November 2007


I mentioned the other day that following the rules of writing won’t necessarily make you a success. I thought I might share this piece of advice from my editor, received just yesterday. This is in response to a question I had asked him on whether I should delete a cliché, “hungry as a bear” that a character uses in one scene in Heart of Hythea.

He wrote:

Not at all. Sometimes you have to ignore all these so-called rules of fiction writing (never use “really”, never use “that”, never use a cliché). They are usually made up by people who think they know enough about writing to teach others how to do it, but they rarely do know much, and often have never even had fiction published (too many writing manuals are written by people you’ve never heard of). Basically, if it works, use it.

Enough said I think.

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No updates forthcoming until I get over this nasty case of strep throat.

It’s easy to wonder, with some of the dreck that gets published, how some authors manage to turn out best seller after best seller. Some of it, to be sure, is due to the frustrating habit that people have of seeking out the familiar. But there is more to it than that.

These authors possess the ability to move people, to stir their emotions, and get them caught up the world of the author’s creation.

You don’t have to be a technically accomplished writer to do this, and do it well. In fact, getting hung up on the fine points can be counterproductive.

What you do have to have is…

Heart.

I try to infuse heart into my work. To do this successfully I have to be writing on things I feel strongly about. That is where the hidden theme becomes a useful tool. Heart of Hythea is about a girl who is chosen by the gods to do their bidding. It is full of adventure and romance. But within that framework I can address a lot of issues that are important to me, and (on a good day, at least) do it transparently. Things like honour and responsibility, slavery and freedom. The trick is to make the story engaging, and let the hidden themes percolate underneath, giving depth and meaning to the events beyond the confines of the action.

My characters are gaining personalities. One has become painfully shy. The heroine has a relationship with his brother. The conflict, taking place in the first chapter, involves these three young people, an assault, and a case of mistaken identity. Hopefully this initial bit of excitement will hook the reader (if they haven’t been already–this is the fourth book in the series, after all.)

A word on plot. I am writing a series of books, so I have to write stories that work on a number of levels. There is the story that begins and ends within each book. There are main characters, conflict and a satisfying resolution within this framework. THEN there is the big story that stretches over the course of the four books. It also has main characters (some different,) a much larger conflict and a resolution that wraps up all the loose ends from all four books (a tall order.) In addition to this there are the hidden themes that I incorporate into each book.

More about that next time.

Yesterday afternoon I decided that the procrastination had gone on long enough.  I started on Beyond the Gyre.  Managed to get four pages written before I had to cook dinner.  This book takes place fifteen years after the closing events of Birth of the Dawnmaid.  Characters that were merely babies and children are now the protagonists/antagonists and the parents, who were the main characters in the last book have joined the second tier.  Sort of like real life actually.

It will take me a little while to get into the heads of these new characters.  I have to think, alot, about how they will speak and move and behave generally.  Even though I know how the story will develop, in general terms.  I don’t do a huge amount in the way of outlining before I start.  Just a sketchy chapter by chapter synopsis.  It often changes as I am writing–new ideas occur to me, or things I believed would work just don’t for whatever reason.

I work quite linearly.  That is the best thing for me, but I know other writers who start in the middle and work backwards and forwards.

I have a long way to go, but it is something just to have started.

I spent some time yesterday editing Ketha’s Daughter, instead of getting started on Book IV, which will be called Beyond the Gyre. I always have trouble with the first chapter of a book, just because it is the beginning of such a huge time investment. Not that I don’t enjoy writing, I do! But editing is something that can be done in little chunks, whereas writing, at least for me, is best accomplished in marathon sessions. Usually six to eight hours a day when doing the first draft. My family gets heartily sick of it, I can tell you.

But all this procrastinating won’t get me anywhere.

I did want to mention one of the best editing tools out there though–the human voice. When I finished Heart of Hythea, and I wanted to find out what people thought of it, I put it out chapter by chapter as a podcast on I tunes. It was a lot of fun to do, and it was downloaded by a few thousand people, some of whom did indeed leave helpful comments.

But the main advantage was that as I was recording the text and listening to the playback I found it was much easier to pick out awkward sentences and find places where the narrative did not flow well. Reading out loud works too, but not as well as listening to playback.

I continue to read my work and record it, but I haven’t done another podcast. Yet.
In case any of you are wondering how I manage to write when there is the chaos of a full household going on all around me, then I will give you the answer–headphones and music. Sometimes classical; right now I am listening to Bedrich Smetana’s String Quartet #1 in E minor. More often I listen to popular music sung in languages other than English. That way it provides a nice background, without me being distracted by words I know, and wanting to sing along. My favorites at the moment are Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Morten Harket.

EdmundMusic however does not prevent me from being distracted by the cat–a large fluffy Maine Coon called Edmund. He keeps stepping on the keyboard and trying to bite me so I had better get him something to eat!

My Angel I spent the morning yesterday happily tramping around a couple of local public cemeteries with my digital camera, looking for angels.  Originally I had chosen a picture on Flickr to use for my book cover, but when I wrote the photographer asking for her permission she refused it, citing privacy concerns.  I did kind of wonder why she put the picture up on Flickr in the first place, but never mind that.  The picture was of an angel, and after she turned me down, I decided I would just go out and find my own .

The first cemetery yielded a few, mostly crumbling, subjects.  I took some shots at differing angles, but I wasn’t getting the look I wanted.  I drove across town to the Southern cemetery, and spent another hour wandering.  Then I saw her–my angel.  Standing alone, on a high plinth, her delicately chiseled features shone radiantly in the morning sun.  I took about fifty pictures.  Once back at my computer, I looked at all of them.  Strangely enough, it was the very last one that turned out to be the most suitable for the cover of Heart of Hythea.  Now I am glad that couldn’t use the Flickr photo.  I am so much happier with my own beautiful angel, and with the knowledge I captured her beauty by myself.

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