Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Navigating the Craft of Writing

Rowena here.

If I'd known that Dave was going to give a Command Performance every time he posted a blog I wouldn't have volunteered to go next. He's a hard act to follow.

On top of this I've been trying to upload this post for several hours now but kept getting some obscure error. Then, in the middle of this, we had a severe electrical storm which blew the power for two and a half hours, while I was juggling cooking dinner. I spent the next couple of hours with my four sons aged, 14, 16, 18 and 22, playing cards and scrabble by the candle light. It was fun. The moment the power came back on we all retreated to our rooms to work on our computers. There's probably some deep philosophical conclusion I can draw from this.

Meanwhile, I firmly believe that Story is King. I see myself as a craftsman. If I stop while I'm reading to think 'Wow, that's an evocative turn of phrase', then the writer has thrown me out of the story. It is like waving a flag and saying 'Look at me. Aren't I clever?' The greatest compliment a reader could one of my books would be 'I felt like I was really there. I had to keep reading to find out what happened.'

When I wrote my fantasy trilogy, 'The Last T'En', I was operating on instinct, plunging from event to event, carried by the power and passion of the story. Since then I've become more analytical and understand why something works. If I find an author who makes me forget I'm reading a book, I'll buy all their books and read them in chronological order to see how they develop as a writer.

The great thing about being an author is that, unlike an elite sportsperson, a writer can improve with age. I hope to still be writing at ninety and discovering new authors!

12 comments:

Aston the Splat said...

Finding a good new author is a lovely feeling.

Especially if they have a lot of books around. You can go on sprees. :D

I also hope to keep finding new ones.

Kate said...

Thanks for starting this blog, it's fun!

I love the idea of buying an author's books in chronological order. When I get addicted to a new author (new to me anyway) I definitely tend to binge on their books until I run out! Great idea.

Dave Freer said...

Command performance (snort) Yeah, that's right. Sarah (bless her delicate refined manner, cotton candy heart and steel jack-boots) commanded. I protested. She said I should just write down the crib-notes for introducing myself that B puts on my hankies. I hadn't the heart to explain kleenex. I am blundering blindly where angels fear to tread ;-).

Dave Freer said...

Actually, Rowena, you pinpointed something I feel strongly about: There is an enormous level of craft in writing so smoothly that the reader simply carried with the tide of events. It is quite common for books which throw the reader out to think 'wow what an evocative phrase, or (blink) what does that mean (stop and think)to get words of critical acclaim - because the reader notices. The slick performance is a much harder trick - but less obvious. My aim and ambition to write so easily that readers swear at me the next morning. One day ;-)

Ori Pomerantz said...

There is an enormous level of craft in writing so smoothly that the reader simply carried with the tide of events. It is quite common for books which throw the reader out to think 'wow what an evocative phrase,

Would it also be a problem if the evocative phrase was spoken by a character? In real life, people sometimes say things that are evocative.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Ori asked: Would it also be a problem if the evocative phrase was spoken by a character? In real life, people sometimes say things that are evocative.

It would have to be in character for the person to speak this way. So, if they were a trained bard or a poet, or if you had a society that valued public speaking and trained the children of the elite for this task, then evocative phrasing would seem natural.

R

Mike said...

Command performance?

1. To pull male wasps, at least appear to be something they fancy? If you're going to get male readers, be sure to wear an orchid in your hair?

2. Cephalopod love -- to succeed, you need put something of yourself into it, and it may hurt? Aka I lost my hectocotylus in San Francisco?

3. Sharks without a feeding frenzy, but still . . . persistence pays. Welcome to the writing conference ... wake you up in the middle of the night, just to hear them say ... You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave . . .

I suppose, but escaping into fantasy sounds kind of fishy to me.

As for Craft, Story, and the perennial dissing of evocative phrasing, just pondering some of Bradbury or Delany's work -- maybe some others --

Aren't there some writers who manage to turn evocative phrases and still weave a strong story? It seems to me that if the groundwork is laid well, we can use a dash of purple prose and such and still get away with it. Hook the reader hard, get them on tenterhooks, and then drift into a lush description of just how cephalopods trade tentacles for the night . . . and then relieve the tension and get back to the story?

'nother Mike

Dave Freer said...

'nother Mike - to quote: "which throw the reader out to think 'wow what an evocative phrase, or (blink) what does that mean (stop and think)."

The key phrases IMO: 'which throw the reader out' 'stop and think'(huh what does that mean). If you can avoid those the prose can be so brilliant, purple and evocative it glows in the dark. But if you kick me out of my happy reader-trance every couple of pages (or lines) I'm personally going to TBAR. Your milage may vary ;-).

MartinB said...

Dave: You made me stay up all night with RBU.

I was not a friendly person the next morning.

Dave Freer said...

Keeping people up all night reading... Heh. I treasure that one half-angry letter from Japan (of all places) "You nearly lost me my job". I apologise to all the miserable people the next morning. But you really need to either start earlier or read faster;-)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

The sad thing is that Monkey is quoting almost exactly what I told him. The sadder thing is that I'm in the middle of two books at once, so I'd forgotten the existence of Kleenex. Mind you, I'm doing well. I haven't misplaced either kids or cats, but... And I don't have steel toed boots, though my snow boots can... er... do.

And yeah, I live for the "lost sleep" emails, including the gentleman who informed me my earc had cost his his med school exams.

Yep, that's what I sat out to do.

Mike said...

Good point, Dave. The key seems to be keeping the trance intact. Part of that seems to be setting the expectations -- certain authors and styles (epic fantasy) are known for richer word play, so when we pick up one of these, we know where we are headed. The start of a book sometimes clues us in that we're heading into a certain style, too.

There's also a question of length. A short story can get away with being mood or setting heavy, where the same thing playing out for a whole novel would be too much?

But, in general, the question is whether the trance gets broken or not. And that's partly reader-dependent, eh?