Creative Writing, Different Approaches

A writer works on a manuscript, with or without a plan. The writer learns more about the character during the writing project. The plot seems to flow naturally, without any hint of contrivance. Afterwards, the reader could reasonably wonder if originally the writer had originally taken advice such as: “just begin the writing and see where that takes you.”

Consider an alternative approach. Tight plot, careful structure, little time for introspection. Here, the writer may even have mapped out story events before writing a word.

Two distinct approaches. So which one is right – introspection or projection?

Obviously, each writer will favour one over the other. I tend to favour introspection and atmosphere, not to mention immediacy, but often my plotting will require further attention. I suppose each writer must concentrate more on her/his weaker approach without losing the overall original voicing resulting from the stronger approach.

Just a few of my thoughts.

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Writing Fiction: A Mundane Task?

I would never describe creative writing as mundane, as if something’s mundane, it can’t possibly be creative.  The word task doesn’t feel right either. However, a larger creative writing project, like a novel, requires a great deal of revision and pruning, and these processes sometimes become tiring and mundane.

I’m at the polishing stage in my current novel, a psychological thriller. Making minor adjustments. Removing redundancies. Making sure dialogue remains true to the character viewpoint.  At times, I miss the simplicity of story telling – i.e. writing a piece from scratch and seeing where the writing takes me.  Maybe, at some point in the future, I will get the chance to start a new novel.

In the meantime, till next time.

 

 

Creative Writing: Linking Emotions And Atmosphere To Solid Objects

In my last article, I blogged about the use of the Pathetic Fallacy in fiction, explaining why I like to see it in some circumstances, especially as it can help develop psychological tension in thrillers.  In particular, I like storm weather scenes as long as they are done properly. I also like the practice of linking emotions to solid objects… for example, (to borrow a bit of a cliché), “the sky stretched endlessly above her, making her feel more alone than ever.”  Certainly, a cliché, but the endless sky does help accentuate the character’s sense of loneliness. 

In the latest writing sample from my current working novel in progress, I take the sense of menace as perceived by the central character a stage further and link it to some real event going on around him, adding the storm as the tension mounts.  The novel falls somewhere in between the crossover between teen fiction and adult thriller/Young Adult.  At this point of the story, Gavin (18), a classical musician on a prestigious summer school piano course, has gone down to the river for the day following complications with a student on the course, Philippa.  The previous  day, Philippa had expressed a romantic interest in Gavin before springing a nasty surprise on him, and Gavin can’t cope with the humiliation.  Note that the village itself has a tragic history, including a unsolved serious crime.

I shivered suddenly and turned round, certain that someone nearby was watching me, but as usual, I didn’t see anyone. I just sensed the person close by but out of reach. Observing me, studying my movements.  The sky changed colour, taking on dark overtones, and a blast of wind charged at me. From the corner of my eye, I caught a flicker of movement, the deft movement of a figure hiding behind a clump of trees, but when I glanced sideward, the figure had gone. Perhaps I’d imagined the figure, the movement. Maybe I’d seen a small animal, a stray dog. But then, I heard the soft crunch of footsteps, just like I had last night on the way down to the abandoned factory, and I hurried on through light drizzle to the main lane near the railway station, looking over my shoulders several times. Again, I detected activity: sudden movement, the blue outline of a rain jacket, the unmistakable silver casing of a cheap digital camera, followed by image shooting sounds and a brief flash. Then, nothing. Just rain.

I hurried up the lane, searching for cover as lightning streaked across the sky, followed by downpour.  Who the hell was the person?  A journalist from some sleazy tabloid?   Shards of rain pelted the ground, stinging my face and hands, and the wind worsened, almost blowing me over.  I ran to the teashop near the Hiker’s Pub and took shelter in there from the weather, ordering lunch and drinking tea while bursts of thunder sounded over area and the rain went grey and wild.

The thunder grew in volume, causing everywhere to shudder almost. The wind blew at fences and the sky kept darkening until it was nearly black, but no figure in a blue rain jacket; and then the teashop door opened and in walked the two squaddie-lads from last night. When they saw me, they exchanged nods. One grinned, the other scowled, and I heard words to the effect of, ‘Get him later.’

Meanwhile, my debut novel Secrets by Lawrence Estrey is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

 

Personal Clichés

Creative writing tutors and members of writing groups often warn against using clichés, partly because relying on clichés is seen as laziness on the part of the writer.   One of the most common clichés is “cool as a cucumber”, a description of someone’s calm reaction to an unexpected event or news of one.

At my last meeting with the local novelist group, one of the members advised me to watch out for my own personal clichés.  She was referring not to actual clichés (like “cool as a cucumber”) but to phrases and ideas I tend to overuse.   For instance, the central character of the novel sensing someone watching, lights in a house mysteriously going off or coming on.   Old ideas that appear in all my writing.

The challenge now is to create new ideas and tighten up the plot.

Website

I’ll be upgrading the blog over the next two weeks to give it a new feel and domain name of its own.  However, much of the subject matter and design style will remain the same, and I’ll still be blogging about creative writing, the novel, music and piano playing – just like before!

As regards to the current novel I’m working on, I’ve changed some of the context of the creepy cliff walk back, told through the viewpoint of the second main character, Dawn.

Here goes…Dawn is a clinical psychologist who has lost her license and spent a few years in prison for manslaughter.   She has no recollections of the event and believes she killed her former boyfriend after he subjected her to a series of subtle but menacing mind games.  Dawn’s father, however, suspects his daughter might be innocent and launches his own investigation into what really happened.   The following section, told from Dawn’s viewpoint, has been altered and forms part of the back story of the events leading up to the murder. 

The remainder of the week passed like a holiday of sorts, the first half slower than the second, even though she’d been in the area a week.  She took bus trips most morning to the surrounding resort towns and bays.  Sometimes, over a glass of lemonade and a sandwich, she exchanged a few words with tourists, but mostly, she preferred the newspaper and her own company.   

Nina rang late on Friday afternoon. Told her that Ryan and his mates had been posting boozy holiday photographs on Facebook earlier, and that she shouldn’t miss the barbeque tomorrow because Ryan wouldn’t be back in the country until the middle of next week.  After the call, she spent a couple of hours on the beach.  At half seven, she got up and started back towards the cliff path, hesitating suddenly at the foot of the path.  She was conscious of an unusual sensation, like someone watching her.  Obviously, Ryan couldn’t be observing her, as he was in Spain.

The sun had begun to settle over the horizon, its pink grapefruit glow blending with the calm sea.  There were still people on the beach: families walking along the shore, a large group of teenagers on the pathway leading down from the main road, swinging from the railings.  But nothing suspicious. The cliff walk normally lasted ten minutes.  Unless she went into town and took the steep grassy climb by the roundabout – equally secluded – there was no other way up to the cottage.  In any case, I’m being paranoid, she told herself.  There’s no one there.

She began the climb, walking as fast as she could, panting from the path’s steep gradient that seemed to get steeper with every footstep, the closeness in the air making her hot and light headed.  She had to stop several times to get her breath back. The stillness was thickening, the beginning of dusk making the path ahead look darker. The quietness had taken on an oppressive quality of its own, like a shadow lurking nearby, watching her make her way up the hill.  She felt a shudder pass through her and paused to look back a couple of times.  Nothing. 

The taut stillness kept thickening, reminding her of angry bees.  The shore below appeared deserted now, although there were still some people around.  She attempted to run the rest of the trail, the roar of blood in her head drowning out the soft movement of the tide below.  Fresh shadows formed ahead on the pathway.  Wisps of movement.  She drew to a halt.

Summer storms. Dark skies in the middle of the day.   Rain blowing in gales across fields, wind tearing at fences and telegraph poles.  Police officers and search parties with torches, trudging through the bleak countryside in Wellington boots, searching for Katie.

Pushing aside memories of that other summer twenty-three years ago, she ran towards the lane of cottages that were visible now in the fading daylight, fighting against the breathlessness and the humid heat, until a stitch in her side finally forced her to stop by a bench near the top.  She slowed her tempo to brisk waking pace, her shins and thighs aching from the exertion, specs of light dancing before her eyes from the continuing mugginess.  Her unease kept mounting.  Thunderstorms were on their way, she knew.  Another summer of storms, like those summer storms twenty-three years ago when Katie disappeared.  The thought made her shiver.  She glanced back down the path.  Nothing.  With all the strength she could muster, she strode on towards the lane of cottages, wincing from the stitch in her side.  

Moments later, she arrived at the cottage out of breath.  The gate scraped against the pavement when she opened it.  She made her way across the unkempt stretch of grass in the centre of the garden to the front door, coming to another halt when she heard a rustle of movement nearby.   

‘Who’s there?’

Silence. 

She fumbled around for her keys, her hands shaking as more taunt stillness pressed in, bringing with it images of shadows waiting in the lane. Once again, she thought she heard footsteps nearby.  The sounds stopped.  Thrusting the key in the lock, she pushed the front door open and ran into the hallway where she shut the door with a slam and put the chain over the lock.  She tiptoed upstairs, across the landing in the twilight, and perching low, crept towards the window to peer out at the lane.  There were no signs of movement outside or everything suspicious, only the cliff tops and the dwindling evening light. 

Switching on the bedroom light, she drew the curtains and changed into a fresh set of clothes, as the other ones were sweaty from the climb.  After looking out of the window one last time, she phoned Nina who rang back five minutes later and told her that according to the latest photo on Facebook, Ryan and his two friends were drinking beer outside a club in Spain, getting happily drunk.  Heaving a sigh of relief, she thanked Nina, ran off and went to the kitchen to make a mug of decaffeinated.  Instead, she settled for a large glass of wine, her hands shaking after the imaginary encounter by the front gate.  That’s what it had been, hadn’t it?  An imaginary encounter caused by the stress and the heat?  No one had followed her up the cliff.   

Even so, she got up to draw the kitchen blinds.  The throbbing stillness continued to press in, along with the vague sense of someone watching.  The mugginess was getting worse, a band tightening around her temples.  She felt a headache coming on.  The electrical charge in the air warned of severe storm weather.  Shutting her eyes, she massaged the side of her head. 

Thunder rumbled across the bay, followed seconds later by splattering rain on the paving stone outside.  There was another growl of thunder, louder this time.  She opened her eyes.  Thoughts of earlier crammed her mind: the darkening and shadows on the cliff pathway, the ominous silence swooping down in the heat, the rustle of movement near the front fence.  From her position at the kitchen table, she saw a flicker of lightning appear by the lounge window, illuminating the front garden.  A sudden crash of thunder made her jump.  More lightning at the window, followed by a pause in the storm as the steady thud of rain became a downpour.  She went into the lounge to draw the curtains.   Without warning, the reading lamp by the CD rack came on by itself. 

 

Pounds, Pence & Words

There’s an old saying that goes something like “take care of the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves.”  

I think the same could be applied to creative writing, particularly novel writing.   In my last post, I described why I’ve chosen to revise my novel writing on a weeky basis  rather than concentrate on getting the draft completed.  Obviously, my writing method won’t necessarily work for everyone, but here’s one reason why I think it has merit.   It allows you to correct more noticeable problems as you go.    (I struggle with dialogue and plot, in particular.)    

Approaching  a piece of writing from a critical and analytical angle enables a writer to tackle the problems relatively early on.   Also, it helps with the overall word count.   By paying close attention to problematic or abrupt passages, you can actually increase the word count considerably – a bit like those pennies taking care of the pounds.  Obviously, if a writer is able to hurry events and dialogue along, my approach won’t help at all, but do consider it if you’re having problems.

The Musical Express – A New Website

I’m trying to build a new website with a static homepage like a traditional website.  Yesterday, I attempted to build the site on an online WYSIWYG web publishing platform, but the results were so frustratingly catastrophic, I ended up ditching my attempts and putting together a basic site on WordPress.  I’m still trying to find ways of simplifying the FrontPage, so that only the link pages are displayed.   Fitting a Blog elsewhere on the site raised a few problems at first.

I’m planning to devote the new site to music and the piano, and to keep this Blog as a creative writing site, with updates on the novel writing.

Too Hot

It’s  too hot to post anything too serious today, but here’s an idea worth considering….try writing a few chapters of childhood events in dramatic narrative, avoiding too much of “we used to do..” and showing the scenes instead.   The reasoning behind my suggesting this form of creative writing boils down to clarity.  Often, when a person starts to write down a life story, themes can shift several times in one chapter, causing the overall effect to become muddled.   For me, the answer lies in writing a sizable chunk (say 3,000 words), then deciding which sections to cut and which bits to develop.

A Short Writing Sample

I’m doing lots of creative writing again and polishing the rewrite of my second novel, a psychological thriller dealing with memory flashbacks.   

The story so far: Alan is a web designer, living in London and married to Lana. But when Lana disappears, abandoning their eight-year-old son, Alan’s nightmare is just beginning. Forced to move to his sister’s country cottage, he struggles to rebuild his life. But on the eve of the move, he receives an email from someone in his past. The events that follow trigger a series of flashbacks, dragging Alan deeper into the past and danger.

Alan, now aged thirty-five, witnessed a murder and escaped with unexplained injuries when he was ten, but he has no recollection of the events.

This section is told from the viewpoint of Alan’s childhood friend:

The pigeons circled the top of the bird shed, a swarm of birds flustered and uncertain as to where they should fly, sensing possibly what was happening in the woods.  Vince ran towards him at the bottom of the hill, charging forwards by the narrow side exit leading to the sweet shop, face contorted with fury, one hand lifted to strike.

        ‘No,’ he cried, putting his own hands in front of his face.  ‘Someone’s hurt Wayne.’

        ‘You little liar,’ Vince shouted, grabbing him by the hair.  ‘I’m going to kill you for letting the pigeons out.  And when I’ve finished with you, I’ll get Alan.’

New Story Questions

I’ve reached the 67,000 word point in my current psychological thriller and am trying to put into the practice the elements of creative writing techniques I’ve been posting about – namely, what to do when, or if, writer’s block occurs. In this particular story, I’ve rotated viewpoints so that each chapter is told from a distinct perspective. I feel the method of narration adds to the atmosphere and takes away the “samey” tone so apparent in previous drafts.

So what next? Now that I’ve reached the final stage of the story, I’m considering looking at two or three deleted scenes set originally at about fourteen thousand words. Sometimes, in fiction, a scene that doesn’t work in one place can be axed, then brought back at a later date and placed somewhere else in the story. That’s why backup copies are so important. Keeping a list of story questions really helps too, as these can bring meaning to scenes that previously appeared to lack purpose.  I’m quite confident about completing this novel draft soon.