A Christmas Carol, antagonist, aphorism, B&Q, books, characterisation, Charles Dickens, conflict, epiphany, Fail to plan, goals, hamartia, monkey, more grist for the mill, plan to fail, protagonist, Teacher Training
30-29: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders−to help you avoid them.
When I finished University, before I went off Teacher Training I fitted kitchens for a year with my cousin (and read a lot of books). We did one job at a very large B&Q showroom (a British DIY chain). It was my job to tile and grout 26 show kitchens. In this particular store in the staff toilets was a large full-length mirror with the company design and logo running around it. At the top it had a large signage that reminded you, as if you needed reminding: ‘This is how the customer sees you.’ To which I normally stuck two fingers up−none of us like authority, especially supercilious annoying authority! At the side it had a ridiculous aphorism: ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail.’ I always wondered what strategic planning the staff should be undertaking while in the lavatory. What scenarios they might be running through their heads as a more efficient response to customer enquiries. “Do you have a size 6 sprocket drilling gizmonator spring-loaded recess valve?” “Yes, Isle 4, section 3, bottom shelf!” [Response time 0.18 seconds−a record!]
However ridiculous the aphorism was, and however much we might kick against the idea of been told what to do, it is true, even if someone says it to you, and you have the overwhelming desire to punch them in the face. If you haven’t already, you are about to undertake a massive task−writing your first book, it takes a lot of meticulous planning, if you think it doesn’t, you are deluding yourself. That is before you have read many books and learnt lots of the craft. Let’s carry on the countdown…
30 Lack of planning: Rambling, not tight enough writing (and planning). You will occasionally hear experienced writers saying that they do not plan their books; they have a basic premise and story line. “I love writing so much because when I sit down to write I have no idea where the characters and story will take me. I become lost in the words.” I suspect two things when I hear or read such comments, firstly their writing will not be as good as it could be, and secondly, they belong to an older generation of writers. I couldn’t do that, nearly all writers don’t do that, and you shouldn’t do that either. If you do your book will ramble, be longer than it needs to be−less is definitely more. Write an outline of the entire story, and then break it down into chapters. If the story moves through time, draw a timeline and mark on all significant events. Remember words should be used sparingly and any waffle and spuriousness needs cutting out. Of course ideas and improvements will occur as you are writing, but adhere to what each chapter is supposed to achieve. Try hard to leave the reader wanting to read on. It sounds like simple common sense, but it is amazing how many people don’t do it.
29 Formulate characters and motivations beforehand: There are two main aspects of your book that the will linger with the reader−the slow burn. That is the narrative; even now you remember the story outline of the children’s books you loved/love. You ask any child or grown-up: ‘What happens in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?’ They will be able to tell you, in quite a lot of detail. For two reasons, the story and the aspects of it are one of the best story lines of all time, and the other is because of brilliant characters, that form almost instantly. If you don’t know the meaning of redemption before you ever encounter this work, you do by the end.
Have your characters formed before you start. They may evolve slightly, but ask yourself, what are 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! Does the main protagonist/s have flaws, or even a fatal flaw (hamartia). When you have done that write a one or two page summary of each of the characters story line. Your characters, especially main protagonist, and possibly antagonist are paramount for the success of your novel. This is essential, and even more so if you are going to write a sequel/s. You will forget the birthdays/wedding date/anniversaries/schools attended/names of friends and relatives/likes/dislikes etc. I always do this on a set pro-forma for each main character. If you would like to have a look at the one I use, contact me.
After two weeks working at B&Q, the last four days constantly grouting and looking as though I had just emerged from a cement mixer situated at the end of a worm-hole−‘wax on, wax bloody off!’ The manager said to my cousin.
“The tiling monkey’s done a good job.”
“Oh, he’s not really a tiling monkey; he’s just doing this until he goes off to train to be a Teacher.”
“No he is, he’s bright. Ian come over here, we want a word with you.”
I walked over and my cousin reiterated the conversation for my benefit. I looked at the manager, who I had fermented a mild distain towards over half a month and replied.
“Ooh-ooh-aah-aah-ah”, and then walked off to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t give a monkey’s cuss how the customer saw me! I’d served my time.
When you are a writer every new first-hand experience is a valuable opportunity to learn something valuable−more grist for the mill… but some experiences don’t have to be repeated!
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.