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The Writing Process

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It may sound obvious but I’ll say it anyway. Reading is vital for the writer. Not just reading books of the same genre as you intend writing about. That is just going to lead to another ‘same-as-all-the-other’ books in that genre. By reading a variety of genres the writer picks up aspects of each genre that they can weave into their book. After all they are writing a book, telling a story…not a genre.

For example a fantasy story will have, woven into it aspects of love, comedy, mystery etc. Where best to learn how to write these threads well but from the masters of that genre. Reading books about writing are on the list too but, in my case, I do not put them higher than the stories themselves. Books on writing are really just books that could be titles ‘This is how I did it…(author’s name). They can offer ideas to the writer but I doubt anyone will end up following one of these books like a sort of recipe.

Sadly, some authors do fall into the genre-writing trap. It’s easy to do. Take a bestseller and break it back down into its outline plan. Then replace the characters and settings etc with similar but new ones. You will end up with a book or even a series of books but they will always be judged for what they are…copies.

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So much has been produced about the nature of writing and what it takes to be a good author that it is easy to fall into the trap of of seeing the act of writing a book, poem or short story as being almost holy. That to presume to write creatively without the proper ‘credentials’ (whatever they may be – but there is a long list) would be naive and over-ambitious.

To summon up the idea of an author in your mind is often to summon up the names of well-known published writers who have bestsellers to their name. One does not usually associate bad authors with the title at all.

Add to all this, the busy lives we lead and the lack of time left to write and there is a very real danger that many would-be writers, like myself, would never actually…well…write.

I am not suggesting that this point of view is in any way endorsed by published authors themselves. Those authors I have been privileged to meet or watch have been down to earth people. Sometimes a little shy in public but who view writing as a more rugged process. One in which the writer needs to roll up his or her sleeves in order to do it.

Of course there is a lot to learn in the background and mistakes that will be made but you do not learn to swim without getting wet or ride a bike without ever getting on one (and falling off many times, probably). In the same way, you write to learn how to write. Or rather to learn how YOU will write as it is different for everyone. Roald Dahl wrote in a shed for most of his career on a piece of wood propped over his lap. J.K.Rowling would pop down to the corner cafe and spend hours there, filling countless¬† secretary’s notepads with the stories of Harry Potter. Some start with an overview, others hate the idea and start with an event or situation, such as Stephen King, moving the story onwards with countless ‘what if’ type questions. These ideas were not gleaned from books or YouTube videos. Through the act of writing, the authors gradually found ways to make that process their own.

They grabbed the bull by the horns.

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Two nights ago I took a small section of the story that I had roughly outlined it my head. It consists of a flashback¬† to a key event in the main protagonist’s childhood that is very significant for him. In bed I simply told myself the story. No paper, no pen or pencil, no software. Just my inner voice. As the story unraveled from its outline bud into a new leaf I was pleasantly surprised by some of the imagery and metaphors that cropped up. The scene is quite a tragic scene and I decided it worked best – naturally – in the first person as a recollection. This gave a more powerful combination of outward description and inner voice so that the audience (me) was getting bombarded with input from all sides aimed at eliciting the right emotions.

Yesterday I decided to write the segment up as a short piece – around 2,000 words. This was purely an exercise. I wanted to just throw it down into written format without too much criticism. There was no attempt to redraft at this stage. Just to give my story element on-screen ‘flesh’. After about an hour I sat looking at it in black and white on the computer screen before me. I haven’t even read it yet. I wanted to sleep on it first. Besides, that was not the point of the exercise. Leonardo da Vinci once said that the most terrifying thing was a blank piece of paper and he was right. I needed to know that I could overcome that barrier and write something – anything creative.

I will go back and check it through as a first draft should be checked. If I am honest, should I end up scrapping it all it would not matter. The task of writing was the target here. However, I doubt that will happen. the scene is critical and there are at least some parts of what I wrote down that I like enough to want to keep in some form or another.

I also found that my characters drove the story along. There were some emotional moments where I almost just watched what they did and described it rather than make them do it. All in all I was happy with my first ‘plunge’ and would have no problem getting in the water again.

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Today I want to start on a rough outline of my antagonist. In so doing it has prompted me to think about the nature of evil in literature and other media. I thought back with a smile to the handlebar twiddling character of Dick Dastardly from Hanna Barbara’s ‘Wacky Races’ in the 60s. Sure the character was successful enough to get his own spin off series, ‘Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines’ when all the other racing cars had been sold off at auctions. But evil? Terrifying? No! Along with millions of others I found his antics laughable. He was an animated pantomime villain and we know that they are as scary as party balloons.

Cruella Deville had more promise. She started off well then somehow became laughable near the end of Disney’s ‘101 Dalmatians’. I think the reason for this was that she became more and more outwardly evil as she went along until, by the end, she was as much a panto villain as Dastardly himself. What a couple they would’ve made…although I don;t think Muttley would have lasted long do you?

Image‘Eve tempted by the serpent’ by William Blake

True evil is first written about in the Bible. The serpent in Eden is not demonstrative. Never angry or obviously evil. It befriends Eve and coaxes her to work against her better judgement or conscience. Maybe my evil character has to be forever in the background causing terrible events and yet outwardly good, kind, persuasive and beautiful.

Then I thought of the idea of having two such female characters so that the reader is placed in the same position as the protagonists for a while at least, unsure as to which character is causing this, A, B or maybe even both working together.

This would mean that in the middle of my story there was a whodunnit and that appealed to me.

At the moment I feel that I am making a jigsaw, and even then only some key pieces. But each piece I make causes me to want to see the whole picture more.