Places In Fiction -They Need To Come Alive

A decade ago, I wrote a novel that contained a back story set in Dorset on the South Coast of England — a psychological thriller, told through the eyes of a narrator at the age of eight and as a young adult forced to come to terms with their past.

I had never visited Dorset, but I felt that the area with its countless beaches, cliffs, wooded areas, villages and acres of countryside would open up great potential for menace, paranoia and suspense in the story.

Instead, I struggled to construct a tight plot and convincing central character, and writing about an area that I didn’t know personally seemed to hinder my efforts.

After several attempts, I abandoned the novel and concentrated on projects set in the north of England, where I grew up. This time, the writing flowed and the characters came alive almost immediately.

Last summer, I visited Dorset for the first time. The area didn’t match my expectations in terms of what I’d written in regards to scene setting previously. I wondered about this recently and reached the following conclusion.

The back story came through the perspective of an eight-year-old child. In the novel, the eight-year-old protagonist reflects on ideal Dorset scenery before family events take a sinister turn and the same settings become oppressive and imprisoning. Places seem magical through the eyes of children. Children see things that adults don’t. When I arrived in Dorset, I observed the landscape through the eyes of an adult, not a child, and adults can often miss the magical feel of locations.

In fiction, the writer must make the place (scene setting) special in some way, even if it is bleak and dangerous. The writing should evoke images in the reader’s mind and invite them in – or, at least, attract their interest in the story and what will happen next.

I believe that employing a unique viewpoint plays a crucial role. The author conveys information through the viewpoint character, but they shouldn’t merely describe a location. The writer needs to paint a picture of the location from their own perspective, identifying details that another person would miss and linking these observations to emotions that intensify as the story arc develops.

The old Show, Don’t Tell. Or Live It, Don’t Describe It.

One day, perhaps, I will return to the original novel and polish it, but I don’t think setting scenes in Dorset will ever work for me.

Just a few of my thoughts.


Meanwhile, I’m working on poetry, several foreign languages (including Russian) and Beethoven piano sonatas that I hope to perform in public.

Till next time.

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Novel Writing: Writing In The You

“You hear a sound.  Hesitate.  Nothing.  You continue on in the darkness.  There, that sound again.”

Creative writing tutors call this type of narrative second person viewpoint, as opposed to first person or third.  However, like with other viewpoints, variations exist. Taking the opening sentences – would you say that the writer is teasing the reader to a point, trying to create an atmosphere of tension with the hope of scaring or thrilling them?  Probably.

Authors sometimes try a different technique using “You”.  Writing to a fictitious family member or friend.  Or ex-lover.  In these cases, the narrative tends to shift to a more intimate/personal tone.

In my current novel in progress, I address most of the narrative to the main character’s childhood friend in a sort of eulogy, in order to sort out problems with inner monologue and help shape the more subtle aspects of the structure.

And, of course, to avoid the “Show, Don’t Tell” problem.

Hope it works.

 

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.

 

 

Literary Flavouring: No Garlic Butter, Please

By this, I don’t mean a combination of books and cuisine, but rather the job the writer has of drawing out greater flavour in their writing.  Forget culinary delights. Writing a novel is difficult. Many plots, many characters, the question of past and present (if applicable), the alternation of viewpoints. How does the writer weigh up the various issues, add them together, then balance them out (the ingredients) in a satisfying manner?

Obviously, the answer varies from writer to writer. The writer has to believe in their work, to have a strong sense of what they wish to convey. Pruning plays a crucial roles, trimming the unnecessary parts of the writing to bring out greater clarity. However, letting the narrative develop and take shape plays an equal role. The immediacy and psychological build up in the story. I also think that brain storming helps, jotting down ideas, then letting the thoughts take shape. Writers don’t need novel writing software. They just need to let their imagination do the work, then find ways of structuring the work.

Just a few of my thoughts.

The Endless Edit

In my last post, I listed some of the pros and cons of ruthless editing a novel.  Cutting and refining strengthens the structure and plot of the work, but the constant process of changing things sometimes affects the overall quality of the writing, resulting in a loss of immediacy. 

My latest novel contains two viewpoint and I have found the female viewpoint the most difficult to bring to life.  This problem didn’t occur in my debut novel, Secrets, when I narrated some of the story through the eyes of Kaz Bradshaw (third person).  In fact, I found her viewpoint easy to bring off.  However, I’m really struggling with the female viewpoint in my latest novel.  It seems lazy in place, neither here nor there and too reported at times.  I’ve typed copious notes on the chapters in question and expect I will need several more months of work before I feel ready to send out the novel.

Novel Writing: keeping Record Of Story Questions

I’ve sent out the opening chapters of my latest novel and am waiting to hear back.   In the meantime, I’ve ended up with a major bout of writer’s block and haven’t written any fiction of several weeks.  Just concentrating on music and language studies while I decide what to do next in regards to the writing.  At this rate, I will be tri-lingual!

I thought I would reblog an article from over five years ago concerning the editing process, particularly the earlier stages of writing a novel when story ideas can go awry, leaving the draft manuscript muddled.   Having worked on three novels, I tend to believe that less is best – fewer exciting or thrilling events told compellingly have a greater effect than lots of things happening.

Here is the article from five years ago.

Editing and Revision: The Importance of Story Questions

I’ve been using a new technique in my novel writing to keep the material from losing focus – something that tended to happen a lot in my earlier drafts. Up to recently, I’d been reading through the manuscript with a pen and working with groups of fifty pages, jotting down ideas and story questions as I read.

I’m experimenting with a new technique where I work backwards by writing down the story questions from the previous chapter or two until I have a small list of story questions. I do this from memory before attempting any new chapters. (In this particular novel, a psychological thriller, each chapter is told from a distinct viewpoint, so the recording of story questions helps keep me up to date with what each character is doing.) The method also helps with pacing. Pacing itself is a huge nightmare in writing – too little tension and the story gets boring, too much tension too much of the time and the tension is spent.

I’ve also noticed that revising a story line by line doesn’t really work and can actually make the story worse. In adding and improving sentences, the original immediacy can easily get lost. Even inserting dialogue to bring something out in a character can upset the flow of the narrative.

The best editing, I believe, centres around relevant story questions and knowing your characters well, particularly their deepest conflicts and their most powerful desires. These drive the story. Two of the best questions to ask about a leading character are – 1) what do they fear most? and 2) what do they want most?

During the revision process, I tend to cut a lot of material. Yet, I always end up with more. This is because getting rid of material that plays little or no function in a story frees you up to develop new ideas.

Some ideas to try:

  1. Read through a synopsis, sample chapter or blurb like summary and circle in red any words that capture your attention.
  2. Ask your main characters some questions – e.g. what are they doing on Saturday evening?
  3. Describe an incident through the eyes of three people.
  4. Problems narrating a section? Write it in second person, then rewrite the new version in the original viewpoint.

Further tips can be found in Creative Writing Headaches and Writers Bock

Fiction: More Than One Viewpoint

Once more, I’ve reached the waiting stage.  I’ve sent out the manuscript for my last novel and am hoping to hear back.  Quite a stressful time.   Writer’s block.

In the meantime, I thought I would post an old article I wrote on the subject of viewpoints.   Generally, I like to introduce a second viewpoint in my work or, at least, a different time frame to add greater texture to the writing.  Of course, this technique can backfire, producing complexity and unnecessary details.

 

Currently, I’m writing a psychological thriller about two guys who last met when they were ten.   A serious crime occurred in the woods near their home and the main character managed to escape, but he has no recollection of the events or the person he ran from.   Twenty-six years on, he is reconciled with his former best friend, also present at the crime scene.   Soon, however, a set of disturbances occur, triggering a set of flashbacks about what really happened twenty-six years ago.

The central character’s wife has recently run away with someone, leaving him with a vulnerable eight-year-old son who has become withdrawn after a stint of bullying at school. At the start of the novel, the central character moves to his sister’s country cottage.   The story is told from three viewpoints – the central character’s (first person), his sister’s (third person) and his best mate’s (third person).    Each chapter is limited to one viewpoint.   The viewpoints rotate.

The advantages of rotating viewpoints are:

  • Greater psychological intensity and immediacy;
  • The viewpoint characters might have different interpretations of the same events;
  • By introducing back story, the varying viewpoints and time shifts expands the story, giving it a fuller feel.

However, watch for the pitfalls:

  • Story runs the risk of becoming laboured and repetitive;
  • The constant moving between character viewpoints and past and present could prove confusing.

In all, I’m enjoying this form of narration and feel it best tells the story I’m writing.

A New Novel?

“Extremely scary,”…”very exciting,”…”spooky.” 

Secrets –  Lawrence Estrey

__________________________

My first novel Secrets appears to have sold in three countries and the local library has agreed to stock it, so I’m now working on a new novel and hoping it will go to plan.  Again, I have chosen to write a psychological thriller.  This time, I want to concentrate more on the psychology and suspense and less on the crime elements. 

Here are some of the things I learned during the writing process for Secrets:

  • Avoid changing viewpoint unless absolutely crucial to the story,
  • Delay surprises until absolutely crucial to the story,
  • In a crime thriller or psychological thriller, always introduce calming sections and contrasts. These allow for more scary/exciting scenes later on. 

Sounds pretty basic, yet I ignored my own advice many times during the writing of Secrets and previous works.

The Second Novel

Have completed two thirds of the rewrite for my second novel Secrets, a psychological thriller set in the north of England.  Lot’s of new viewpoint chapters and a revised back story plot. I think it’s going well.

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.

Reading A Psychological Thriller – What I Like

I spend hours writing most days, working on a psychological thriller.  Mostly, I enjoy the process.   No writer’s block for a month now!  But what about reading?  What keep me interested when I’m reading a particular novel?

I like psychological thrillers and autobiographies, but occasionally I’ll read books from other genres.  Here’s a list of what I look out for:

  • Atmosphere and psychological intensity
  • Simple viewpoint or First Person narrative
  • Present tense (in thrillers but not autobiographies)
  • Variation in the writing style and not too much dialogue
  • Showing rather than telling
  • A clear answer to the central story question (open endings don’t work for me)
  • Character build up
  • The effects of a crime upon the people involved rather than pages of endless procedure

My preferences have changed over the years.  At one time, I liked omniscient novels with thoughts italicised and clichés – but not anymore.