A Christmas Carol, Bingo, characters, Charles Dickens, clichés, David Beckham, depenedent clauses, dialogue, Ebenezer Scrooge, English football, French Revolution, Gros bisous, hamartia, Hollywood, house, independent clauses, La Guillotine, London, lotto, Ma belle écrivains, Next Goal Wins, Paris, past particple, past tense, present tense, Samoa, Shakespeare, tenses, The Vengeance
17-15: The countdown continues to the biggest blundersto help you avoid them.
When I used to teach, at one particular meeting a few colleagues and me used to play cliché bingo when a particular ‘Facilitator’ was ‘disseminating’ with as many ‘buzz’ words as they could slip in; ‘challenge’, ‘rigour’, ‘assessment’, ‘collective responsibility’, ‘OFSTED criteria’, etc. The scoring system was semi-complicated, some words carried 1 point, joint words 2 points and short phrases 3 points, you could play a joker once for double points as well. The particular ‘Leader’ thought we were in concentrated rapture with the latest government initiative to make use work harder and increase our and the pupils stress levels further, (“Look at the standards in South Korea” −but not the suicide levels of the young! –there’s always going to be casualties!!) just so he could ‘look’ pro-active and tick a few boxes.
The more intuitive amongst us (unless you’re trying to climb the greasy food-chain pole) know when we are talking in clichés and will often point it out. If you don’t, if you are giving a key-note speech and the audience have what looks like bingo cards in front of them, that will aid as a good visual clue!
17 Tenses mixed up. If you write in the same tense, the chances of mixing them up are greatly reduced, but if you want to add variation and interest to your writing you may want to move in time mainly between the past and present tense. Mistakes tend to arise when writers move between the past and the present within the same sentence, and the more clauses you have, the more chance for error, adding an extra clause can switch the dependent and independent clauses, we are also talking perfect tenses and past participles, this website explains it well: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/mixing-verb-tenses
Reported speech and reported thoughts have their own time:
Tarquin told Trisha he wanted a divorce.
Both ‘told’ and ‘wanted’ are in the past tense, but can obviously be used in the present and future tenses as well. Fiction writers use the present tense to add drama, immediacy and action.
“I want a divorce Trisha, now.”
You can add drama to your writing by writing in the present tense, even though it is in the past.
“I want a divorce Traisha, now.” The rash words echo even now, years later, especially after Commy caught a virus and died.
If it all appears a bit complicated, as usual it is common sense and thin-slicing, if it sounds right, it more than likely is and vice versa.
16 Too many clichés. I have alluded to this earlier within similes and metaphors, but obviously they are not the same thing. Watch any sports star (and quite a few commentators as well), take English footballers interviewed after a match; ‘It is a game of two halves.’ – as opposed to one of four quarters; ‘He’s good with his feet for a big man.’ –I’m surprised he can actually walk straight, he’s like a stretched clown; ‘I’m over the moon.’ –No you’re not, you’re slightly educationally sub-normal in a tunnel being interviewed−the chances of you being chosen for a space mission are infinity to one; ‘There are no easy games in football.’ –There are if you’re playing Samoa, see the film, ‘Next Goal Wins’ for evidence; ‘It’s in Beckham range.’ –Only if it’s on a pitch in Miami it is. You don’t have to take your socks and shoes off to count the home grown English players that can string a mutli-syllabic sentence together in the right tenses and without clichés.
Clichés can be useful as I stated last week. Try and be clever with them, if in doubt leave them out. Like too many ‘ly’ advebs and adjectives, you don’t notice them when they are absent, but you do when they are over used. It’s bit like listening to a DJ mixing records, you never notice a DJ that mixes the next tune in seamlessly, but there is a collective groan when the beats crash against each other.
15 Not enough empathy for your characters. Think Shakespeare and Dickens– why do they endure so: the plot, motivations, the clever richness of the words… and empathy for the characters. They evoke emotions. Any narrative has to get the reader to ask questions. Your narrative and characters are your two most important aspects of your book. Even when a book has flaws, such as Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities−how many times can the main characters meet per chance on a road between London and Paris and in Paris itself? Any book with a character that knits at the foot of the La Guillotine called The Vengeance and not a wrestler has to be a winner. We forgive the flaws in the story because the characters are compelling, you empathise with them, and also the French Revolution is ‘bloody’ compelling. A Christmas Carol was probably my favourite book as a child, the Hollywood redemption at the end is the clincher, but the narrative character arc of Ebenezer Scrooge is mesmerising. Think of your favourite book, you remember two things about it even years later, the story and the characters. The obvious thing to do is take a character and make the reader love them, like you, the writer does. But for your book to be successful it needs more than a one-dimensional protagonist, it needs something to battle against, an antagonist, adversity or a fatal flaw (hamartia). Try and avoid too many characters that have the same voice, it will make the dialogue harder to write and less interesting. Because your characters are so paramount, don’t rush them−take your time not to hurry.
Have your characters formed before you start. They may evolve slightly, but ask yourself: What is the characters; goals (might be abstract); motivations; conflicts (that might stop them reaching their goals); epiphany or arc; why should I love this person – or if you are really brave, why should I hate this person and want them to fail? When you have done that write a one or two page summary of each of the character’s story line. Draw a timeline of events, it is easy to lose track, especially if you are writing your book over a long period of time, in both senses. If you want to have look at the pro-forma I use before I start writing a book, contact me through my website.
House!… for now. Unless I win the Lotto before, all being well I will ‘see’ you all next week. Either way I will see you next week, ‘cos I love you as much as any pig, and that’s sayin’ summit!’ BIG Love, Ma belle écrivains…Gros bisous.
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.