A M Homes, Atonement, Buenos Aires, Cloud Atlas, Darwin’s Shooter, David Mitchell, fault in our stars, France, Ghostwritten, Glasgow, google, Hull, Hull FC, Ian McEwan’s, Istanbul, Jean-Baptise Grenouille, John Green, John Niven, Judaism, Kill Your Friends, London, Manchester, May We Be Forgiven, Nixon, Palestine, Patrick Suskind, Perfume, Philip Roth, Roger McDonalds, Rugby League, Sheffield, Stuka, Sym Covington, The Beagle, Threepenny Stand, Tom Wolfe, Wikipedia
36-33: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders.
I grew up in the Westside of Hull. When I was young it was a thriving fishing port−the third biggest in Britain. The City divided down the middle by the river that gives it its name. This clear delineation also roughly sections the city into which Rugby League team they support−Rugby League−think chess with muscles, it is not so much a sport but part of the religious National Curriculum there. When I was eleven my Dad took me to see ‘our’ team−there was no choice, believe me. It would be like being brought up a Palestinian Muslim, and saying to your parents, ‘You know what, mum, dad, I might give Judaism a go!’ If the game was sometimes gladiatorial, the old wooden stand−The Threepenny, where I was plonked at the front was the proletariats’ congressional area; quite a lot of the amassed were trawler men. I did not know which to watch, the ‘hard men’ on the pitch, or the ones in the stand and their colourful industrial critic of the players and officials! Since that first day, I have not stopped following them. I know a lot about the team – ‘Hull FC’. I wrote a novel set in Hull and part of the book revolved around ‘my team.’ What I realised as I started researching players and games, was my memory was not as clear as I perceived it to be, and I had either forgotten some detail or remembered it incorrectly. So what’s the point Ian? Research is the point, even if you think you know it, double check it, and not just with Wikipedia−the Wikipedians are not always correct. ‘Do the Math’… and not just the singular, ‘Do the Maths’. More on research later. Let the countdown commence…
36. Not producing a synopsis, treatment and blurb. Do these as soon as you finish the first draft of your book, it will need several attempts and will not get easier the longer you leave it−you learnt that in school. The blurb on the back is like producing a poem; you need to whittle it down until succinct and catchy. The convention is to write it in the third person present. The reader should be asking themselves questions, you are trying to create a mood, intrigue and a feeling of desire to make them want to read the entire book. Write your synopsis first, this can give the plot away, it is a narrative summary of the novel (and anything else that you think is essential) – this is important as when you are writing to publishers they will nearly always ask for a synopsis. There is sometimes confusion between a synopsis−less than 3 pages and a treatment, which can go on for ever; this is more frequently used for pitching films.
35 Lack of a sense of place. I dislike over-prescription of places−we are all members of the global village, we know what most places look like, we have visited them through screens if not first hand, but when you are reading a novel you want to feel as though you are there, getting lost and having to unfortunately shake yourself back to reality. Great novels draw you in without you even noticing, you travel with the characters. More recently I remember being crouched in a ditch at the side of a field being attacked by a Stuka in Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’, wandering France as Jean-Baptise Grenouille in Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’, on board the Beagle with Sym Covington in Roger McDonalds, ‘Darwin’s Shooter’, I could go on. This is one of the reasons we love certain books, but not the only one, obviously. Draw your reader in slowly, evoke a sense of place subtly, ‘the ripe mangoes on the stall were swarming with flies.’ So much is shown without telling: it’s hot, tropical, unhygienic, populous, the fruit has not been sold, etc, etc. The reader is taking a first few steps with you, the narrator, into the market. A sense of place is not just location, but time as well. Sense of place is important in all novels but especially so in crime and detective fiction.
34. Not enough research.It is not just technical books and historical novels that need research. This is where your Writers’ Group comes in handy; the vast amount of experience within the collective, especially the elders is invaluable−not everything shows up on Google! Just the other week a writer read a piece and several members directed him to Tom Wolfe, Philip Roth and John Niven−the latter being me, and more specifically: ‘Kill Your Friends’ which is in my top15 (soon to be made into a film−read it before, the use of a negative character that makes you want to turn the page is breath-taking− it was recommended by two friends, I had quick glance at it before I was about to go out and buy a weighty weekend paper, I did not stop reading for eleven hours, and I would not have even got up if my bladder and stomach had not poked me to do so−I exaggerate not). I tried making a Top 10, and it was so hard I settled on a Top 15. The fact the writer in question had never heard of John Niven, emphasis my point. Interesting in his following book, ‘Single White Male’ he obviously did a lot of research on literature, but used it sparingly.
Research to see how original your idea is, you could argue that is better not to do research, ignorance is bliss, isn’t one vampire book much similar to other vampire book? You will get compared to others, people like to pigeon hole, don’t you compare yourself to others, that’s arrogant−no one likes a show-off, and chances are you are not as good as them anyway.
33 Information dump: You have done a load of research, you’re feeling quite pleased with yourself, the temptation is to dump lots of it into the novel, you are not writing a non-fiction book, you will slow your narrative down and bore lots of your readers. Good examples of how to do this are A M Homes’ ‘May We be forgiven.’ The main protagonist is a Nixon scholar; the relevant facts are slipped in throughout and are related to the story-line. David Mitchell’s ‘Ghostwritten’ which has plenty of technical detail without going over the top−this for me is a better book than his ‘Cloud Atlas’, and John Green’s ‘The Fault in our Stars’, which could have had lots more detail about cancer, but it’s the human emotions that are paramount to the book.
See you all next week…and remember, sport is not war, unless you live in Hull, Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, London, Istanbul, Buenos Aires…
Both my latest books: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are FREE on Amazon Kindle this weekend 19-21 April. YES FREE!