publish a sequel about my eight years in Quito which included travel to other countries in South America.
So far so good. Objective writing is a feature of non fiction books and my degree in English plus twelve years of teaching matriculation students helped me.
Then I decided to write a novel. In my years of painting, I would face the blank canvas and work organically, that is, I started painting and allowed the ideas to evolve and change in the process of my painting. I did not plan. For me, this was a way of allowing magic to take place. Surprises occurred. Change of direction was possible. New ideas formed. I began my writing my book in the same way. I enjoyed creating characters, allowing them to act spontaneously and face their challenges. Woo hoo! By the time I got to 30,000 words, I found I had lost the plot - literally. It was time for radical change.
I had to begin again. Some record keeping would be necessary to keep track of the story to avoid muddle. I knew from my experience that planning the plot would not work for me. I decided to print the document of 30,000 words, and studied the manuscript. This proved to be useful for a number of reasons. I was able to balance up the long chapters with the very short ones, giving a better flow to the prose. To my surprise, the typos glared at me and my red pen came out. I had read my work so many times, editing and re-editing it. Maybe my eyes just got tired after hours of gazing at a computer screen. Seeing the words on paper was a different experience.
But how was I to maintain balance between creativity and logical structure in the story while writing the next 60,000 words? I decided to trace each thread of the story in each chapter. I mapped these threads horizontally on a large sheet of paper. I then had a visual record of what each chapter contained, eliminating the discrepancies of information that had arisen previously.
I then started “semi planning”. So what was this? Any ideas for the next chapter from the top of my head would be noted on a loose sheet of paper. You can see how I come from the dark ages technically speaking! Then I would start writing the story organically on the computer. As new ideas flowed I would include them as well as the planned ones. Sometimes I changed them. With this process I felt I was allowing my creativity to emerge uninhibited. By recording what was in each the chapter after I had finished it, I controlled sequence of ideas and avoided confusion. Phew! Quite a process.
While I was writing in the daytime, I religiously kept up my reading of novels in the evenings. I found myself instinctively seeking the structure of the book behind the story and appreciating fresh approaches that inspired me. A helpful exercise. One that allowed me to switch off from my own writing problems as well.
Everyone knows self publishing has changed writing and reading habits. Letter writing has been reduced to short emails. Social media encourages skimming fast across the words. Writing has to satisfy readers who read everything at a brisk pace. Books therefore need to focus on story. Descriptions had to be eliminated. My background in English from fifty years ago had no place in this world. That fact shocked me.
As writers, we have a responsibility to improve ourselves. So I read three manuals, all written by writers, two of whom were experienced editors. Now my horizons started to change. Jessica Morrell provided startling chapter titles which said it all:
“Plot Is a Verb: Using Change, Adversity and Action to Shape a Story
Blood, Roses and Mosquitoes: Writing from the Senses
“Conflict: Can’t Live with It, Can’t Write without It”
I began to hoover up the ideas. I had to learn to use language differently. The advice of the two editors was invaluable. Objective prose had to be replaced by emotional writing to engage the reader. The war cry was “you don’t tell a story, you show it”. Once taboo in creative writing, dialogue became a tool for breaking up lumps of prose. The flab in writing had to be eliminated. I had to remove the “probably, pretty, a bit, somewhat” genre of words and to use a strong verb instead of a verb and adverb. The manuscript improved.
Much has been written about not using one’s life story in fiction as it blocks off one’s creativity. I would argue that the background to fiction has to feel authentic. In other words, if your novel is set in Pre Soviet Russia the facts have to be thoroughly researched. If you write about the twentieth century but before the emergence of the internet, your story has to reflect this. If you have personal experience of living in a foreign country and you want to use this in your novel this carries greater conviction than fabricating it.
- Captivate your Readers by Jodie Renner
- Thanks, But This isn’t for Us by Jessica Page Morrell
A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected
- How to Write Your BLOCKBUSTER Fiona McIntosh
- Have you written both fiction and non fiction?
- Do you find any differences in the writing process between the two?
- How do you maintain the freshness of the story?
Born in the Middle East, she graduated from Queensland University with an English major (1967), worked as an air hostess with Qantas (1968 -71), and joined the NSW Education Department as an English teacher, later working as an executive and multicultural consultant (1971 - 85).
In 1985, she returned to the UK to join her husband in running an art school with painting holidays in the Greek islands.
She now lives between Quito and Cornwall.
2014 - 15 published two non fiction books
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