Wednesday 31 August 2011

The Little Hook


Most people when they think of a hook in a story think of the Hollywood, high-concept version, something like:

Martha Harry was the best spy in the business, but what no one knew, not even her bosses at the CIA, was that Martha was a vampire.

Which is fine if you’re writing a high-concept story of that kind, but hooking the reader at the start of a story is more to do with phrasing and learning how to pose a question without a question mark.

Martha Harry, or ‘Buckets’ as she was known to anyone who had been at school with her, lived in a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

There is now a question that will appear in the mind of anyone who reads that  opening: why was she called 'Buckets'? It doesn't need to be a question that the whole book is about answering, it just keeps the reader on the other end of the line, an especially useful technique at the start of a book.

If I were to rephrase it as:

Sunday 28 August 2011

Done To Death


Stuff  I don’t need to be told again in books and movies:

Agreed. It’s ugly, it’s brutal, people die. We know. The men in charge are only interested in their own gain, soldiers do stupid things in the heat of battle and actually a lot of war is waiting around getting bored. We know. Occasionally people go insane. Yes, we know. It doesn’t matter what fresh angle you write about it from, we’ve seen it. Unless you have a suggestion about what to do to stop war (preferably not involving hippies) then you’re just re-stating the bloody obvious.

Yes, it’s called sex. People are shallow, men are pigs, women are hormonal, children are cute, everyone loves puppies. If the people in these stories drank less and masturbated more, I think they’d find their need to sleep with inappropriate people that leads to ‘hilarious’ hijinks would be much easier to manage.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Identification, please


As a writer what you want is for the reader to be absorbed into your story so they think, ‘Just this chapter and then I’ll go to sleep’ but when they get to the end of the chapter... they’ve got to keep reading.

What you want is for the reader to lose sense of time and place and be immersed in the fictional world you’ve created.

What you want is for the reader to identify with your protagonist so his adventure is their adventure.

So how do you do that?

Sunday 21 August 2011

Bunch of Cults No.5: Scarecrow

Previous in this series can be found here
Gene Hackman and Al Pacino star in the small 1973 movie Scarecrow. Two itinerant men, one just out of prison, the other the navy, strike up a friendship as they thumb a ride across America, each with a goal.

The Hook
Two great actors in a movie you've never heard of, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Complications Ensue: Writing Styles Pt.2

Long, flowing prose, made up of the perfect words placed in melodic paragraphs, can be a pleasure to write, and even (occasionally) a pleasure to read. But the danger is that you’ll become mired in a swamp of indulgent vocabulary and wet spaghetti sentences. Complex doesn’t mean convoluted.

William Faulkner’s Barn Burning:
The store in which the justice of the Peace's court was sitting smelled of cheese. The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more: from where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet devils and the silver curve of fish - this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of blood.

You might think, Golly gee (which is how I imagine you talk) this is a wonderful description of a room, a town store that is being used as a makeshift courtroom, you can almost feel you’re there, and what a masterful job of realisation of a setting. Scene setting at its most vivid. And you would be wrong.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Simply Irresistible


I’ve decided to do a couple of posts on writing styles. The first will be on clean, simple prose as mostly identified with writers like Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver.

This kind of writing, where you don’t use long words or complicated sentence structures is easy to read and can build into a powerful way to tell a story. However, simple does not mean simplistic.

Simplicity in writing refers to the external structure, the language you use, the number of events you cover, how you structure the narrative. But that is not the most important aspect for the writer to establish. The writer needs to know about the internal structure, what the story is about.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Make the most of it


If what appears to be happening in a scene is exactly what is happening in a scene, it can read as plodding and obvious. Direct, on-the-nose, mono-layered, mono-tone storytelling has a tendency to read as juvenile. That’s not to say the writing can’t be simple, but simple isn’t the same as simplistic.

One way to add depth to a scene is to take into account where the scene is set, and use the setting to create sophisticated storytelling. It should be noted that as simple doesn’t mean simplistic, so sophisticated shouldn’t mean convoluted.

Here are eight ways to achieve a greater level of depth without being too obvious (or too waffly) about it:

Sunday 7 August 2011

Self Correction Fluid


I’ve written a number of posts on the various techniques available to a writer, here I’m going to discuss my own. What works for me. Not that I hold this up as an example for others to follow, if you know another way I strongly suggest you use it. 

I am by nature (somewhat unsurprisingly) a moody writer. When I have an idea for a story, the approach I take to writing on any given day will depend on my mood. I don't mix techniques, I veer wildly from one to the other, often in the same story.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Don't love me for fun, girl


Romance fiction, the kind with the bare-chested male on the front cover, has always been looked down on. It sells very well, but no one is very impressed by it. Most modern YA books have a strong romance element to them, and are often equally derided for their wish-fulfilling maelstrom of passion. The kind of love they contain is, in a word, corny.

However, love is a strong motivator and part of most stories, but the simplest things are often the hardest to articulate (especially without resorting to clichés). Why does person A love person B (and possibly also person C)?

If the answer is along the lines of: He was so cute; she had a nice smile; his eyes were so blue; I felt a knot in my stomach the first time I saw he; there was just something about the way he moved... then the writer is asking the reader to take it on faith. Forget why, it’s just how they feel. And in many cases the reader will agree to overlook the exact reason why the “okay-looking” girl who no one talks to is suddenly the most desired girl in school.

But what if you were able to demonstrate how it happened, if you could show the moment love took bloom? And in a way that made the reader go: Okay, I see why that person’s special. How would you go about that?
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