Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Aimless Writing

Here is the rule for how to begin a story.

Writing a story, like archery, needs an aim before you start. 

If you just go for it without a proper aim, the result is likely to be unpleasant, painful and not very rewarding.

What you originally intended as the aim can change as you write, of course.  Probably some kind of air current/wind direction analogy should go here but I was never very good at archery.

My three sort of basically complete MSS all ended up in different places to where I thought they were going when I started.

Working Title: Rigor Morris was originally going to be about Pauline helping Morris be nice to people, which in the finished draft is now only one comic scene towards the end and Pauline isn’t even involved. 

Working Title: The Road To Confidence was supposed to be about Hannah working alone while Clark was in prison, but that soon got scuppered when I realised that Clark was such a strong character that he needed to be in it throughout. 

Working Title: Timing was always meant to have a depressing ending, a sort of inevitability to it, but when I got there, that wasn’t right at all and the entire tone of the novel changed.

But you still need that aim to start with.  Otherwise you’re just typing.  And typing with no aim is basically hitting the keyboard randomly.  And it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve sat in front of a piano and just pressed the keys, not once has a beautiful concerto come out.

The problem I have is the story I want to write (and when I say want to write, I have already typed 400 pages of rubbish) started as a story in my head to amuse myself when I was bored.  I made up a bunch of interconnecting characters and set them in motion, so the same characters could relive the same day a dozen times with completely different results, and although they did progress and grow, still they lived parallel lives over and over.  So when I decided to write them down as Working Title: The Selfish Dead, I basically had a soap or a comic, with plotlines that lasted years and restarted all the time.

So.  Sit down and figure out what the AIM is.  What the POINT is.  What you want to get from the story.  This is your — NEW ANALOGY! — acorn.  And as we all know, from little acorns, mighty oaks do grow.

So I did pare down all these parallel universes, right on down and down, right to the very basic level.  And discovered.

I had three acorns.

And what do three acorns do when you plant them together?

No.  They choke each other and die.

The point I’m trying to make here is:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

When I Read Novelisations

When I was young I read novelisations.  I suppose it was an easy way into books.  You liked that film, now you can read it.  But later, I grew up. 

I am currently reading the Back To The Future novelisation by George Gipe.  I bought it during an eBay addiction several years ago and since I am attempting to read everything I own in hopes of clearing out The Bookshelf and only owning things I actually like, I have to read it (as first mentioned in my post Mr Tinderbox).

The book itself may be wonderful.  But here is a line from the book, from page 4/5.  See if you can spot what it is that I don’t like about novelisations, fanfictions and others of that ilk.

He fixed young McFly with his most intimidating gaze, hoping to panic him into either a confession or further punishable arrogance.  Instead, the infuriatingly good-looking face framed by medium-length brown hair simply stared back.

Well, I’m glad that clears that up.  I don’t think I could have read any more of this book without knowing what length McFly’s hair was or that his face was framed by it.  I mean, it’s vital to the story.  How could I possibly imagine him travelling through time if I didn’t know that his hair was ‘medium-length’ whatever that even means, or ‘brown’ for that matter.  ‘Brown’ you say?  Well that changes everything.  It’ll be a totally different perspective with which I’ll read it now.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Before I Could Write - Part 2

One day a certain idea came to me that I should post up on The Blog stories I wrote when I was a kid.  So welcome to chapter two of The Hill’s writing, pre-epiphany (i.e. when I was rubbish).

Here’s a story I wrote when I was six or seven.

Self Portrait

First, here is my autobiography / future prediction for myself from that time:

My Life

When I was a baby I used to eat what was on the floor.
Then a couple of years later I went to playschool.
Then I went to school and had my photograph.
And then I will go up to middle school and do slightly difficult work.
When I grow up I am not going to get a job.
Then I will get married.
Then I want some children.
And then I will be a grandparent.

My Predicted Marriage

Well…  Isn’t that nice.  Good to see they really inspired us to reach for the heights.  And hey, I am unemployed.  Apparently, I’m living the dream.

Okay, here's the story:


I was on my carpet.  And I was pretending it was a magic carpet.  But it turned into a magic carpet.  And it took off.  And it took me to the dreamland.  And when I got off I turned into a princess.  A fairy came.  And made my brothers appear.  Then I found seven mice.  And suddenly a very big wind blew me and my brothers to a rainbow.  And I got the treasure.  And I got back to my carpet.  And then it took me to where the Acorn Green people live.  Then Bobby’s dad said have some worms and I said no thank you by the way Bobby is my toy.  Then I took the worms and then I fell down a hole filled with poisonous snakes and then I woke up it was all a dream or was it the worms and the mice were still there.

It was all a dream - OR WAS IT?  A true classic.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Morals And Stories

Of all the high thoughts and morals I have spouted in my life, only one is something I truly believe in.

“Don’t do that,” he said.
“What?” I asked, shaking the glass so the ice spun around fast.
“Don’t spit out your drink.”
I had already taken another gulp, so had to spit it out the window.  “But I don’t drink.”
“Then why did your pour yourself a whisky?”
“When I was little, I wanted to be a whisky-swilling, cigar-chewing, card sharp loan shark.”
He stared at me.  “But you don’t drink or smoke.”
“Vices lead to weakness.”
“Isn’t gambling a weakness?”
I put my feet on the dashboard and crossed them.  “I don’t gamble.  I cheat.”
Scene from Working Title: The Shovel PI ms, by LJ Conrad.

I don’t have much meaning in The Life.  As a child, I dreamed I would grow up to be a thieving, hard drinking, smoking con artist card sharp loan shark PI (which is odd, because I gave other people the impression that I was a puritanical… puritan).  But if there is any meaning in The Life, I suppose it is the vegetarianism. 

I became an official vegetarian, I am told, on The Sixth Birthday, although I believe I had been phasing meat out for a while. 

I loved animals.  No one told me that I had been eating HACKED UP DEAD ANIMALS.  If they had, I wouldn’t have the touched the stuff.  Soon I learnt what was in the beloved sausages and meatballs. 

And that was pretty much that.

I have never touched meat since, and avoid any other animal products that involve killing the animal, though I have not gone full vegan. (2016 EDIT: I went vegan some time in 2012, after educating myself further and learning that the dairy and egg industry kill plenty of animals, especially babies.)

What is on The Mind right now is should the vegetarian agenda be in The Work?  I couldn’t, I think, in good conscience write a scene in which a protagonist sits down and eats some meat, but, food not terribly fascinating me, I might say ‘he ate some sausages’.  I did not specify whether those were pork or soya.  But should I?  Should I set the example?  Or will it get distracting that every single book I write is populated with vegetarians; hardly realistic, terribly repetitive, and it would look like I am incapable of writing characters who aren’t me. 

Of course I regularly write characters doing things I never have or never would, because it’s a story.  And I find myself admitting that there is a perverse joy in writing a character frying up some bacon or sporting a leather jacket, because it is so removed from me.  But then, this is The One Moral in life.  It’s the one thing I have chosen to live The Life by and it is terribly, terribly important.  Is it more important than The Stories?

Perhaps it is safer to stay on the fence and continue not entirely describing what they’re eating.  But sometimes it is necessary.  I’ve almost completed the redraft of the World War II ms, Working Title: The Road To Confidence (now with more blitz), and I do often describe what they’re eating with rationing and all, so various fish and offal and others are swallowed.  If I wrote a character in a historical novel as vegetarian, that would be a bigger deal than nowadays and since it isn’t important to the story, it would be an irrelevant plotline to follow.  And nothing should ever be irrelevant in a story.

But then, a tiny part of The Mind is whispering, am I betraying the cause?  What if someone reads a scene in which the character eats some meat, feels peckish and eats what I have described?  Then that death is on my head.  Or can I kid myself that I have counterbalanced it by having the protagonist rescue a pet rabbit from the chop?  I know I put that in to assuage The Horror that during the war people cooked and ate their pets. 

I don’t know what is the right path.  And being a vegetarian isn’t something I tend to discuss.  Meat-eaters don’t seem to understand that vegetarianism isn’t just a quirk or a dietary preference, but a moral belief system and lifestyle choice and that even a flippant mention of meat is deeply upsetting.  The most difficult part of becoming a vegetarian isn’t the change of diet, the lack of places to eat out or the guilt, but the stupid comments people will make.  When I go out to eat, inadvertently acquaintances discover I’m a vegetarian, and will say one of the following without fail, and may even squeeze in all three.

The stubbornly argumentative:

The bafflingly hostile:

The terrifyingly jolly:

I hate going out to eat.

And I still don’t know what’s more important, the story, or promoting the one thing in The Life that has any meaning.  I just can’t turn my back on either.