Friday, 19 September 2014

I am a writer

When I was eighteen, which happens to have been more than half a century ago, I wrote a poem titled "Shall all my tears" which asked "Shall I be a writer?" and said "writers have a meaning, what meaning have I?". Borrowing from Omar Khayam, I concluded by wondering whether me tears would wash out every word.
Looking back I believe now I missed the point. Writers don't need any deep meaning, they just have an idea and the inner drive to shape words around it. More than that, they have the inner drive to write better, to work at their words to give that idea life.
The reason I am writing this today is that I have been thinking a lot lately about how I want my life to be in the fifteen or so years I probably have left of my life, and the one constant is that I want to be somewhere I can write. To that extent I can answer myself of 1959 that I have indeed become a writer. Not a published novelist, which I would have liked. Certainly a published short story writer, although none of my stories is likely to be studied in literature classes. I write. It's who I am. It's as simple as that and it's nothing to cry about.

Personality types

I Googled personality types and found a web site which sets out 16 different personality types according to the Myers Briggs code. I have no idea whether they are realistic, although I understand they are used by many companies to vet staff and allocated them to positions etc. For me, as a writer, they provide outlines for characters I can use. For example, one of my characters, Will, is a thinker, ex military analyst. One of the types outlines has just such a personality - always studies things carefully before making a decision etc. I can use these traits in my character to (a) differentiate him from other characters and (b) make him consistent throughout the novel. When I came to Debby, my main character, I could not find a type that matched, which possibly means I have created a character who does not fit any norm. I can't see anything wrong with that, so I have selected traits from a number of the personality types and used those to create my personality outline for Debby.The reason I needed to do this was that I wasn't sure that I was making her consistent. She was changing as she reacted to different situations I created instead of staying consistent in the way she reacted to them. Now I have an useful tool to check if I have her acting consistently or not.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Problems with Grandma

I'm having problems with the character of Debby, the POV character I am using. Part of the reason is that she is one of a set of characters who are all of equal importance but using her as the POV gives her weight over the others and this is not helping the structure of the story which depends on the interaction between them and the different skills and personality traits each contributes.
Originally I wrote in omniscient but changed to one POV after someone told me this is the latest trend and that omniscient isn't acceptable any more. Maybe I misunderstood that but it doesn't matter. Looking over Grandma's shoulder isn't working.
My alternatives are to rewrite the whole thing in omniscient or, as one person has suggested, write each chapter from a different character's POV.
Either would be a massive task given the current partly completed draft is around 80,000 words. Still, may be better to rewrite now than to wait until I have a draft of 100,000 plus.
Another part of the problem is that I am finding being this close to a character is uncomfortable. I need her to take various actions but find it distracting if I have to justify why she is doing it. As soon as I write this I begin wondering if this is not a serious flaw in my writing, Perhaps I do not get inside my characters enough but use them as pawns or cyphers to tell my story or get my own views across. If so, I need to do some hard thinking about what I am writing and why I am doing it. It could explain why I have been successful with short stories, where there is less time for character development, and not with novels where the reader wants character development often at the expense of plot development.
A lot to think about.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Ubud workshop worth the trip

Just back from the Australian Writers Centre workshop in Ubud, Indonesia, with Patti Miller. The theme was writing about the senses and what I got out of it was a refinement on the old show don't tell. When you are writing about how someone is feeling or acting, get inside their body and look at how they would be feeling and acting. Then write about that. Don't say someone was scared. What does someone do when they are scared.? How do their eyes look, the fingers, body? Describe that and let the readers work out for themselves that it means the character is scared.
In a scene I happened to be writing in my current novel this instantly translated into a description of a woman who puts her jacket on, takes it off, holds it at arms length, puts it back on and then goes out through a door to where others are waiting. Hopefully the reader sees she is uncertain about the coming meeting without me saying that.
As Patti put it, let the scene tells its own story.
Of course there was a lot more to the workshop than that. All the senses come into play and we were looking at ways to use smell, taste, touch and sound as well as sight to give each scene more meaning and colour. I'll write some more after I have gone through my notes and absorbed it.
There were a lot of exercises I found fun. One was to find a new experience and describe it. I chose eating a local fruit I had never seen before. Another was to imagine an experience you had never had and write about that. I had fun describing how I would put on a bra. In another we each described a location and a character on separate pieces of paper, then shuffled them around the group. Each member had to create a story with the location and character they ended up with.
Patti has a website at for those who want to look at more of what she does. Her focus is mainly on writing memoirs but a lot of what she has to say is applicable to writing fiction as well.
Dr Dawn Porter
I also went to an AWC gathering in Perth to hear Dr Dawn Barker discuss her two novels Let Her Go and Fractured. Dawn's a child psychiatrist but also a young mum and her stories draw on both sets of experience. Haven't read them yet but have put them high on my to read list. They're published by Hachette. Dawn was successful in winning one of that publisher's mentorships and worked with an editor, publisher and agent on getting the ms of her first, Fractured, into publishable shape.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

I'm 73 this year and still battling on as a writer. I tell people it's what I am and that is exactly what I feel. Whether it is writing a blog like this one, which no-one seems to read, a short story or some scrap of an idea that has come into my head, I need to write and I feel most whole and complete when I am writing. It is what I do, what I have always been better at than most other people and the way in which I somehow or other identify myself and justify my existence.