Monday, 20 February 2012

Hello. This is the start.

It’s time to start writing some stuff about my writing. I’m just about two-thirds of the way into writing a novel. It’s very exciting because I usually start writing with what I think is a great idea and then after about 10,000 words I kind of tail off and the story languishes. There are, I think, a couple of reasons for this.

1. Thinking ahead. I become bored with the story because I know what’s going to happen.
2. Time. It’s difficult to devote enough time to writing when writing and editing is your main job - it just feels like homework.

So, why have I got further this time? Dunno, but I suspect that it’s because I think the story is so good, and the moments of transition are so novel, that I’m actually excited about letting people read it. I want to know if people think it’s as clever as I do. Also, though I have plotted this thing to within an inch of its life, I left gaps in the structure for the free flow of the kind of ideas that just seem to emerge from your fingers as you type, so there are still elements of surprise for me which can have an impact later because the broader structure is still quite flexible.

The last thing that has sustained me has been the complexity. Now, I am writing a very simple story about curiosity, but in order for it to work I have to construct a culture - complete with a novel mythology about its own origins - that works, and this means thinking about everything that might exist within that culture. It’s not enough to say what the characters had for lunch, I wanted to know where it came from, whether the culture could sustain it as a product and what happened to the waste. Who cooked? What did they eat off? Often I used a combination of finding stuff out in books or the internet, talking with family and friends, or just making it up as I went along (oh, the glories of inventing your own society).

And so I began writing this by walking around with the story in my head for a couple of years, thinking through the plot points, lines of dialogue and issues that need to be solved within the culture before writing down any notes. Once I had the whole story sorted in my head, I started plotting the lead character’s path through the events, writing down a single sentence to sum up each chapter (told you it was a simple story) and then thinking about how she would find out about things, and - a more challenging proposition - relate these events in her writing.

There are some particular problems which I have to negotiate and chief among these is the difficulty of adding surprise to an epistolary novel that is being written by a young girl because 'she' doesn't have the same sense of pace that I have. Therefore, if she discovers one day that her house has been ransacked by thieves, then that's the first thing she will relate. It won't be:

"I came home after eating out with Barry. The food was OK, but Barry kept going on about jazz music - as though I was actually interested - and eventually some tiresome anecdote about Dizzy Gillespie made me want to chew my own face off. So I cried off a little early. Ever the gentleman he walked me home, and ever the lady, I offered a kiss on the cheek in thanks. When I walked through the door, I noticed the chair in the hall had been tipped over and all the lights - including Dad's never extinguished desk lamp - were out."

But more like.

"We've been robbed. I don't know what's gone, but there's no one else here so I called Dad and told him to come home. If I'd left the cafe earlier, I might have disturbed whoever was in here. Might be dead."

So each chapter, or significant section, has to begin with the big information, then a follow up with context or colour. Difficult.

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