Using what you know

When I first started writing my novel I wondered whether or not I should base some of my characters on real people. I thought there might be real justification for doing this because drawing from an actual person should logically yield realistic character traits.

Nevertheless, I soon decided implanting alternate versions of people I knew into my manuscript felt like an unnatural fit to my particular story (this may have something to do with the Victorian setting) and besides, whilst drifting off into my own thoughts during my daily routine, I soon dreamed up a cast list which complimented my setting and plot nicely.

What I did decide to transpose into my work further along the line however, was fictionalised versions of real world locations.

I suppose it could be argued nearly every setting in a book is a fictionalised version of a place the author knows, but what I’m specifically talking about here is thinking of a place matching the environment of a particular sequence, and then spending time on your own in said place with the sole intention of improving your descriptions. Once you’re sat comfortably you can listen to the location’s sounds, make notes on any wildlife, work out how the weather interplays with the scenery and jot down anything else you think might help transport the reader there.

For example, at one point in my story some of my characters have a conversation in a springtime coppice and, after visiting a similar place myself, I found the scene much easier to bring to life. If I compare my initial draft to what I came out with after spending time in the real deal, the difference in quality is significant.

Of course, I’m aware this might not be possible for all stories; a sci-fi book set in a futuristic space station or on an alien planet etc, but hopefully an interesting nugget nonetheless.

As always, related comments and tips welcomed!

August 26, 20128 Comments

Music and prose

Following several interesting discussions sparked off by my first blog on writing process, I thought I’d have a crack at writing a second. What I’d like to reflect upon here is how useful I’ve found assigning particular songs to certain sequences, settings or even whole chapters of my novel.

I first tried this because I wanted to create a kind of reference point for the feel of some of my scenes; a way of standardising say, a certain location’s mood or the mindset of a particular character. It seemed like a decent enough idea and, once I’d decided on a suitable selection of tracks for a sequence, I always made sure to have a quick listen through any time I wanted to add anything more to said sequence, hopefully preventing myself from accidentally bolting on any tonally dissimilar sentences.

However, I soon realised music could do more for my work than just help with continuity.

I think everybody’s experienced that moment when a familiar song comes on and you’re instantly reminded of how you felt when you first heard it; I know when I hear tracks from Echo Park by Feeder, I suddenly feel as sad as I did at the end of the book I was reading when I bought the album (Watership Down). I mention this because, as I began carefully allocating scene A with track list B, I started to realise a lot of the older songs in my music library put me in the precise mental state I’d been in when I’d first listened to them during my teenage years.

Now, a lot of teenagers have an incredible amount to deal with and dredging some of that back up could perhaps be considered a bad idea, but upon taking the plunge myself, I recognised I’d discovered a priceless writing tool.

Let me explain a little bit more. The two main characters in my YA novel are, unsurprisingly, teenagers and having not been one for a while, I was sometimes finding it difficult to work out how certain events in the plot might affect them. In rediscovering some of my older music, I realised I’d stumbled upon a valuable window into how I’d felt during the more testing times (but comparatively meagre in the grand scheme) I had gone through as a teenager; insecurity, break ups, cancelation of my favourite TV show etc.

So, the point is, I was suddenly able to construct more realistic reactions and responses to some of the more emotive events that occur throughout my plot, simply because my old music could reminded me of how I’d felt and thought during similar, albeit far less extreme, situations. It really was somewhat of a revelation.

Anyway, if anybody else does something similar, or has any other writing tips to share for that matter, I’d love to hear.

August 2, 201213 Comments

The flash fiction game

Everyone experiences the occasional morning where it’s less than effortless to start working, so I thought I’d share a fun little exercise I sometimes try when I’m finding it difficult to get the creative juices flowing.

I call it the flash fiction game and the rules are simple: write a story in ten words or less, in ten minutes or less. Here’s my attempt from this morning …

 

‘Daddy, Nemo’s changed colour again!’

 

I think the best flash stories are ones that once read, take a moment to reveal their meaning prompting an ‘oh …’ type reaction from the reader when they (hopefully) get it.

Whilst I’m sure I’m not the first person to come up with such an activity, I have personally found the game to be a great way of jump-starting my brain into writing gear on days when I’m a bit slow off the mark.

If you fancy giving it a go please let me know what you come up with!

July 21, 20123 Comments

Away from the glare

Having just started work on the final chapters of my novel, I thought this first post would be an ideal place for me to discuss an aspect of my writing process that could perhaps be considered a tad odd: the large amount of work I do away from the glare of the computer screen.

I’m not talking about jotting things down in a notepad (although I have spent a good slice of my time doodling away over the past few months), I mean ‘writing’ when I’m cooking, watering the plants or even when I’m walking the dog. The detached mindset I find myself drifting in and out of during these mundane periods seems to be the perfect state in which to let my subconscious sketch out plot developments, assign character traits and patch up those troublesome plot holes.

Once my dinner is incinerated, I’ve virtually drowned a potted plant or I’m stood with the dog in the middle of nowhere, I usually snap back to reality having gained something really exciting to add to my manuscript. It’s now getting to the stage where the actual act of writing is often just a case of connecting the dots my wandering mind has already mapped out before me.

Whilst this system might be considered a somewhat fluffy and time consuming way of doing things, I think it’s good for anyone who works at a computer to get away from the desk fairly regularly. I’ve noticed my work severely plummets in quality if I stay rooted to a chair for too long.

Anyway, I can’t help but wonder if I’m alone in using this head in the clouds style method of writing, or if it’s something that lots of other people do too?

Maybe I just have a terrible attention span – let me know what you think.

July 18, 20123 Comments