I’ve got yet another guest post for you, only this one is a lot longer! I’ll put them into two posts once more, just to make it easier to read 🙂
Don’t worry, reviews are coming! Obviously college requires a lot of reading, but not books you can really review. Or books I want to review I should say.
Guest Post #1 !
My Writing Process
The starting point for any book must always be the characters: the main protagonist and the main antagonist. It is only via their actions that the plot will ultimately emerge. Characterization is much more important than plot: after reading a book, people often forget the plot, but tend to remember the characters. So my intention is to create memorable characters that people will enjoy getting to know.
My main characters are extraordinary from the outset. I characterize them via their clothing, the way they speak, their attitudes, their mannerisms and their physical attributes. All of these things are a result of their past experiences and therefore make them the people they have become. My main protagonist is always flawed, whilst my main antagonist, must have at least some charisma. I always maintain distance between myself and my characters, therefore my protagonist is never based on myself, and my antagonist is never based on my worst enemy.
I then decide the conflict… this will emerge from how the protagonist’s and antagonist’s motivations differ. And from this, the semblance of a plot will develop…the protagonist wants one thing, the antagonist wants another thing, and suspense and tension can be created via the urgency and necessity of what the characters want to achieve.
During the process of creating the characters, I decide upon the location, setting and background of the story. This involves spending time in the locations, and absorbing the atmosphere, sights, smells and sounds.
As you have now realized, a great deal of preparation occurs prior to even writing the first lines of Chapter 1… But akin to many things in life, failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.
The First Draft
I use a sharp pencil and a pad of lined paper. I write at the same time each day, and continue to do so until the first draft is complete. I have always been able to think better when I interact directly with the words on the page… computer screens and keyboards get in the way of the creative process.
Earnest Hemmingway said: “First drafts are s**t”. He was right. In fact, sometimes they are much worse, and mine are no exception. Proper writing is actually rewriting… there are no short cuts.
Whilst typing up my manuscript, I organize the flow of the story, and ensure the chronology is correct.
After making at least one backup copy, I print out the manuscript and begin my first proper read through, making numerous changes with a red pen. Often, the print-outs have more red notes around them than actual text. I examine each scene in turn, and eliminate every weak scene until all the remaining scenes are visually impressive and memorable.
Show, don’t tell
Under no circumstances should the story be stopped in order to describe something. Readers find this annoying, because it interrupts their reading experience. Everything that occurs must be in the immediate scene, i.e. must be written in such a way that it is happening ‘on stage’. The action is thus uninterrupted, and the reader can feel involved in the story.
I always write flashbacks in the immediate scene, often recounting past events via dialogue between two characters. I also like to use the jump cutting technique, as used in films, to move quickly from one scene to another.
I never allow things to go well for my characters… putting obstacles in their way creates tension and suspense, which encourages the reader to go on reading. And I never resolve the suspense straight away… it frustrates the reader and keeps things interesting.
Although keeping the action going relentlessly is important, it can be overdone. So I always insert calmer periods, so the reader can catch their breath. Frequent paragraphing, and short chapters increase the pace, whereas longer paragraphs and longer chapters slow things down. Obtaining the optimal mix is a skill that I am still working on.
By the end of the book, the principle characters must change in some way. Some for the better, some for the worse, either subtly or dramatically.
At this point, I begin fine-tuning the story. It is an extremely time-consuming, yet thoroughly enjoyable, and actually rather meditative process…
I remove all unnecessary words, for example ‘very’ and ‘quite’, because it makes the narrative sharper and more concise. Some editors call this process liposuctioning the flab… and it works… on one occasion, my second draft was shortened by 5% and the resulting manuscript was much more pleasurable to read.
I turn my attention to the details. Every word I use is there for a reason… so if anything is out of place, it is deleted or replaced. I then begin to add further ‘texture’ where necessary, thus ensuring every page employs as many of the senses as possible. Sight is rarely neglected, but sound, taste, touch, smell and the all-important 6th sense often are… Utilizing all the senses provides the reader with a much more realistic atmosphere, in which they can become immersed.
“An air of importance beyond the constituents of the story.”
Throughout The Dancing Barber, the main characters’ faith (or lack of) is referred to in numerous places, via direct Biblical quotations and epigraphs that accompany each Act.
Also The Great Famine (Holodomor) of 1933 is one of the backbones of the plot.
I print out the entire manuscript, even if it is 500 pages, and check each page in turn for spelling and grammar. At the same time, I enhance the narrative where necessary, check that events occur chronologically, and everything each character does and says is in context.
Eventually, a point is reached when the manuscript is the best it can be…
But the process isn’t finished yet…
It is advantageous to obtain the opinions of two or three critical people, who preferably don’t know you, prior to getting the manuscript ready for submission to a literary agent and publisher…
But that is another story