Sunday, 29 July 2012

Literary Aerobatics: They Ain’t Big, and They Ain’t Clever…

There I was, flying; my WIP coming on a treat. With structure, characters, scenes and plot all fully operational, I was working on about the fourth (and hopefully final) rewrite. This was the move which concentrated on getting the delivery sown up; size of loop, degree of spin, angle of flick and so on. After this one last flight of witty wordplay, all I had left were minor edits.

So yes, there I was, flying along; soaring through the skies of literary genius around about chapter 13… when all of a sudden I had engine failure.

Something was wrong!

I pulled hard on the joystick, stood on my tail and went into a vertical climb attempting more and more brilliant bookish banter. And of course I loved it because basically, I thought it was so clever. Hell, I thought I was so clever.

"The worst English I have ever
encountered," said Orville Wright,
co-pilot and chocolate labrador
“Well Mrs, it’s too clever by half,” warned my literary critic of a co-pilot. “And totally out of place in this story.”

That’s when I remembered my last blog posting. Point 7. “Showing Off … knowing something really clever and in great detail is no reason to include it in a story. Nobody likes being lectured to. You can make your writing way more powerful and readable by putting complex ideas into simple language.”

Oo-errr, that’s me, I thought. That’s what I’m doing. It was at that point I went into a nosedive and started plummeting towards the ground at ten thousand feet per minute.

The inclination to be even cleverer had hold of my joystick and it was hard not to give in to Mrs Smart Arse. But I knew that if I persisted, and wrote something which didn’t fit in with the rest of my story, I was going to end up with my literary genius splattered across the earth below.

If I was going to save this novel, and if I was going to save myself, I was going to have to use the ejector seat!!!

And so, in a nosedive, I had a cup of tea, ate some toast and piled all my clever brilliant and frankly genius writings onto that seat, and plucked up the courage to hit the button.


Goodbye forever. I cried a few tears and stripped my chapter down to basics.

And do you know what? Suddenly, I felt lighter. I felt the wind beneath my wings. I saw the ground moving further away…. I was up again. Flying….

Charles Lindbergh dressed as a dog
The moral of this tale – clever crap is not good for you. If you are stumbling repeatedly over a scene, it probably shouldn’t be there. No matter how clever it is.

Monday, 9 July 2012

10 Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

1. Starting at the beginning
When I say the beginning, I mean at the beginning of the story, not at the birth of your main character. Do we really need to know all the background before we even know what the story is about? I don't think so. Start with the action - feed in the back story.

2. Writing about Mr and Mrs Dullage
Mr and Mrs Dullage have very little going for them. They have no personality, no dreams, no goals, no loves, hates, identifying features... nothing. They are amorphous blobs who just happen to have found themselves a speaking part in your story. And frankly, who cares what happens to them? Make your characters interesting, strong and like-able; people we care about.

3. Rambling speech
Even if you have found yourself the perfect protagonist, you risk throwing all your hard work away by letting him ramble. Don't let him hijack the conversation with all sorts of inconsequential rubbish and don't let him make long speeches. His speech should always be relevant, have a goal and be expressed clearly. The same applies to dialogue.

4. Pointless happenings
Filling your manuscript with pointless, irrelevant, extraneous detail is at best boring and at worst misleading. Or the other way around. Everything should happen for a reason. Use what you already know about your characters and background to enhance your story and give it the weight of authenticity.

5. Ignoring structure
Failing to think about the structure of a scene, chapter or even the whole novel, risks having a plot full of mole hills, pot holes and fog. You need to be clear about the goal of your story and how you are going to get there, building tension and drama exponentially as you go.

6. Under researching
You might not know what you think you know. If you get something wrong, you will lose credibility with your readers. It is always worth looking things up to be sure you get facts and information correct.

7. Showing off
Alternatively, knowing something really clever and in great detail is no reason to include it in a story. Nobody likes being lectured to. You can make your writing way more powerful and readable by putting complex ideas into simple language. 

8. Throwing a wobbly at the first hint of criticism
You wrote the goddam story, yes? You wanted it to be like that, yes? And just who do they think they are, telling you what would make it better? Well here's the thing - THEY are your reading public. If THEY have a suggestion to make it better, listening to them with your defences down mightn't be such a bad idea. Consider all criticism with an open heart and desire to improve. 

9. Thinking you have finished
You've worked hard, you've reached the end, you've dotted the Is and crossed the Ts... and now you want to send it off to an agent or publisher. But is it really ready? I mean, REALLY ready? The best stories take many many drafts, and many many revisions to get right. Writing is re-writing. 

10. Giving Up
So you've been rejected? Well join the club. The world's best and most successful writers have all been rejected at some point. If you give up today, you will never know how far away you were from making it - and remember, in this technologically advanced day and age, if you have exhausted all the traditional routes to publication, there is an alternative...

Mr & Mrs Dullage, BEFORE
Mr & Mrs Dullage, AFTER

*This post was inspired by The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M Bickham. Thanks Jack :)))