Sunday, 27 May 2012

Back on Track

I'm feeling uplifted this week.  It's not just the exceptionally fine weather which has sprung unexpectedly from the depths of a wintery deluge, although that doesn't hurt.  No, I've had something of a breakthrough in my thought processes.  For months my current WIP has been languishing in limbo, resisting all attempts to kick it into a shape fit for consumption.  My creativity has been stymied by indecision.  In the last month I dragged it out of mothballs and forced myself to rearrange the scenes.  This helped get me involved with it again but still the same doubts lingered. I know the story and don't want to change the plot significantly, but the structure wasn't right and I couldn't see how best to fix it.

As I mentioned last week I've been revisiting my old friend Dwight Swain, and his chapter on Beginnings, Middles and Ends pinged something in my recesses of my brain.  Thus inspired I have set to work on the editing - hopefully the final attempt, if this one doesn't crack it I will shelve this project for good and chalk it up to experience.  So now I'm feeling purposeful.  It's a bit like realising where you are when you've got lost.  I have a plan of progress to work to and it feels great.

Because I like to write.  When I don't write, because I'm stuck, I get anxious.  But sometimes it takes a prompt from somewhere unexpected to help get back on track.  That, for me, is the best use of How To Write books.  The good ones will fire your imagination and help negotiate tricky problems.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

What I'm Reading

This week I have been mostly reading:

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

I read this book yonks ago but what's alarming is I don't remember much of it.  Maybe it was too soon in my writerly development to make an impression.  Anyway, I saw it recommended recently and decided to revisit.  As you know, I'm something of a How to Write bookaholic - can't count how many I've devoured over the last ten years.

It's a relatively old book (first published 1965) but even taking that into account he gives sound advice on writing better stories, from structuring conflict  to developing workmanlike habits.  He stresses the importance of feeling in writing fiction, something that's easy to loose sight of when researching and becoming obsessed with facts.

Plotto by William Wallace Cook

Has been on my night stand for a few months.  It's another old book - 1928 this time - and is less a how to book than a catalogue of complications to help construct plots.  To be honest, I'm finding it hard to get into and haven't quite cracked the system he uses despite a couple of attempts.  Maybe I'll take it on holiday with me next month and give it my fuller attention.

The Secrets of eBook Publishing by Mark Coker

This is an easy to read guide by the founder of Smashwords.  Downloaded onto my Mac which means I can only read it in bite sized chunks, but a useful guide.

Think Like A Publisher by Dean Wesley Smith

Another How To guide, from publisher and author Smith.  Makes interesting reading on all aspects of setting yourself up as a publisher.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

More Internet Insanity

There's an old saying, "Nowt as queer as folk!" And if you hang around the internet for long enough you'll find it's no exaggeration.

This week I was tipped off on a writers' forum about a blog post where a self-published author had voiced some opinions on reviewing.  The forum post was clearly a call to arms because when I followed the link I found a dozen or more posts haranguing the poor woman for nothing worse than having an opinion.  How dare you, they cried as one, tell us how to voice our opinions.  Shame it never occurred to the nitwits they were doing the exact same thing.

Because we all have opinions and we all think we're right.  Maybe we are, maybe we aren't.  But unless we're putting a gun to someone's head and forcing them to do our will, where's the harm in it?  If you don't like a book or a blog or the colour of someone's hair, so what?  You're entitled to your opinion just as I'm entitled to ignore it.

The internet community is a funny place.  It is an unreal world peopled largely by creatures of our own imagining.  We put faces to these strangers based on the things they post - we begin to feel a connection or a revulsion depending on how well they match up to our own values, and it can feel oddly intimate considering it is nothing more than words over the ethernet.   For some individuals the internet should come with a health warning because that very anonymity brings out the worst in them.  I've blogged before about the groupthink effect on forums, but there are also trolls who no doubt see themselves as crusaders, ridding the internet of injustice, persecuting anyone whose ideas they dislike, stalking and spying in a way only previously found in Le Carre novels.  It's bizarre to the point of insane.  Isn't it enough for these people that they be allowed to voice their opinions?  Apparently not.  

I recently saw a discussion about whether Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's infamous magnum opus, should be republished in Germany.   I hadn't realised it was banned there until now, but it doesn't surprise me.  We have come to think of Nazism and fascism as synonymous, thanks to several decades of hefty propaganda.  But the fact is fascism is all around us and always has been.  It's in you and me.  Yes it is.  Whenever you want to delete a comment or ban a poster who has said something you don't like, that's fascism in action.  It's a human disease - intolerance.  But really, there is no need to ban or edit or delete anyone.  

Because they're just opinions, people.  They can't hurt you. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Do Books Change the World?

So, what are we writing for?  Can writing make a difference?  Or is it just entertainment?

Of course there are examples of non-fiction which has helped to shape and alter public opinion, but can fiction?

The danger of setting out to make a difference is you may fall into the trap of preaching which is one of the biggest reader turnoffs.  And fiction, like any art form, is only partially in the mind of the author.  Every reader will take something different from it, depending on their own attitudes.  Sometimes they will even take something that was never intended, had never even occurred to the author.  Is that a bad thing?  Is there a right and wrong interpretation of a book?  I don't think so.

All we can ever do at any given moment is be true to our own vision of the story.  After it goes out into the world it's up to the reader to decide what we are trying to say.  So our sweet love story may be seen as a scathing indictment of the class system, our edgy thriller a critique of modern day morality.  It's in the eye of the beholder and not completely under our control.

So I think fiction can make a difference but usually unintentionally.  Readers are too many and varied a group to react identically to the same story.  Of course, in times of change a novel can capture the zeitgeist of the moment and become emblematic, for example Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  But such instances are rare and unpredictable.