Monday, 28 May 2012

Why I am grateful to Simon Cowell

Not Simon Cowell
I am going to talk about my work in progress.

I’ve been working on it for… ooh, months (ish). And for much of that time, I have not really ‘connected’ wholeheartedly with the story. Part of that has been to do with circumstances – births, marriages, and near death experience kind of circumstances – and each of these has taken me out of my story world for a while.

But apart from this, (and possibly what has stopped me rushing back after an absence), an even bigger obstacle has been my lack of connection, or my lack of feeling about the project. I talked a little about this in a previous post and thought I had overcome the annoying indifference I felt towards my protagonist by giving her a bit more of a rebellious, defiant streak. For a while, I thoroughly enjoyed her bolshy, snarky character and I fell quite in love.

But it didn’t last for long.

I struggled to be interested if I am honest, and whole days, sometimes weeks went by when I just couldn’t care a less about what I was writing. That’s not a good sign, is it?

During this time of disinterest, I turned to my guiltiest pleasure for solace;  reality TV. Now before you cry ‘shame!’ I would like to justify this personality flaw with the defence that I am a writer and I am interested in people; what real people do, and say, and think, and dream, and feel… I’m not dumb enough to believe that Simon Cowell’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, (or any other of the non-SYCO productions like I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother, Secret Millionaire or Don’t Tell the Bride to name but a handful) aren’t formulaic and therefore scripted in some fashion. Of course they are. We all know the formula and we all know the outcome, but the people are real.

Not Simon Cowell
Most of what happens in these programmes is staged and to some extent that includes our emotional reaction. If you watch without a critical eye, you will love one contestant and hate another. You don’t know them so you don’t have anything other than the producer’s cues to respond to, but if you do get hooked and follow the process from start to finish you will find that at some level you will have connected to a range of emotions including happiness, sadness, anger, distrust, fear, loathing, yearning, surprise, joy, adoration, disgust, curiosity, dislike and boredom, and not least love and hate. Your connection may be superficial but you will feel both positive and negative emotional reactions. 

And then along came The Voice. The Voice attempted to strip these reactions away and you were supposed to watch this programme purely and simply because you liked to hear quality singing. To some extent The Voice succeeded. The judges couldn’t actually see who they were choosing to champion in the first round, and everyone (judges and viewers) was supposed to connect with the singer rather than the rest of the hype. It seemed like a great idea and viewing figures were good.

Not Simon Cowell
Except that once the 'blind audition' round was over, ratings fell, and frankly the single emotion The Voice engendered in me was boredom. I wasn't alone because The Voice then started to lose out in the ratings war to Britain’s Got Talent (the classic emotional variety show).

And then one sad Saturday night when I was 'forced' to watch The dreary Voice, and found myself bizarrely hanging on in there for BGT, I had an epiphany.  

There was nothing wrong with my new feisty protagonist, it’s just that in falling in love with her, I had forgotten to hate anyone! I had forgotten about all the other emotional reactions which give contrast and depth, meaning, loyalty and hope, wish fulfillment etc etc. If everything is one thing, how should we react? What are we supposed to feel? Who are we meant to root for?

Simon Cowell
For all it's faults, (prescriptive, predictable and manipulative to name but a few), reality TV (and BGT in particular) does at least allow you to feel a wide range of emotions and frankly, that is far more entertaining and interesting than just feeling one.

With this in mind, I turned back to my WIP. I wrote in a couple of new plot lines, upped the ante on the heroine's back story and turned a hitherto insignificant character into a proper bad boy. Et voila! ...  instant emotional rollercoaster. Sure fire success.

Thanks  Simon Cowell.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Awards Fail Me

I have today been honoured with an award by the very clever and kind Roberta J Gordon. It is the Liebster Blog Award for Bloggers with less than 200 followers.

Roberta spends her days reading OP notes, researching pathology reports and the crying over the headache of insurance. To date, she holds a degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice, she has been inside a nuclear reactor; played good cop/bad cop and often wished to drive the Star Ship Enterprise! And of course she writes.  She is the author of GeminiWitching: Elements 101 released last week.

I rashly accepted the award. You can see my acceptance speech here.

But when I went to pay the award forward, I couldn't actually find more than a couple of bloggers who admitted to having less than 200 followers....

... which got me thinking, WHY? Maybe people don't want to advertise that they have less than 200 followers? Maybe I shouldn't be doing that either? Maybe, an award for having less than 200 followers is like a signal to the big wide world that you're not actually that interesting?

To be honest, I haven't accepted awards before so why accept this one? 

Maybe I should hang in there for a Nobel Prize for Literature, the Man Booker, The Orange Prize, The Pulitzer, The Whitbread or the Neustadt Prize? Maybe those things are my destiny and I can afford to let slip a minor blogging award (or two) along the way?

Yeah, maybe that's what I'll do.

Sorry Roberta, I'm going to have to decline this one, but thank you for offering.

Other awards I have ignored include ... 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Some Proper Good Writing Tips from a Proper Clever Writer*

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

Recently, a bunch of pretty useful writing tips landed on my desk. They were collected by a proper clever writer (let’s call him Ernie), who gave them to my ‘friend’ (let’s call him Bert) who shared them with me (let’s call me Mildred Huxtetter). And I thought, Super! We should share these with the entire human race.

So I asked Bert, “Would you mind me putting them on my blog?”
And Bert said, “Mmm, I’m not sure Ernie would like it, Mildred Huxtetter.”
So I said, “I would give you both a credit of course.”
And Bert went off to think about it.

After a while, Bert said, “I don’t think we should share this with the world because Ernie might not like it.”

 Don't waft your IPR at me.
I debated long and hard with myself. “Is it right to hide one’s genius under a bush?" I said. “Where would we be if Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci or Einstein had hidden their greatness under a fragrant pile of Intellectual Property Rights? Shouldn't we be fostering a more co-operative approach to life if we want a more harmonious and creative world?” 

And before very many minutes were spent, I came to the following conclusion:

Publish and be dammed!

These writing tips are not new. They will not change the world. They probably won’t blow your mind. But they are useful and relevant, and to have them all in one place will help you think constructively about your writing, and more particularly your re-writing.

So here they are.

1. Read your work aloud. This allows you to see where it’s stumbling. If your breath runs out at the end of a sentence, it’s probably too long!

2. Don’t try and explain everything. Trust the reader to get the imagery and detail.

3. Don’t be suspicious of simplicity; complicated writing doesn’t mean it’s better.

4. Look at your manuscript from a distance, what are the words that stand out? Are they too passive? Blurred manuscripts will have long sections with nothing in them; good ones will have lots happening.

5. Move swiftly from scene to scene, as in the movies.

6. When you are shaping your work, you need to be two kinds of editor. One is the fiddly one that focuses on things like punctuation. The second is the samurai, who comes and slashes everything with a sword!

7. If a section does not improve no matter how hard you try, you probably need to get rid of it!

8. Surround yourself with objects that apply to the book you are writing at the time.

9. Let your story grow, it doesn’t all need to be planned right at the beginning.

10. Allow yourself to be influenced by writers you love.

11. Don’t send something out too early and try and start something new before sending out your finished manuscript.

12. Draw inspiration from why you write, allow yourself to feel stupid at times and remember, a part of your brain has to not give a damn!

With grateful thanks to Ernie, and apologies to Bert.

Yours humbly,

Mildred Huxtetter, BA, MA, PhD, OBE and RSVP