Saw an interesting comment by Michael Connelly, writer of the Harry Bosch series. On being asked about his Irish roots, he replied:
“ Yeah, I have complete Irish roots, and I went to Catholic schools and all of that ….But, you know, I don’t consider myself an Irish crime writer or an American crime writer, I consider myself a storyteller. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if a character is interesting to the reader, it doesn’t really matter where that character is or where the writer is. That kind of story crosses all oceans and all boundaries.”
It gets to the nub of writing – it is what we should all be, just story tellers with good characters. Characters that readers are interested in and who they care about. The genre is secondary – it is why good crime fiction does so well (in my view) it is because the stories are so good. Your attention is held. And you have characters in them that you care about (even more so in series where you have a central recurring character – think Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole.)
I am reminding myself here as much as others – I have a tendency to wander off from the story. Sometimes this is good as it leads the story to new places – other times it is just bad (like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead .. when she was good she was very very good, when she was bad she was horrid!). Note – I am not suggesting here that when I am good I am very very good … it just brought the nursery rhyme into my head. The ‘horrid’ still stands.
Wandering off in the middle of a story can lose you your reader – which is why I try to keep my reader in my head. They change shape depending on what I am writing – but sometimes they are a very specific person. I read aloud a piece I have written and wonder what they would think of it. It is not to say that I do not write for myself, I do, but that is not enough – I write so others can read – and if I don’t think about them I do them a disservice.
Anyway that came into my mind as I was talking to a lovely writers group during the week and it made me, once again, think about writing. The why, the what and the wherefore.
PS It is also about the words and how they are strung together – the last line of this little poem bears that out. Apart from rhyming with forehead, the use of the word horrid is just so perfect!
Watched a brilliant documentary the other evening on David Bowie entitled Five Years. What was consistently striking about it was his dedication to his craft and the fact that he constantly evolved and changed what he was doing. Musically he never stood still – as evidenced by the extraordinary variety in his music throughout his life right up to his recent release The Next Day.
David Bowie Five Years
Like him or hate him there is a lot to admire about him and a lot to be reminded about as writers.
Number one is discipline. The discipline to sit down and write, to research, to promote, to learn more about the craft – but above all to write. To use the time that you have (and this varies for everyone, it can be snatched moments between work, children, daily life or it can be unfettered time) in the best way. It is a mega cliché but time passes and once it has gone it has gone – so you owe it to yourself as a writer to use it well.
Number two is to make sure that with each project you take on you extend your abilities, move yourself on – go forward. This is no different than in any type of work or occupation if you are lucky enough to be working in an area that allows for this – take yourself to the next level. Make it better. Stretch your brain. Never be satisfied. In writing we can do this as it is self directed, it is up to us as writers to manage what we do and how we do it.
Number three is cooperation – and this is different for musicians than for writers. The evolution of a song is very different to the evolution of a novel. Writing is a solitary occupation – but it does not have to be lonely. Being part of a writers group is one way of cooperating – or getting the corners rubbed off you! Sharing your writing with a partner, your children, writing friends, illustrators is another. This is not for everyone. I know of writers who work till its done and then let it out into the light. I am not like that – I like feedback, I think it improves my writing.
And Number Four is I suppose be true to yourself. To do this you have to know yourself, but when you do be true to who your are. Because it shows.
Now I just have to go and remind myself to listen to my own advice – far easier to give advice than to follow it.
Today I was sent a link to this site Brain Pickings the brainchild of Maria Popova, who describes it in this way: ‘Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.’
One of the things it is focussing on this year is Reading More and Writing Better and I was browsing through the various posts on this (each one of them worth a look). Then I came across one of the pieces of writing advice offered by Kurt Vonnegut and it is so simple but so true that I thought I would reproduce it here.
I have just finished reading a book which has been written to wide acclaim and I was puzzled by my reaction to it. The writing was word perfect, unusual even, the phrasing beautiful and the storyline held my attention. But, at the end of it I felt nothing. I did not feel, as I often would, saddened on reaching the end of the book; I do not imagine I will read another by this particular author. The sole reason for this is that I did not like any of the characters. Those that I assume I was meant to feel some measure of empathy with I did not. None of them took me with them; I was not, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, rooting for them. Quite frankly I was left feeling I did not give a damn about what happened to any of them. If the book had ended in a nuclear holocaust or with a catastrophic invasion of flesh eating zombies I would have closed it without a moment’s regret.
I can only hope that nothing I write ever leaves a reader feeling that. If it does I will feel that I have failed.
Here are the rest of his tips, courtesy Huffington Post