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Archive for the ‘good writing’ Category

Over Christmas, in the normal lazy Christmas traditions, I was lolling around in my pyjamas watching wonderful films and drinking excessive amounts of wine, as one does. About halfway through When Harry Met Sally, during the scene where Harry and Sally are singing ‘Surrey with a Fringe on Top’ into a karaoke machine, I had a minor revelation:

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

I am probably stating something really obvious, but if it’s obvious to others, it’s not something I’ve thought about extensively before. There’s the scene with the karaoke machine, when Harry bumps into his ex-wife and her new partner. The purpose of this scene is to show the audience that Harry isn’t over his ex-wife, and that he’s embarrassed to be seen with Sally in this situation.

This scene could have taken place at any time and in any place: Harry could have been walking down the street, alone, on any nondescript evening. But, no: he’s having  a great day with his best friend, and he’s doing something which is a lot of fun, until he sees himself through his ex’s eyes and shrivels up with embarrassment. What’s more, the sheer contrast between the mood at the beginning of the scene and at the end is striking.

The writers have put the characters in a situation which is doing as much work to push the story forward as possible: we learn so much about Harry’s feelings for Sally, his feelings for Helen (and Ira), and the friendship between Sally and Harry, all because the scene takes place within a situation which can draw out these revelations, and showing not telling the audience.

At no point does Harry need to say ‘Gosh, I feel so awkward that Helen has a new partner and I am still messing about on karaoke machines with my mates.’  He doesn’t need to say this because the audience see it perfectly, mainly because of the choices made by the writers.

I think that’s very clever, and I hope to use this little lesson in my writing. Any other examples you can think of?

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Ponderings

I wanted to write a story about a young boy with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, but I soon realised that the story couldn’t be about the boy with synaesthesia, but it should be a story in which things happened to a boy who happened to have synaesthesia.

Now that I have drafted half of the story, I’m beset by worries. What role is this synaesthesia playing in the story? Is it adding anything to the story itself, or is it just getting in the way of the action? The rule is generally that if something isn’t pushing the story forwards and there for a reason, it shouldn’t be in the story, right? And in that way, would it be better for the story if I just cut out the synaesthesia completely?

But I loved that character, and the way he tasted words. Perhaps he belongs in a different story, one where the words are more important, but it’s a story I can’t think of right now.

I’m feeling a little bit of a rubbish writer today.

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After a couple of years of listening to people moan about how terrible The Twilight Saga was, I caved last year and borrowed my sister’s copy of the first novel. I read it within 24 hours, ostensibly to that nobody needed to see me reading it in public. I was interested in why it was so popular, when people said the writing was so bad.

So, I read it cover-to-cover in a very short space of time, and yes, it’s full of cliché and awkward sentences, the protagonist is irritatingly self-obsessed, completely stupid, moany and selfish… and most of the criticism you’ve heard about the books is probably true.

BUT… I read the second book. And then I watched the first two films. And I read the online pdf of Midnight Sun. And, next time I go home, I will probably borrow the third book from my sister. And I know exactly why.

Stephanie Meyer has demonstrated a couple of things to me. One is that a fantastic idea sometimes trumps excellent writing. Another is that people absolutely relish a story of forbidden love. As an example, here is a little summary of why I enjoyed the first two books:

Bella and Edward love each other but aren’t able to act upon it (unrequited love – tick, unresolved sexual tension – triple tick). When they’re finally able to start a relationship, things happen which get in the way (barriers to love – tick). Edward spends a lot of time trying to resist temptation, and eventually abandons Bella, so they’re both unhappy (more unrequited love). Jacob comes along (yet more unrequited love, AND a liberal dash of will-they-won’t-they). At the same time as all this is happening, Bella keeps getting herself into stupid situations, and Edward has to come and rescue her (damsel in distress, heroic Byronic hero unashamedly inspired by Mr Darcy).

I mean… come on! Meyer’s a genius. If I want something mindless, romantic and comforting to read or watch, I would probably consider The Twilight Saga.  She’s cornered the market on modern romance novels by putting everything we could possibly dream of into the books.

And although people are still criticising the books (often rightfully), there is a slow trickle of articles heading the other way. An article in the Guardian today suggests that some of the criticism of the novels is unfounded, and one of my favourite writing websites, The Blood-Red Pencil, has a blog post about how we can learn from techniques in Meyer’s writing, and which says everything I’ve tried to say here a little bit clearer.

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For me, the best writing identifies something absolutely true and right, but which I’d never realised before. When I read it, I think ‘Of course! I knew that. I always knew that.’

Some writers can highlight a fact you hadn’t previously consciously processed, but which always hovered on the edges of your consciousness. When you read their work, you feel like they’re showing you the whole world for the first time.

They’re not huge, life-changing theories, but tiny little observations and comparisons that I feel like I’ve known instinctively all my life, but which I’d never be able to coherently write down.

Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I can’t think of any examples right now, but as soon as I come across one I’ll write about it.

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