The Luminous Details of Poetic Description

Exercise:

  • Poet Ezra Pound described the “luminous details” that reveal and transmit an image swiftly and deeply.
  • Find an image that resonates with you. Write a poem about this object in no more than 10 lines, keeping in mind the art of description, and the luminous details that move the reader.
  • When you have written this poem, write a quick explanation of how exploring the ‘luminous details’ felt to you.

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Barn. A poem.

Slumped, your brother’s shoulder a welcome resting place.
The creaking of aging joints, the wind ruffling patchy tresses,
liver spots of brown and red on bleached and crusty skin.
Iron will a testament to endless winter frosts and summer heat. 
Littered memories at your feet, the dust of bitter/better years.

Stephen Thompson

Last year I drove my parents to Queensland for a holiday (I wrote and posted a poem about it at the time); I then picked them up when the holiday was over. (No, I didn’t want to holiday with them. Does that make me a bad son?) 4400 kilometres later, I had nothing to show for it other than this photo I took of an old, collapsing barn outside of Grafton, New South Wales.

I like the use of imagery and metaphor to describe the details of objects, features and conditions. Sometimes my poems are a little too ‘obvious’ in nature, so I like to stretch myself when I can. I enjoy using what poet Ezra Pounddescribed as “luminous details” and acting “as a filter, finding the most resonant, charged details to transmit the image to the reader”.

In this poem I saw the barn as an old man, the dead tree next to it providing support, a literal brother-in-arms. For me it reflects the state of many old and abandoned buildings, but also the aged people in our lives, who are hopefully not as neglected or forgotten.

How do you feel about your own poems? Do you feel you capture the luminous details that Pound mentioned? Why not try this exercise and share the resulting poem with us.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Advice for the Young (Poet) at Heart

Poetry was not really my thing.

I wrote poetry as a shy, insecure and sensitive teenager, much as other shy, insecure and sensitive teenagers did, but as I grew older it lost its allure. Not because I was less inclined (I was in bands and writing my own music and lyrics by that stage), not because I was any less shy, more secure, or insensitive, but because it no longer seemed to be needed to express what I was feeling (I think alcohol did that instead). But I’m not a teenager anymore, being just shy of middle-age. Now I’m a student, a would-be writer and a recalcitrant.

About twelve months ago, I woke up at 4:00am in the morning (nothing new there, I generally wake up at ridiculous times of the night with my head spinning) and immediately wrote a poem which I posted to my blog (see below). It’s the piece of writing that reignited my youthful passion for writing poetry.

Reborn.

Darkness then

             warming rays

                         bright fingers on my face

Cellphone silence

              binary muse

                          prod me back to life

Womb of sheets

               engulfs my being

                          consumed alive

Silken lover

                her promise yields

                           to the light

Reborn.

Stephen Thompson

Since I wrote that poem, I haven’t been able to stop. I write poems when I’m walking, when I’m sitting on the toilet, when I’m eating (hopefully not all at the same time). I have a vast amount of inspiration to draw on (as a result of my less than spectacular life choices).

Having rediscovered my own poetry, I find I am not as well read when it comes to poets as I should be. One particular poem I love is The Road Not Taken, by multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost, as it holds personal meaning for me in my less than spectacular life’s journey so far. Choice and predestination are things I could chat about for hours, but I’m sure you’d rather read the poem.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

As an amateur poet, I recommend that all amateur poets read as much poetry as possible and learn as much about the craft as possible, including the various formal poetic forms and meter and time. A great place to start is The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, which includes poems from throughout the ages by some of the greatest living and dead poets.

Cheers

Steve 😊

My first e-book of poetry, The All or the Nothing, is available now. And at just $5.99 for 62 poems, that’s less than 10 cents a poem!
To find out how to get a copy, click here.
Support starving poets everywhere!

Edgar Allan Poe and the First Exegesis

Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the foremost exponents of the Gothic horror genre and is also well known for his poetry. His poem The Raven, published in 1845, was his most famous and successful work, and his short stories include The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Despite his years of success as a writer, poet, critic and editor, he died broke and was buried in a pauper’s grave, the location unknown to this day.poe

Poe’s essay The Philosophy of Composition, published in 1846, is considered the first literary-oriented exegesis. Poe uses the exposed rear of a theatre stage as a cogent metaphor to allow readers to glance into the workings of a writer’s mind. Poe’s variegating theatrical metaphors about a piece’s personal literary history are valid: “the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.”

The exegesis is a way for writers to explain their process, to intuitively describe the spark of personal creation, to enlighten readers regarding the meanderings of draft and re-draft. As Poe puts it, a look “at the true purposes seized only at the last moment, at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view, at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable”.

Poe was a dedicated and brilliant writer, and his work continues to yield treasures to both those familiar with his work and the uninitiated. I am a fan, as this post will no doubt attest.

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe

Cheers

Steve 😊

Another post from a uni subject I completed many months ago. I thought it was a useful, if brief, introduction to the concept of the exegesis, which new and aspiring writers might find interesting.

‘The All or the Nothing’ – My first book of poetry is available NOW!

The All or the Nothing - Stephen Thompson (c) 201762 poems to make you laugh, cry, get depressed or get drunk by!

My first book of poetry is available as an e-book for $5.99 from the following distributors:

Please support me, a literally starving artist, in my quest for truth, justice, meter and rhyme.

Cheers

Steve 😊

A Poor Poet’s Cause

I’m putting together a book of poetry to self-publish, hopefully before Christmas. I’m working on whittling the two hundred plus poems I’ve written over the last nine months down to about fifty, as that’s the general size of most poetry books. The book will include some poems I’ve published on this site and new work not yet seen.

Why self-publishing? Whilst self-publishing your own novel can negatively impact your chances of getting signed to a publisher (unless you’re a particularly high selling self-published author a la E L James or Amanda Hocking), self-publishing a book of poetry should have no negative impact at all. But, why, I hear you say? Let’s face it, poetry, even when it does sell, generally only has small print runs. In other words, it’s probably not going to make or break your career unless you’ve already won a Pulitzer for poetry or something.

I know Amazon allows you to self-publish for free, but that means you’re restricted to the Kindle platform, and I want broader distribution on multiple platforms, so I’ll be going with either Bookbaby.com or ebookit.com. I just need to check out the reciprocal tax agreement between Australia and the US, to make sure I don’t get additional tax withheld by these American-based companies.

Because I’ve left this all a bit late (as usual), my book of poetry may not see the (blue) light until early next year. Either way, at least it’ll be out there at a low and reasonable price, available to all.

I’ll keep you up to date on how it’s progressing. I hope that you will support this poor poet on his journey to further obscurity.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Chuck. A character study.

I created Chuck for one of my short stories, written for uni. Following is a character study I wrote for him.

If you’re not familiar with a character study, it’s used to develop a character’s background and personality traits. From these elements the character’s mannerisms and dialogue come to life.

Some character studies are complex, some are very basic. I like to keep mine short and to the point. This gives me more ‘wiggle room’ in the story.

Cheers

Steve 😊

 

He had been Chuck most of his life. Charles was his father’s name, and the less he remembered about that man, the better. Chuck remembered Daddy’s huge fists and the indelible marks they left. But he remembered his mother much more, whose solicitous yet indifferent fingers crept to places he preferred not to think of, but could not avoid.

Chuck’s stutter and southern twang caused people to look down on him, even though he towered physically over them. His schooling had been the streets and a succession of foster homes; places where survival of the fittest was the credo and the only philosophy he required.

Chuck didn’t fit in. Naturally he gravitated to solitary roles, places he could be his own man–no complications with relationships or body language, as foreign to him as a cellphone to a neanderthal.

Chuck was a truck driver now and good at it. He tamed his mighty beast on the primal tarred veldt, his whip the double shift, country and western anthems his habitual companion. He worked the long highways like a corner beat, with scars as evidence; his belly peeped from under his t-shirt like a misshapen eye, Rip Van Winkle beard and Garth Brooks t-shirt decorated with spilt drink and dried food scraps.

What do you want to write?

What are the issues that you especially want to talk about / celebrate / examine in your stories?

There are a lot of stories in the world. There are many more hovering in the random threads and wings of my head. They long to burst forth from their cocoons, bright and beautiful butterflies ready to shake mountains, half a world away.

I’ve led a very interesting life, but by some measures it may not be very interesting at all (I have never run away from ravenous cannibals, for instance). I have many personally-affecting issues that I’d like to examine in my stories, yet when I think of what I really want to read in one of my tales, issues are not the first thing that come to mind.

As a burgeoning writer, I first and foremost want to entertain. I want to write stories that are emotionally engaging, that are exciting and that surprise with their twists and turns. I want my readers to feel that they connect with me as an author, that they “get” me in ways they didn’t think were possible except with perhaps a well-known friend or loving partner.

I may not be the best writer in the world, but if I can achieve this in at least some basic way (whether that be a reader’s fleeting smile or a tightness in their chest), I will have succeeded in what I set out to do.

Okay, so that didn’t really answer the question. In short, I love all genres of writing.

Like Iain M. Banks, I want to write speculative fiction and current-day serious fiction. Like Patrick Ness, I intend to write kinetic young adult novels. Like Nam Le, I want to write short stories of every type, that bring a tear to my eye and that provide a fascinating juxtaposition to life. Like Justin Cronin, I want to mix literate writing with the horror thriller. Like George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien I want to write fantasy fiction that astounds.

But I don’t want to write like any of them. I want to write like me.

Cheers

Steve 😊

This was my response a number of months ago to a question posed to me in one of my writing subjects. My answer still holds true, now. (It also contains links to some of my favourite authors’ websites.)

So, what would your answer be?

Go wild in the comments, if you dare 😉

The Novel-writing Locomotive.

My novel is (once again) back on track.

How many times have I said that? It seems every time I slip the rails I have some new excuse (for a list of the latest ones, click here). Coupled with my short attention span, my novel-writing train has jumped the tracks every few weeks, as if it was passing regularly back and forth over the NSW/Queensland state border where the rail gauge changes*.

My rescuer (or track repair crew, depending on which metaphor you prefer) is my delicious new iPhone (even though it’s not edible, it’s the next best thing. If they introduced edible iPhones I’m sure I’d be first in line to buy them and ravenously consume them**). I’ve downloaded MS Word onto my phone (which is an iPhone 8 ‘large’. Or ‘big’? Whatever they call the giant version. I personally like iPhone ‘humongous’, but that sounds both compensatory, and a bit too Mad Max, I suspect). I’ve moved my novel’s Word files to the cloud and now I can write anywhere. Yes, even in my favourite writing venue, the water closet***.

I admit this is not particularly innovative—I’ve been writing poetry this way for months, using the notes facility on my phone which auto backs up to iCloud—but I just wasn’t managing my time effectively enough to write on my laptop (I use it for my uni work, but I generally need a break afterwards. A looooooong break. Longer than a Kit-Kat, anyway).

So, I’m back to writing in small doses (that’s generally how I best interact with anything and anyone—you can only take so much manic or morose Steve at a time. That includes me dealing with me). And small doses is better than no doses.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

PS Why use Word on iPhone in place of Apple’s Pages or a writing-specific app? Because I already started my novel in Word, it retains all the formatting without having to convert it between apps, and it has a neat little ‘fit-to-screen’ word wrap button that Pages doesn’t. Technical Steve 😉

*Yes, in Australia we have different rail sizes. Yes, it’s stupid.

**Mmmmmm…I’m patenting that scrumptious idea.

***Dunny, loo, crapper—to all you uncultured larrikins.

Writing…stuff.

So, I’ve posted a few things about writing. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but readers seem to like me rambling on.

I’ve made it a ‘thing’ (I like to do that–‘Haiku Friday’ anyone?). So, now you can find all the posts grouped under Writer Interrupted in the menu. It saves me from creating another blog (I’m pretty lazy, y’know).

As always, I love your comments, and I love the fact that you pay me any attention at all.

Cheers

Attention-seeker Steve 🙂

 

The Art of Observation, Character, Dialogue and Navel Gazing. An occasional post on writing.

Do you suffer from depression? If so, you’ll know the Black Dog. If not, click here or here before reading on. 

An Observation on Observation

Every writer should be an observer.

Every writer should watch the people around them, taking in the nuances, the poetry of conversation, the body language electric that at once disguises and simultaneously reveals. I’m sure every ‘how to write’ book you’ve read has preached this from the plinth, with the congregation nodding in stern-faced approval.

As a single man with little purpose other than wallowing in middle age, working out and pretending he’s younger than he is, dreading the day when he actually will be old, I find that I’m probably less observant of the world than I used to be. It’s just a phase, says Black Dog, chewing my hand (not in a nice way). But hopefully you’ll stay that way as long as possible. It amuses me.

I was a people manager for many years and it was my job to read and lead employees and clients, to communicate expectations and needs and desires and to assist and mentor and help and cajole and…well, you get the picture. I felt then that I had a good sense of how people worked, almost like an engineer watching machines he’d designed being assembled in the factory. I had training in psychology, I was respected and reasonably well-liked (no manager should ever be totally liked, otherwise you won’t make the hard decisions). Black Dog scratches himself behind the ear. I’d assume it was fleas but that’s an impossibility. You loved and hated it, he says. Stop thinking about the past. I prefer your depressing present.

I believe I’ve retained some of my skills. I’ve always been an observer (what’s that they say? Always a watcher, never a doer? Something like that). I’d like to think that some of this rubs off on my characters. It’s hard to tell though, because I’m always a little too close to what I write to make an accurate assessment (sounding a bit clinical there, but sometimes you have to be).

So, yes, I guess I’m still an observer of life and people. I guess I always will be. And if you plan to be a writer, then you should be, too.

On Characters

It’s hard to describe where my characters come from. Sometimes they take form as I type. Sometimes I already have them in mind or I take pinches of ingredients from people I know and mix them together in a big bowl. Occasionally I’ve spotted someone, a busker, for example, and their story has come to me as I watched, like a song: all twisted notes and delicious intonations, sometimes in odd time signatures.

Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient) says: “Few of my characters are described externally; we see them from the inside out.” The character has to feel real. If I write someone and they sound fake, or just don’t work, I erase them from existence like a contract assassin and start building again. I can be a bastard when I need to be (I’m sure my ex-wife will concur with that).

I do undertake research, but only if the character is from a period or has skills I’m not familiar with. It’s like with settings, if you don’t know what you’re talking about your reader will know that you’re faking it.

I like the Anthony Trollope (Victorian-era author) quote: “A novelist’s characters must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and love them.” I can identify with that.

I don’t know how well I create characters. I’ve been told I’m good at it, but all the old anxieties come to bear when I revisit my creations (am I good enough? Why am I writing at all?).

Black Dog raises his head from his paws, where he’s been resting it while watching me intently (as he always does). Self-doubt? he says. I love it. Keep on rolling in that cesspool. Sometimes I pat him, but he just nips at my hand–a warning–he doesn’t need to be encouraged.   

About Dialogue

I look at Black Dog. He stares at me as always. Occasionally he breaks eye contact to glance at a paw, like he’s checking his nails. He’s not uncomfortable with eye-to-eye contact, he’s far too self-confident for that. Another opportunity for you to put yourself down? He says. Well, get started. You know I like to savour every whining moment. He’s back to staring again. If he could smile, he would.

“He hears their voices even before he knows them”, said Andre Gide (1947 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature). This is so true for me.

Dialogue is one of those funny things. People like to think they’re good at it, but as with the art of conversation, we’re never as good as we think we are (don’t believe me? Try remembering your last dinner party conversation. I’m sure you held your own, but if you look back and scrutinise it closely you’ll notice the intermittent pregnant pauses, the occasional wandering eye, the excuse to get another drink or change the subject).

I like to think that I write good dialogue, but I’m often too close to the material to be able to make a fair judgement. Some readers have told me my dialogue is good, but being a writer, I’m not always sure if I believe them or not (Ah, says Black Dog, sniffing deeply. There it is). Like most writers, I tend to be a bit insecure and my confidence is not always at its best (Oh, yeah, says Black Dog, closing his eyes and rolling onto his back. That’s the stuff. More.) I believe everyone is learning, all the time. Writing is no different. The day a writer says they know everything there is to being a writer is the day they’re fooling themselves.

It took me a long time to make the decision to be an author and there’s no going back now. I may be poorer financially and emotionally (Yeah! cries Black Dog, writhing in blissful contentment), but writing is something that’s seeped its way into my veins. Like a somnolent drug, it’s as blissful as sleep and just as contenting, and it’s something I couldn’t give up now, even if I tried.

Cheers

Steve 😊

P.S. I hope you weren’t hoping to learn some actual skills from my rambling. There are plenty of courses, books and blogs around for that. In the end, it all comes down to your commitment and your experiences. Just start from there. And read. A lot. Learn from the best authors–there’s a wealth of wonder in those books, and they’re the best school there is.

Want to read some of my flash fiction? Click here

The Great Australian Novel. A pondering.

So, what exactly happened with the writing of my great Australian novel (and I use the term ‘great’ very loosely)?

I don’t have writer’s block*. I know a lot of writers suffer from this, and I am always sympathetic (did I say sympathetic. Sorry, I meant uncaring and sociopathically lacking empathy), but not me. Actually, I tell a lie—twenty years ago, in my first novel, I wrote my protagonists into a corner I couldn’t get them out of. It took about ten years to resolve (hey, it was a very tight corner). So, George R R Martin, I get where you’re coming from. But finish bloody Winds of Winter, already!

I’m not suffering from a paucity of time, although I assure everyone who’ll listen that I am. Don’t you realise how difficult life can be for a lazy, sociopathically uncaring, student? This morning I noticed my toenails had grown out to about an inch. The nail clippers were sitting on the table just out of reach. You can guess how that story ended. I think from now on my preferred footwear will be thongs (flip flops, not g-strings), rather than shoes. No reason. Loose rubber slip ons are just very stylish.

I’m still motivated to write. Admittedly, I tend to write more poems then anything else. I haven’t actually written any of my novel for about a month. Let me point out that I do have a very short attention span. If I was to have a competition with a gnat, the gnat would win. But as insects go, gnats are THE most attentive insects in the animal kingdom. Of course I may have read that while I was sleep-deprived and brain-addled at 3:00am. Or maybe I just made it up.

The ideas still flow—sometimes they don’t stop, streaming forth like water from a broken pipe neglected by council workers checking their Facebook timelinesI recently had to (yes, HAD to) get myself a new iPhone 8, ostensibly for the bigger storage capacity (I use my phone to store ideas and write on the run. And on the toilet). Oh, alright, I just wanted a shiny new phone. Yes, now I’m more broke than I was before. But: shiny new phone! (“My precious,” he says, stroking it adoringly in a disturbingly Gollum-like voice.)

My commitment is still strong, despite my ongoing depression. Did I tell you I suffer from depression? “Only about a thousand times,” says regular reader with not much better to do, rolling your eyes. I guess I better tell you again, then. I’m like a roller coaster: manic high days and abyssal troughs. High days, I can’t stop talking. Low days, I’m a puddle. Today, I’m marginally angstified. (Yes, I just made up that totally and awesomely significant new word. I’m waiting for my new urban slang dictionary prize in the mail.)

I’ve been thinking about writing other stories. The torrid and passionate affair I’ve had with my novel still burns bright, but I find myself drawn to shinier, prettier things (and chocolate). Is it a victim of mid-life crisis, my ravenously short attention span, or my ongoing sociopathic egomania? Or all three? I may have answered that question already, but I’ve forgotten what I wrote previously. (Damn you, short attention span!)

If I start writing another novel I know I’ll neglect the other**. But maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe my current novel isn’t any good. (My only slightly bruised and sociopathically egomaniacal ego refuses to believe that. It’s currently screaming at the wall: “you’re too good for this place!” I think it might be a bit deluded, as well. Now it’s rubbing ice cream all over its face…)

My excuses (uni, dating, music, reading, working out, movies, blogging, D&D, laying about avoiding cutting toenails, etc.) have become my crutches. I can barely move without them. (Perhaps I could invest in a better metaphor—a wheelchair, maybe. Then I could pretend to motivate myself to move a little faster.)

In the end, I guess I could have been writing my novel if I hadn’t written this post. Am I just delusional? Or is that my sociopathic egomania talking? I’ll ponder it while I eat some of this delicious ice cream that somehow got smeared on my face. Mmmmmmm….now, what was I talking about again?

Cheers

Steve 🙂

*Unlike many writers, I’ve rarely suffered from this. If writer’s block was a cold, I’d be interminably hot and sweaty most of the time. 

**Like my previous unfinished novels: they wait politely and patiently, trying to catch my eye. Unfortunately, they don’t realise that I’m very short sighted—literally, not just figuratively. 

Place and Setting. A writing perspective.

Yet another of my long-overdue university out-takes. Following is an answer to a question about establishing place and setting for stories, that I wrote several months ago for one of my writing subjects.

I moved back to my parents’ house after being away for many (Read: MANY) years and I’m now living in the room I had as a teenager. Rather than get maudlin, as I did when I first moved in, I now like to see it as a new start—a fresh beginning. Or a stopover on the long, world-weary road of incomprehensible mid-life. Take your pick.

But it’s the nostalgia of the place that grabs me every time. I look out the window to see a family of rabbits picking amongst the emerald remains and hear the continual hum and click-clack-clicking of rail wheels on the tracks beyond. Every time my toes feel the knobbed woollen carpet that’s been here for so many years: still in good nick, just a little wear, but a bit flatter (like me); every time I look at my parent’s smiling faces, all wrinkles and sunshine (they obviously haven’t had to put up with me for long); every time I walk the old streets remembering handball at the bus stop and ducking swooping magpies in the spring, the scent of rain on the grass flats and long, sweat-soaked summers without a pool. Like the murky rooftops and telegraph poles marking time in the distance, it’s a wary combination of old and new, making me dream of yesterday, moan about today and hope for tomorrow.

It got me thinking about how place has such a dramatic impact on the stories we write. The story’s setting can become a character as much as the protagonist and antagonists. But it’s more than just atmosphere or setting specifics. It’s all in the way the setting evokes something that connects with the reader—maybe they can relate to it in the way something felt or looked, or smelt. Maybe they marked time for a while in a sunny backwater, too.

Recasting familiar settings for stories works. We take what we know and we forge it into something new. Authenticity is something I’ve discussed with a writer friend of mine. I always say (and I’m sure others have said this, too): “the reader knows when you fake it”. It doesn’t matter if the setting you’ve created is in the far future, your home town or a fantasy kingdom, it’s the feeling that you put into it, driven by your own experiences and emotions, that makes the difference. Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be the same if JRR Tolkien didn’t infuse the setting with not only his expansive research in languages and mythology, but also his love of the countryside he grew up in.

I find that I tend to rely more on recall than on visits to and notes about areas, but I’m lucky that I have a decent memory. And we all have an extensive lifetime of experiences—sights, smells, emotions, nostalgia—to build our settings with.

Every story we write, we build a place to call our own.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Novel Daze

My novel is back on track!

Rather than follow the advice of one of my previous blogs, and do it in bite-sized chunks (read about it here), I decided to devote myself to writing as a full-time job. As I’m a full-time student, I ironically have some time on my hands. I’ve shuffled my schedule (it’s not hard to shuffle nothing) and arranged my time so that I work on my novel every week day, for about 4-5 hours. Today was my first foray, and things are going swimmingly (that’s an old-fashioned expression, noobs).

I’m feeling a bit better about myself, I have a direction (one could almost say a purpose, but I’m not ready to believe that yet), and I have a better excuse not to work for a living (whereas before I had no excuse at all). My creative muse is flowing. I’m enjoying writing and I still have time to update my blog (yay!).

Now I just have to see how long it lasts (nooooo! The first wave of cynicism…).

In other exciting news (or average news, take your pick), I’ve nearly finished Madeleine St John’s novel The Women in Black, an Australian classic about five women who work in the ladies frock section of a department store in 1950’s Sydney. It’s required reading for one of my uni subjects, and it’s a riot. I’ve never read any chick lit before, but it’s fun. Check it out, it’s available through Text Classics from book shops, The Book Depository, or Amazon.

Fun fact: My mother remembered attending the same Sydney boarding school as St John and her sister. Yes, at the same time.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

A Writer’s Lot. A poem.

And at that certain time
Heads emerge from shells
Where they were buried
Dreaming tales to tell
And cloistered in my womb
Loneliness and black dog thoughts
Of doom and gloom
I send my words to you
Sometimes liked
Sometimes not at all
Left wondering what the magic recipe must be
But liked or not
Potter on through storm and swell
Becalmed haze, unfazed
A writer’s lot is thankless
Take what you can, that way
You go on and on
And on
Tomorrow’s yet another day

Writing. Some basics. Use ‘em or lose ‘em.

I’ve been writing for a short while. Obviously, I am now an expert and need to share my accrued wisdom with the world. Yes, that was a joke.

Like anyone who enjoys to read, I like particular authors for their creativity, their characterisation, dialogue and the worlds their characters inhabit – all part of a writer’s style. When I read, I apply the things I’ve learned when critiquing another’s work. This is not always a good thing, as it can distract from the pleasure of reading.

Nevertheless, here are some writing “rules”, by the great writer, Elmore Leonard. He was a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose ‘lean’ and ‘muscular’ approach was a major influence on modern writing:

Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. For example, “he berated”, or “she rebuked”. There are good reasons for this. Strong, well-written dialogue is the basis of character. Using verbs other than “said” or “replied” is the writer getting in the way, an indication that they may feel uncomfortable using “said” too many times. And their dialogue isn’t strong enough without the use of additional verbs. When someone reads dialogue, the amateur writer’s verb gets in the way.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”. As Mr Leonard says: “To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.” Putting “she said slyly” or “he replied earnestly” is similar to the last point – the dialogue should be able to stand on its own. The reader is intelligent enough to work out what the character is saying and feeling, if the dialogue is well written.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Readers like to form their own impression about a character’s looks, often at the behest of the author’s actual description. Let the reader use their imagination. A few details are okay, but don’t make them so detailed that the reader has no ‘wiggle room’.

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. Once again, let the reader’s imagination do this. You can add as much description as you like, but it will slow your story down, and your reader will either picture it to their liking, or skip the cumbersome text.

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Many readers (not all, but many) skip large sections of text because they are keen to get to the meat of the novel, and often that’s the dialogue. I bet you’ve done this once or twice. I love J.R.R Tolkien’s overflowing descriptions, but now I’ve read Lord of the Rings a few times, I skip them when re-reading. Sacrilege, I know, but we’ve all been there. And I bet in the case of average books you’re tempted to do the same.

If it sounds like writing, re-write it. You know what I’m talking about. Some writers like to show off, adding lots of unnecessary similes and metaphors, and lovingly described scenes, overflowing with adjectives. I am so guilty of this. Is it necessary? Depends on the story and style you’re writing in. But most of the time, no.

The full text of Mr Leonard’s wonderful 10 Rules of Writing includes these insights (but written far better), and can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html.

Next time you read a book, or start to write one, keep them in mind.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

You can find out more about the late Elmore Leonard, by visiting his website at http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php.

Ernest Hemingway? Who’s that? Only one of the most important writers of the 20th Century. He won the Nobel Prize for literature, for Pete’s sake. Find out more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)

 

I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.

 

(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)

 

Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

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