rarely seems as vibrant and solid as what’s in my head.

Does that then mean that if I find writing hard sometimes, that I’m not very good at it? And if I’m not good at it, then do I have to give up on my dream?

It’s not that simple. I also have beliefs around needing to work hard to get something I want, in order to deserve it. I have beliefs around not being good enough, in general, for anything. And I’m self-sabotaging and have poor self-regulation. But you know what? I know all this stuff and therefore I can make it work for me rather than against me.

I’m going to write this on a piece of paper and stick it up over my monitor.

“Sometimes writing comes really easily and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes what I’ve written is good and sometimes it isn’t. These things are not related.”

Sometimes when the writing flows, what I produce is great and sometimes it isn’t. The same is true when I really have to grind it out. The same is true for rewriting. Sometimes I immediately hit on exactly what I want and sometimes it takes me an hour to get a sentence right. Sometimes I let the resistance and fear discourage me but I’m working on that.

A-Z blog challenge: E is for Emotion

Writing prose with emotion is hard for me. I start off with scenes that are flat and emotionless. My characters are acting and talking as if what is happening isn’t touching them emotionally. It’s as if they don’t care and are just shrugging it off. Are they fighting for their lives against a winged demon? Oh yeah, it’s just everyday stuff, whatever, blah, blah, I’m so bored.

This should be a moment of terror. The character believes they might die. But it’s terror tempered with determination to live, the will to push themselves mentally and physically beyond what they’ve ever done before. Maybe there’s a little elation in the mix. In an action scene like this the character’s adrenalin will be high and that complex cocktail of feeling has to come off the page and raise the reader’s heartbeat.

What I want is overblown drama on an operatic scale. I want to leave my reader exhausted and wrung out. But it’s hard to push myself to get there. I’ve learnt to moderate my emotions and I’m afraid that, instead of being moved, the reader will think I’m ridiculous. I don’t want to make a fool of myself so I draw back and I contain the emotion. I let it out in tiny little drips that people barely notice. And, for real life, that’s ok.

It’s like a tap. For real life, I want a gentle trickle. For my writing, sometimes I want a torrent. But the tap is stiff with disuse and I struggle to fully turn it on. When I do manage it, I feel embarrassed. I’m working on that by practicing writing pieces that are as emotionally laden as I can make them. These are just practice pieces that will never see the light of day and so I don’t have to worry whether a reader will find them ridiculous. I can learn to control the emotion tap in private and when it comes to writing scenes in my work-in-progress then I will have the skill to get the emotional balance right.

How do you feel about writing with emotion? Is it easy or difficult? Are there some emotions you find harder than others?

100 Books in 2011 Challenge: Mistral’s Kiss

The first third of Mistral’s Kiss by Laurell K. Hamilton is basically one long sex scene with the protagonist, Merry Gentry having sex with some of her guard. After a while it becomes apparent that the reason for this is that she needs to get pregnant in order to become the heir to her Aunt’s faerie kingdom. It’s not good sex though. Mainly she just lays there while various men go wild with desire on her. It’s all very passive and not particularly engaging.

So for the first 150 pages I was mostly wondering what this book was supposed to be. There wasn’t a lot of plot in the first section. To be fair, this is number five in a series where, yet again, I haven’t read the previous books, so potentially I wasn’t quite getting what was going on.

The middle 100 pages of the book are a bit different. Merry and her guards bring life back to the faerie garden where they are having sex but the garden begins to swallow them up. They escape into another faerie realm and encounter the King of the Sluagh. With whom Merry has previously agreed to have sex so that he has a chance to father her child. At this point, the book starts to make sense as myth. This is the pagan wheel of life, the goddess and god coming to come together in a fertility rite. So there is more unexciting sex. Then the wild hunt is raised and Merry and her guards have to run for their lives.

They open a door into the mundane world. The last 100 pages are more like an urban fantasy detective novel. Merry and her guards fight the wild hunt and transform it into hounds. This is a book that doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it erotica? Or urban fantasy? Or mythic allegory? It could be all three if they were blended together. I don’t think it would be easy, but it could be good. Instead this is three separate sections one after another and it doesn’t work.

The role of women in the book is problematic. Obviously I can’t say whether it is just this book or the whole series. The female protagonist is constantly surrounded by men, who don’t have fully developed personalities, and the only other female characters are her enemies. There’s her aunt who is a sexual sadist and mainly seems to want to kill Merry. Then there are two sluagh hags who are presented as possessive, jealous and manipulative. It’s a combination of a wish-fulfilment protagonist and misogyny.

The writing problems in this book aren’t about language, they’re about structure. The pacing is awful, characterization is sketchy, and it doesn’t know what it is. I’ll be giving the rest of them a miss.

A-Z blog challenge: D is for Distraction

Oh, there’s just so much of it! The things I could spend my time doing:

Watching tv
Playing video games
Messing about on the internet
Hanging out with friends
Getting a master’s degree
Playing with my cats
Reading non-writing related blogs and news
Watching butterflies

And of course there are the things I think I should be doing:

Hanging out with friends
Keeping up with my correspondence

But instead I’m writing. At least in theory. I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment so everything that I could do I have to think ‘will this take time away from my writing?’ The answer is almost always yes because I can’t reduce the hours I work (which is not all that many to be fair) or reduce my commuting time, so there’s nowhere else for the time to come from. If the answer is yes, then ‘is this something I’m willing to give up writing time for?’ If I’m honest, in the past, I often have given up writing time – because I’m tired, or because it’s hard, or because I didn’t believe in myself enough, or because I didn’t feel I could say no to friends or family or other obligations. But I’ve reached a stage in my writing where the answer is going to be no much more often.

Oh look, a butterfly. Being chased by a lolcat. What was I doing again?

A Dance with Dragons

I’ve just pre-ordered A Dance with Dragons by G.R.R. Martin. I’m so excited! Six years I’ve been waiting for this book. I really want to re-read the whole series in preperation, but they wouldn’t count towards the 100 books in 2011 challenge. Boo. But I’m still excited. 

A-Z blog challenge: C is for Character

A funny thing happened on the way to the end of my novel. I always thought I was more interested in plot and events and writing about the stuff that happens. Characters were just what events happened to, vehicles for moving the story along. My stories grew out of a scene and things developed from there. I thought the scene that inspired the story was about the event, about what was happening.

I realised recently that actually it’s the other way around. I was working on my novel, trying to get to grips with all the elements of it, and I realised I have loads of characters. I’m not sure where they all came from. And while I was putting them into my spreadsheet I realised that each one is quite fleshed out in my mind.

Thinking back to all the scenes that started the fragments of all the stories that are gathering dust on my hard drive, it wasn’t about the events at all. They are all characters searching for a story to be in.

So, weird place to be in. But good.

By the way, I thought a post on characters was a good opportunity to showcase the work of my talented cousin who painted the picture in this post. If you like it, you can see more of her work at her Deviant Art gallery.

100 Books in 2011 Review: Gone Tomorrow

Last week I miscalculated with how much I would read on the train. I knew I only had 40 pages of Globalization and its Discontents to go and I was half way through Beginnings, Middles and Ends, and I thought that would be enough for the commute. Only it wasn’t. I finished them both on the way into work and had nothing to read on the way home. Fortunately, we have a book-dump at work where people can leave books and take ones other people have left. I was happy to find Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child. I’ve read a couple of these and they are fluffy, light and fun.

Jack Reacher is a ex-military policeman who lives under the radar travelling around the US. He tends to run into trouble. In this case he’s in New York, on the subway, and he believes he sees a suicide bomber. Reacher intervenes and the woman kills herself. The rest of the book is devoted to finding out what she was doing and why she killed herself.

The style is very much about detail. Actions are described to the level of: Reacher ordered coffee. It arrived. It was black and in a white mug. He added three sugars from rectangular white sachets with blue writing on them. This is not actual text from the novel. Short, choppy sentences tend to add urgency and increase the pace. Detail adds credibility and draws the reader into your world. With this book I realised it can go too far. There came a point when the short sentences were just grinding. The detail sometimes seemed obsessive and more about stretching the plot out to fill the word count. Although that wasn’t entirely necessary as this was a big book. I did learn some interesting facts about men’s tailoring though.

This was not my favourite of the Jack Reacher novels that I’ve read and I think that’s because there was too much detail around things that weren’t that relevant to the plot. The story in amongst the detail was entertaining and well-handled. I did want to know what happened and why the woman on the train had killed herself. Child does plot really well.

Character is another matter. I’m not a fan of Jack Reacher; I think he’s a bit of a dick. At the end of the novel, another character accuses Reacher of letting his emotions get the better of him and it’s good that we were told otherwise I wouldn’t have known. The characters around him are a mixed bag. Some are drawn reasonably well, and I like that there’s plenty of female characters playing non-stereotypical roles. Others are a bit cardboard cut-out. But that’s ok. After all, it’s all about the plot.

This is not his best, even among the few I’ve read, but if you’re looking for something easy and light, or to examine plot, then you could do worse.