I am supposed to be in the shower as I write this, getting ready for work, but am very much in the mood for writing instead.
I was having a conversation last night, trying to convince someone that they shouldn’t give up on their fiction writing simply because of their initial difficulties. Especially as the person in question is quite a talented writer and really should keep at it.
One of the techniques I suggested, and it is one I have used myself, is that of world building. In my instance, with regard to the non-nano novel I have been writing/percolating over the years, I had fleshed out a basic premise of the world in question (it doesn’t matter if the world is historical, fantasy or contemporary, you need to understand what makes the world of yours unique, no matter how subtle that may be).
One of the exercises I then, and still occasionally do, undertook was to write small snatches of profiles, characters, conversations and miscellaneous observations of people going about their lives within the context of the world. These could be brief, no more than a few sentences, or even stretch out to the status of a short story. And they do not have to linked to the main story in question, but they do in some way have to shed light on to it or the world it inhabits.
There are multiple benefits (for me) to this approach:
- I begin to build the flavour and tone of the world I will be writing in
- these brief description of everydayness can lead to quite interesting and complex insights and developments of the world; cultural, environmental, etcetera etc.
- they allow the opportunity to play with writing without pressure, playing often gives the best opportunity for creativity
- they can contribute to your main story both directly and indirectly
- they allow you to develop a sense of reality, that the world exists in the background as a fully functioning entity and not merely as a setting for your plot
- it familiarises you with the act of writing about and in that context, making the writing for the main story easier
- it gives you a ready built platform to develop your story within, whilst allowing you the freedom to change and develop the themes of your world as you write
- you need only write to the timescales and availability that you have; if you have ten minutes, write something small and inconsequential, etc. It all adds up.
- it is simply good fun and good exercise for both your creative and writing ‘muscles’
Another element of this is research, and this much more true for those writing contemporary, near-contemporary or historical novels. This activity builds your world/world-view and grounds it in a sense of reality.
Many authors seem to world-build, JK Rowling and Steven Erikson are but two I can name off the top of my head, both developing a massive amount of source material from which they draw from. William Gibson displays a huge passion for pop culture (amongst a bewildering array of other interests), much of what he absorbs having influence on both the content and style of his writing.
Another sugegstion I would make is to be widely read. The more you understand and know about this world, the more real/fantastical you can make your world. The vast complex beast of interdependency, knowledge, social, cultural and environmental context, physcial and chemical laws, religious frameworks, etc provide a set of ‘rules’ and ‘behaviours’ as to how a world works, and you can manipulate that to make yours as strong and in-depth as you wish (and need) it to be.
Another alternative is to simply write. As many an author/writer will attest to, there are no truly right ways in this game, whatever suits your temperament and style is what is best for you.
I am now going to get in the shower, and will no doubt spend the day wishing I was here at home (or in the cafe) writing.
I am currently reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography and am finding it very interesting indeed.
One of the themes that is explored is that photography is, by its very nature, disassociative from its subject. She argues, quite compellingly, that in the quest for the image one removes oneself from the activity(ies) that are the subject of the photograph and rather than being a participant, one becomes an observer and commentator both.
A little while back I was listening to Radio 4′s excellent the Write Stuff (or was it … never mind, I can’ remember) where an author was talking about writing. One of the most interesting points he made was that once you had made the conscious decision to become a writer, everything you experienced from that point was viewed as potential material for writing. The world, instead of being a place in which you exist, becomes a place of material.
Writing and photography (and any art, arguably) requires a level of disassociation from the environment around the artist. Everything is observed, viewed, noted, photographed, remembered, weighed, considered and stored. The act of involvement becomes one of consideration, the act of remembrance becomes one of creativity. As writers and photographers we take what we have experienced and known, draw upon it, link it with experimentation and fantasy, and from this create something new (if not to the world then at least to ourselves).
Ten years ago I took up photography and now, invariably and subconsciously, I view the world through the eyes of a photographer. Since I have restarted writing, after a long absence, I have also begun to view it as such. The world has morphed from being an experience to being a potent source of inspiration and creativity.
The act of taking a photograph disassociates you from the scene. Consciously you begin to interpret the activity, forming and forcing it to fit the constraints of your creativity. The camera pressed against your eye defines your view on the world and, by its nature, removes you from it. You remove yourself from it by the act.
Writing is a solitary function, requiring a level of solitude, both physically and mentally, to allow that process to take place. Writing forces your eye downwards, obscuring the world with your preoccupation. More than that, when you are out and about, you will no doubt find yourself cataloguing conversations and situations, wondering how you will best use them when you come once again to keyboard or pen. Both are forms of disassociative observation, one more immediate than the other.
Do we lose something in this? Perhaps we lose that spontaneity of experience, without ulterior motive. Perhaps we become to considered, too intellectual, too bound by our art. This is the nature of humanity and specialisation, that we consider the world in light of our endeavours.
We, publicly or privately, practise our art, removed and yet part of the collective whole. We become more aware, and by that awareness become less involved; we become more observational, more judgmental and more critical. The world around is is weighed, and that which is worthy is photographed or written about. That which isn’t… isn’t.
Yet there is a prize for this disassociation. Like the shaman we place ourselves at a crossroads, we take on the burden of being the medium between worlds and interpret them accordingly. Becoming a writer or photographer, like any artistic endeavour, is a choice that we alone can make. It defines us and our world, just as we define ourselves and the world with it.
Cross-published at www.fabergemonkey.com
I think that is a redundant ‘co’, but never-mind.
I’ve just been reading an excellent article, the Wives of Great Male Authors, looking at the relationship (often male ‘dominated’ or led) where the wife of a famous, successful male author is often the inspiration and organiser both for that success. They often act as anything from sounding-boards all the way up to co-authors in their own right, albeit without the sharing of that credit.
Other than the main thrust of the article there are two main themes that interested me; that sharing of talent to create something that works, and that genius or talent often isn’t enough.
I can’t imagine writing with someone to that degree, I really wouldn’t know where to start, and frankly, I think I am a little too possessive and protective of what I do. Very much something I will have to learn to let go of as my novels develop and readers come on board to test and criticise and push the boundaries of what I write.
The other factor is one I have always been aware and, all too often, sadly deficient in. No matter how good I am (or am perceived to be) at writing, it means nothing without organisation, hard work and discipline. Luckily, through Twitter and NaNoWriMo I have met a number of writers and now follow a number of authors whose example and encouragement has resulted in a steady growth in my development in this area. Inspiration all. It would certainly be interesting to find out how much of their success and endeavour is the result of the support of another, and how much of it is solitary in nature.
Debra of DebraKreps.com recently sent me a link to this blog post from iso50.com, looking at the various tactics 25 top creative types use to overcome writer’s block or to get themselves out of a rut. It makes an interesting read, and I use a number of them myself.
One of the best places for me to generate ideas or mull over current ones is the shower. I love the shower. If I ever win the lottery or make it big as an author I will build a state of the art shower with a waterproof keyboard and screen so that, when inspiration strikes, I can get it down there and then. The number of times I have stumbled out of the bathroom, looking for a pen and paper…
People watching. There is nothing like getting out and about, seeing humanity in full flow. Sitting in a cafe or bar is another great way to people watch; good coffee, tea, cake and people. And not just watching, listening too. I also like to make up conversations between people that I can see but not hear. Great fun, although, if there are two of you doing this, it can descend to the gutter if you are not careful
Ironing. I rarely iron. But when I do, I invariably end up thinking up all sorts of things and ideas, especially if the radio or music is on.
Going for a walk can be a great way to generate ideas, especially if you make a point of trying to notice details and situations. These can spark ideas and extrapolations like you wouldn’t believe. I like to listen to music when I do this, having the real world drowned out by the music seems to focus my mind and visual concentration.
Of course, reading is a great way to get out of a rut. Somebody else’s ideas, style and energy can transform, challenge or inspire you. Sometimes stepping out of your head into someone else’s takes you away from your problems, and leaves you refreshed and capable.
Finally, doing something or going somewhere different can also be a fantastic source of inspiration. There is a whole world of experience out there to explore and tapping into it is a must. Writing, by its nature, is a solitary introspective endeavour, translating experience, imagination and self into something different and engaging. Going out into the world, with new experiences that force you to reconsider, challenge and redefine yourself, can only be a good thing.
How do you reinvigorate your creativity?
As a (mostly) devoted fan of Tanith Lee and CJ Cherryh I have almost always been awed by their ability to adapt and change their writing style to suit their subject matter. Two stories/books of theirs (Night’s Master and the Morgaine Saga (oh, and the Faded Sun Trilogy) respectively) are extremely good examples of this ability to change style. Another I quite like, and not to everyone’s taste, is Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The language perfectly suits, compliments and enhances the central themes of the story.
What these books have in common is the utilisation, application and integrity of writing style, grammar and language, perfectly suiting the subject matter, the story and the environment.
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, from all eras and from lots of different influences. A lot of it is bad, much is good and some are awesome. In many cases, the author’s ability to apply a distinctive flavour of style and language is what elevates the story above the ordinary (although not always successfully).
We (as in the collective writer community) all have a writing style, influenced by our upbringing, our reading and our writing. Often, as we develop and mature in our writing the style will change too, and it may change from story to story, adapting to suit as necessary. This is an important tool in the writer’s armoury, not just a mature strong style, unique in flavour, but the ability to flex it as and when it is appropriate to do so.
I have been experimenting with my style. I do write with different styles, as I write poetry, haiku, tanka, short stories and flash fiction, and, although the flavour may remain the same, the style can differ, it is something I consciously work at.
This week I wrote a scene I have had in mind for the third story (mentioned in an earlier post) in a very different style, choosing and using language consistent with the feel I was trying to impart. And, to some extent, it seems to have worked. Yes, the piece is rushed and needs re-writing and polishing and grinding and more polishing and… well, you understand where I am going with this. But I am happy with it, as it is a major shift in style and I like what I have done with it. I loved the experience and as a style I found it quite interesting and fairly easy to write in.
So, this story will continue, containing the essence of style, of language, of feel, that I want. I am looking forward to continuing the experience.
For several years now I have had several stories floating around in my head (haven’t we all?).
I was very pleased with what I had written but I was also distinctly dissatisfied, an unusual place to be some third of the way through the story. Essentially, whilst it had organically grown to incorporate several strong (and a couple of weak) story threads it had lost the ambience/feel that I was after, and the main theme at the heart of the story had been submerged by all the rest of it.
This weekend I had a good think about what I had written and decided to split the story into two stories, retaining the elements that best reflect the story as I originally envisaged it (provisionally named ‘As Yet Untitled’. Yes, I know.).
The rest will fairly easily flow into another story I have been tinkering with over the last couple of years and, in fact, will help solve a couple of plot issues I had with it. All good.
So why the change?
I wanted AYU to have a contemporary and yet fantastical feel to it, without straying into ‘fantasy’. Unfortunately it had quite strongly done so, which very much weakened both the contemporary and fantastical threads I wanted to convey. Now I can do so with an easier mind and more opportunity to develop the central themes and plotlines.
This also allows me to recycle some of the other stronger and (hopefully) more inspired plotlines and characters into the other story, where they better fit with the fantasy environment they so obviously deserve.
The upshot is, having spent the last couple of months since NaNo in a bit of a funk, I am feeling that I can now focus on writing, and writing to a end goal that I can now see, having cleared away the obstacles and set the path.
Let the writing commence…