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This week I have been thinking a lot about short forms of fiction. Another advertising sign I love that tells a story of complex possibilities hangs on a road in Melbourne, it’s been there for years and simply says ‘Going to Europe? You’ll need a coat’
It always makes me think, it’s a little phrase but it suggests that you are coming from somewhere so warm you don’t already have a coat, and perhaps wouldn’t have considered packing one. That you are travelling somewhere so strange you need to purchase special protective gear. And how do they know what I’ll be doing, how do they know I’ll need a coat. What would happen if I don’t have one? Heck I better get one before it’s too late! Maybe it’s just me.
Also I’ve been contemplating the book I need to choose for the next book club I am due to host. It’s not until October so I have time, but I’m considering a book of short stories. I’ve picked up a couple from the library to read and see if they are suitable. Of course there’s an Alice Munro, Dear Life – she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I have to at least consider her, I also have Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Have you read any of these? Any recommendations?
And to the flash fiction. Good old Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds posed a flash fiction challenge to tell a story in Google search terms. He used this great example from @AbrasiveGhost:
buy armour for cats
Cat jousting tournaments
How to stop armoured cats
Cat army how to stop
National guard phone #
– Great isn’t it? So I am having a great time at the moment on my rewrite. I wanted to do a flash fiction but didn’t want to steal the time from my rewrite so I quickly dashed out a flash fiction search term story. Here ’tis!
Getting past a bad day
Getting past a really really bad day
Difference between bad luck and curse
Am I cursed
Kittens free to good home
Have a great weekend folks!!
Near my sister’s old flat was a plant nursery and for the longest time they had the best advertising sign, it has always stuck with me.
Massive Pot Sale!
And small pots too
I just knew I would have gotten along with the owners of that nursery.
This redrafting process is throwing up unexpected challenges that are taking me time to work my way toward a solution.
Challenge 1 – While others in the Refine Your Novel class seem able to fix portions, add scenes, ramp up tension in existing scenes and shuffle stuff around, my redrafting means starting from scratch. Writing the entire manuscript over. This didn’t take me too long to figure out, a couple of hours tops. Trying to fix an existing opening chapter is tough, writing a new one the way it should be written – hard but in a different way, slaughtered darlings and all that.
Challenge 2 – Rewriting is massive. The task befor me seems so huge, I keep finding other things to do than to get the job done. This is a biggie and something I’m still figuring out. I think I took decent step today towards dealing with this one. I have been listening to the Writing Excuses podcast on my way to work (as well as The Moth and Dear Sugar Radio – get into those, they are awesome!) and a couple of phrases really rang true for me today.
Remember the fun – it’s not a chore, remember how fun it was to write the first time, it can be that fun again. Sounds obvious, but I’d been approaching the rewrite (because that is my means of redraft) as something I have to do, rather than something I want to do.
And quit looking at the end product, the task look huge from up here, but get up close and start telling the story. Start with chapter 1. I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the enormity of writing this novel all over again, it’s a huge thing to write a manuscript. But I need to stop looking at the end point. Like eating an elephant – one bite at a time.
I emailed my tutor and said that the chapter and a half I’d rewritten felt like filler until the story starts, that maybe I needed to start with chapter 2. I figured that the act of asking this question also answered it, go with your instincts, start with chapter 2. So I started another rewrite, wrote 120 words and stalled (this was yesterday). Tonight I went back and reread the first rewrite, 3700 words. And you know what? It’s good. I really like it. I think the doubts were another manifestation of procrastination, of not doing the work.
So, I’m renewed, refocussed. 3,700 words down, about 70,000 to go. One bite at a time.
I think my cute little red netbook is on its way out. Please bow your heads.
What do folks recommend/use? I only need it for writing, a bit of internet research and procrastination and spotify. Not much else to be honest.
Also – I have pretty much no budget, so I can’t be considering a MacAir or anything that fancy 🙂
In reviewing the manuscript I’m working on now I realised that my two main characters are a bit same same and are a tad one dimensional. I need to give them (and some of the events in the story) a serious boost.
I’ve come to the realisation that in order to make things seem real in fiction they really need to be exaggerated. If everything was just like in real life why would you bother reading it. I’m not talking about ludicrous coincidence and outrageous characters, just taking everything up a notch or three.
Now while I haven’t analysed my characters to any depth I think I could probably spend a valuable hour or so answering some of the questions posed to Marcel Proust. If I don’t think I can learn a thing or two from Proust, I have blindly marched far too past the line of humility.
The Write Practice had this post today listing 35 questions Proust was asked to answer personally when he was 14, but it’s a valuable list to answer for characters.
I don’t think I need to answer all of them, but it can only help to cement the character motivations and help build a richer image, right? Tell me I’m not just procrastinating, again.
To be honest I’m not a fan of analysing characters and ‘navel gazing’ so for me this will actually be a tough exercise, one I’ll have to be strict with myself about, but I’m pretty sure worth the effort. I’m sure as heck not getting into it on a personal level – bleccchhh! 🙂
Here is Proust’s Questionnaire (thanks to the Write Practice):
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
- What is the trait you most deplore in others?
- Which living person do you most admire?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
- What is your current state of mind?
- What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
- On what occasion do you lie?
- What do you most dislike about your appearance?
- Which living person do you most despise?
- What is the quality you most like in a man?
- What is the quality you most like in a woman?
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
- What or who is the greatest love of your life?
- When and where were you happiest?
- Which talent would you most like to have?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
- If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
- Where would you most like to live?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
- What is your favourite occupation?
- What is your most marked characteristic?
- What do you most value in your friends?
- Who are your favourite writers?
- Who is your hero of fiction?
- Which historical figure do you most identify with?
- Who are your heroes in real life?
- What are your favourite names?
- What is it that you most dislike?
- What is your greatest regret?
- How would you like to die?
- What is your motto?
A couple of weeks ago I had the second class in me Refine Your Novel course, it was fantastic but I was pretty unwell so went into hibernation for a week. However the day after the class I pulled out my laptop and made myself comfy on the couch and attemped to start the redraft. Little Man (who is 7) decided he’d had enough of basketball in the front yard and joined me in a writing session. He started a story, he’s written two and a half chapters and I have to say I am a wee bit proud.
He instinctively understood some of the tips we had learned the day before, particularly about minor characters. We had been talking about minor characters and avoiding cliche, making them something unexpected. So Little Man’s story started with a smart boy names Zac Powers (a character in a book series he likes) who climbs a mountain and finds a sword. He encounters a knight who has four rings and wants the one ring that Zac has because then she would be the most powerful in the world. See what my clever Little Man did there? He initially wrote the knight in as a he, as you would expect, he finished the sentence, studied it for a moment and then backtracked to make it she. He looked at me, raised one eyebrow, smiled and went back to work.
I didn’t get much done that day but thoroughly enjoyed myself 🙂
The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny was a book club read back earlier this year. It was the first book everyone in the group actually finished, which is telling in itself. While it doesn’t seem quite right to use the word ‘enjoy’ about such serious and at times disturbing subject matter, I did enjoy this read.
Ali Al Jenabi is a regular guy from a regular family who happens to live in Iraq. His father is a passionate man who questions the regime of Saddam Hussein and raises his sons to question and make their own judgements. This lands them in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison where all are tortured horribly and held for years, one brother never emerging.
What follows is the story of how an ordinary man in a violent and unjust country tries to smuggle himself and his family out to safety.
The story covers years and many attempts and travels to many countries, betrayals, sacrifice and heartbreak and enduring hope.
Ali loves his country, and you get the overwhelming sense that if he could live anywhere in the world in safety, he would choose Iraq, even now. But the Iraq of his childhood no longer exists and return to that country is impossible for him.
He is taken advantage of repeatedly by people smugglers and eventually, in despair of the ruthless and heartless smugglers he has encountered, begins to arrange his own boats and smuggling people to Australia himself.
The story of betrayal continues when eventually he lands in Australia himself only to be arrested, have his application for refugee status (possibly) deliberately sabotaged by the government and be the first person charged with people smuggling in Australia.
This book was an eye opener into a complex issue, one with a great deal of misinformation and irrational and unnecessary fear.
The intention of this blog is to talk about writing and books, not politics, so I won’t get into the rights wrongs and wherefores on this issue, just to say we are a massive country with many resources and this is an issue we as a nation handle appallingly, with that said I am here to talk about the book.
There’s no doubt this book is written from one point of view and is very sympathetic to Ali’s plight and cause, the Australian government comes off very poorly, not as bad as Saddam Hussein sure, but I am sure the book does no harm in positive publicity for Ali’s asylum claim.
But it is a worthy read, particularly in this county where we hear the fear mongering every day in our media. An emotional and sympathetic telling of the people smuggler’s side serves as a counterpoint.
As a book club we also read I am Malala, another story of atrocity and injustice, but a tough and annoying read. I felt it natural to compare the two and The People Smuggler certainly came out on top. I would recommend this, and I have.
Read it, consider the issues, as one sided as this version is, it’s a worthy addition to the debate. For more info you can visit the web page set up around the book.
Apologies for typos and errors, this post was written on my phone 🙂
I almost don’t want to review this book here as when I picked it up from the library I really had no idea what I was in for, and discovering it along the way was a heck of a ride. But I also want people to read it. Tough one!
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall was his debut, published in 2007, he hasn’t published anything since.
It is literary fiction, speculative fiction, kinda science fiction – it’s a complicate, unique and rich read.
It starts with the protagonist awakening – yes I know you should never start a story with waking or the weather but this is fantastic, you truly believe he has surfaced from a near drowning and is gasping for breath on his living room floor. He has absolutely no memory of who he is and finds a note.
Intriguing right? What follows is an amazingly complex dive into an alternate view of the world we live in, or is it into the psyche of a disturbed mind?
I found this novel through a recommendation in comments on a blog post suggesting novels to introduce people to science fiction reading, so picked it up not really knowing much about it. Flicking through the pages though you find pages like these:
and it’s not a gimmick, it’s an intrinsic part of the story. While I found the technology of the story a little hard to understand at times, the story itself was fantastic.
This is a novel that will stay with me for quite some time. I don’t immediately want to pick it up and reread it but I found it difficult to part with and return to the library.
My writing tutor, the fantastic Toni Jordan, told me that she had huge bookshelves installed in her loft conversion, so huge she thought she’d never fill them. Two years later she is going through her books and choosing what she really has to keep – this, she said, is unequivocally on her keep pile.
I’d recommend this book, yes, I don’t want to tell you much more about what it is about, I want you to discover it as I did.
Has anyone read it? Love to hear your thoughts – I think if I ever do reread it I’ll get a much greater appreciation of some of the explanations but I appreciated reading it with some confusion as Eric Sanderson (the protagonist) had.