Monday 28 November 2011

Bunch of Cults No.6: 1Q84


This is part of an ongoing series of weird and wonderful stories from off the beaten path. Others in the series can be found here.

This post is in two parts. Firstly a look at the latest book from Haruki Murakami, probably the bestselling ‘cult’ author in the world. And secondly a few thoughts on the power of story over technique. If you’re telling an engrossing tale, does it really matter how you go about it?

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is a science-fiction story. Sort of. It’s set in a parallel 1984, that is more or less identical to the real 1984. Except for the two moons in the sky (that only a few people notice). It is about two people, a lonely young woman, and an aspiring novelist. And it is about a fantastical group of Little People who are trying to control the balance of good and evil in the world. 

Thursday 24 November 2011

Something to be thankful for


Monday 21 November 2011

Two Pronged Attack


When you write a story and then ask someone to read it and give you feedback, you are asking two things:

1. How well have I said the thing I’m trying to say?
2. Was it worth saying?

Obviously you can give an opinion on both of those, but in order to help the writer improve things, you may also want to offer some suggestions.

Friday 18 November 2011

Best Hyperbole Ever!

Two men each have a box. Both are selling tickets for a peek inside their box. Both make extravagant claims about how impressed you’ll be with what you’ll see. But neither is willing to tell you what they've got in there.

Roll up, roll up. The stupendous, astonishing, one in a lifetime, miracle in a box. Get your ticket here. Be the first to see what’s in the Box o’ Dreams.

Now, if I tell you that one man has got something pretty amazing in his box, and the other has half a dog turd, how can you tell which is the box worth buying a ticket for?

The answer is you can’t. It’s just as easy to make hyperbolic promises about something rubbish as it something awesome if you don’t have to back up your claims. So, if you happen to actually have something really cool in your box, how do you let people know you’re the real deal?

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Hey! What's the idea?


You come up with an idea. You like it. It’s a good idea. You start planning it out, or you just start writing, either way it’s going well. You like the characters and you like where they’re headed. And then you get about halfway and everything changes. Now it seems boring. Everything seems obvious or clichéd or incredibly tedious. The magic’s gone. Why? Where did it go?

There are three things I believe every story needs: premise, premise, premise.

I’m not talking about the logline, the pithy couple of lines that sum up the whole story in compact form, easy for drunk, cocaine-fuelled agents to digest between Thai massages. Loglines are a very useful selling tool, but they come at the end of the process. The premise is the idea you have at the start, that fires you up enough to write the story in the first place.

That idea you start out with can do a lot of the work to get you out of the mid-story slump. In order to do that it has to have more than a rough suggestion of what the story’s about. It needs one key ingredient.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Trying Too Hard To Impress


It’s always difficult to know if you’re good enough as a writer. You may have had some encouragement at school, some positive comments from people you know, maybe even support from other aspiring writer on the Internet. But until you have a genuine response from people who are willing to take a risk on you, whether it be agents, or publishers, or paying customers, there’s always going to be some doubt in your mind (unless you’re a sociopath, of course).

Obviously, you write better when you have confidence in what you’re doing. Even if the story doesn’t end up working, at least you enjoy the process. But how do you keep going those days everything you write seems like long-winded drivel and utter nonsense?

Monday 7 November 2011

Contrivances Aplenty


All stories are contrived. A story is carefully set up so the pieces  fall when they’re supposed to. In real life it doesn’t work like that. Murder’s go unsolved. Bank robbers get away. Bankers get even bigger bonuses. But we don’t read stories so we can see the world in its unfathomable weirdness that makes little sense (that’s what we have windows for).

The value ascribed to real life events are not the same when they are used by writers. In real life, winning the lottery is hugely unlikely. In a story it is very easy to arrange. That ability of the writer’s to make things happen any way he wants, can often derail a story if it is too obvious.

Any time you write down a story the reader is aware that there is a guiding hand behind the events, even if it’s only subconsciously. And knowing that is what enables you to keep the mechanics of what you’re doing hidden. Like in a magic trick, it isn’t stopping them seeing, it’s controlling where they look.

Thursday 3 November 2011

What can you learn from reading?


If nothing else, the experience of reading mounds of badly written fiction gave him an indelible lesson in exactly what constituted badly written fiction.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami

One of the most common advice to aspiring writers is to read. Read everything. This advice comes from everyone: writers, teachers, people in the street... Undoubtedly, if you want to write fiction, you should read fiction. In fact the reason you want to be a writer is probably because of stuff you’ve read. But exactly what are you supposed to glean from reading other people’s books? And how will it make you a better writer?
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