Afghanistan, believability, Bill Hicks, Clarice Bean, dialogue, Donaldson’s Diary, epiphany, Facebook, Fifa, Graham Swift, Hairy Maclary, Halo, Harry Potter, hearts and minds, Hotmail, Last Orders, Radio 4, reality, Seamus Heaney, Simcity, Stormbreaker, teaching, teleban, The Space Between the Notes, World of Warcraft
23-21: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders to help you avoid them.
When our children were young, Monday night was dubbed: ‘Afghanistan Night’ by our son, as it was ‘tele-ban’ night. All screens were banished on this single night, with the exception of last, last minute homework. Life slowed down, we talked, played board games, stood around the piano singing show tunes like extras from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Ok, I made the last one up. What we also did was read; Harry Potter, Stormbreaker, Clarice Bean and Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s Dairy), displacing World of Warcraft, Fifa, Halo, Facebook and Simcity.
I could go on about the benefits of this night, but they were many fold. It taught them the love of reading as an option and an alternative; it also taught them why it is important to read, something that has stayed with them. They have moved more towards their gender stereotypes: fiction for my daughter and non-fiction for my son. (Males and females really are wired differently!) But if you were to ask them why they read? They would smile at you, thinking you were extracting the proverbial! I will let Bill Hicks sum it up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtyGY_o0Vx8 If anyone asks you why you’re reading, don’t say: ‘I read for the sheer majesty of being allowed to visit inside someone’s head, to travel in their imagination to places I would otherwise probably never visit, to emphasis and understand the world and the people therein better, to grow intellectually as well as soaring enjoyment and entertainment.’ No, Just say, ‘I want to be a better writer,’ and then, make time to write.
23 Wrong tone/unbelievability. Literary types often call this verisimilitude (Latin verum meaning truth and similis meaning similar). You may think it is obvious if your narrative appears realistic. If you stick to the old adage of writing about what you know, you should have no problem. If you are writing dialogue and place, both of which you have never encountered in real life, there is a good chance you may get it wrong. Stick to what you know to start with, there is a lot to master without complicating things any further. If your narrative/characters/dialogue is not believable people will be either put off or give up on your novel. Dialogue has to be realistic and tight. In reality people may say ‘erm’ and ‘uhm’ but unless you really want to over-emphasis a lack of confidence or education within a character, leave it out. You can use dialogue to emphasis many things; differing emotions, foreignness, class, lack of education−Graham Swift does the last two well in Last Orders with an ensemble of working class characters. This is where lots of reading is essential and as many eyes as possible looking over your work. I have emphasised the importance of a writers’ group before, a reading group will not go amiss either, but not in place of the former, if several members of the group are saying: ‘Would that character really say that?’ or ‘Is that realistic?’ You would be foolish not to even consider revising it. Sometimes I think it is a question, especially with experience, of ‘thin-slicing’ − that gut feeling of it being right, if you ain’t getting it, more than likely it isn’t right.
22 Not making enough time–this is not the same as motivation. We are talking frustration, when you’re chomping at the bit and life is getting in the way. When I wrote my first two books, I was working a full time job, two young children and all the rest. I gave up what I would call ‘crap tele’. I was recently flicking through the channels and there were three programmes about people at work (call centre (the mills of the twenty-first century), airline staff and sewage workers). Would you go to work with these people, especial the latter, and look over their shoulder for the day/s – course you wouldn’t. There are much worse programmes than these and other greater distractions that will suck your time away from you: social media and computer games! If you want to be a writer set time aside to write, or at least read. This can require great personal discipline and if you are serious about finishing your novel before it is a lingering regret on your deathbed, switch the idiot box off.
21 Write notes continually. ‘Seldom as an idea that has come to me in bed, in the middle of the night been a bad one.’ I read this in a newspaper many years ago and have no idea who said it. I am never without something to record notes/ideas/description of places/information/quotes/single words as I travail through life. My epiphany came on a road in Manchester, not the Middle East, it was the start of the school term, I was listening to Radio 4 and an idea for a new book came to me. I pulled the car over and wrote several pages of fast scribbled notes in a small notepad. I knew that it was not just the idea, but also the fact I was rested, relaxed, creative and inspired after the long summer holiday. Once the hubbub, the physical, mental and emotion toil of teaching (league tables, challenge, progress, admin, assessment, meetings, training, etc, etc, started), I would not be this creative−I wasn’t making the same journey the year after! Take time to think, blue-sky metacognition−or whatever you want to call it.
Sometimes it’s just a word. Seamus Heaney had just died and I read some of his poetry, as soon as I saw the single word ‘clenched’, I knew I had to slip it into my latest book. Just say it aloud, ‘clenched’ it is more than a single word, it spans a range of emotions, you feel clenched, so do your creasing stomach muscles, as you utter it!
I find dialogue the easiest aspect of writing. I often write the ‘raw’ dialogue between characters even before I start any other aspect of the book. If the characters are swirling around in your head and you are imagining what they are saying to each other, write it down−you will forget it, especially the detail. The book I have just completed (The Space Between the Notes), I wrote 25 pages of dialogue over two years (only write on one side, then you can spread them out and decide on the order much easier), I already had the characters from the two previous books, so not as difficult as it sounds.
There is no excuse with smartphones to lose anything. I have talked about organisation before. I have paper wallet folders, computer folders and email folders (the latter backs up my files, the chances of Hotmail going down are quite slim!). I often text or email ideas to myself, but have never used the voice recorder, and then from there put it into the correct folder/project. Even if it just a single word or maybe two, record them, or they will evaporate and become a shimmering mirage of ambiguity.
The Taliban have introduced a much longer ban on screens than our Monday night one of the past, the problem being, 82% of them are illiterate! If we all sent them a copy of ‘Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s Diary) with a message of love and hope inside, the word will be a much, much, better place to live: ‘hearts and minds, hearts and minds!’
Ian M Pindar’s latest books, under his real name are: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are on special offer http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Ian+M+Pindar He has another three novels out this year.