Friday, February 15, 2013

Write what you love to read: great novel writing advice

I was going through my electronic Story Notes folder on the computer the other day looking for specific notes I created for one of my fantasy storyline work-in-progress, and got to thinking when I saw my rather large list of temporary and or permanently abandoned manuscripts why I have lost enthusiasm for them.

I have spent a large part of my time on each of those stories, so I wondered what was it about them that made me not feel as enthusiastic about them as I originally was - one of the story's I have consistently worked on for over three years or nearing half a million words in manuscript, outlines and story notes before abandoning that writing project. Why, after so many words, and prolonged enthusiasm, could I possibly have abandoned it?

And I think I have now stumbled upon the reason.

When I was growing up, I loved stories that were light, easy to read, had strange and quirky characters who I loved instantly, and often included magic in some form.  And, when I read back over the stories I had written, I found some of the scenes were 'heavy', clunky to read in places, and some of my characters could be 'anyone', there was nothing special about them.  The only element that is in three of my four 'serious' manuscripts is the magic, which has always appealed to me, so was the starting point (genre) I decided to try first in my novel writing aspirations.

As a child, I was strange and quirky (actually, people still think of me as 'eccentric' compared to others so maybe I didn't grow out of that after all).  For example, after reading a book (pick any Enid Blyton here, I think) that had fairies living in the back garden, or in nearby woods, I went looking to find if my own backyard had them too - or if that was just something they had in England (remember, I live in Australia, and our whole country is surrounded by ocean, so little tiny fairies would never be able to cross violent seas without human assistance!), of which case I would want my parents to come home and tell us we were going to visit England.

If I read a story that had witches or wizards performing spells, or creating elixirs, then I made sure my teddy bear wouldn't come alive at night to go and dob me in to those witches or wizards who could overpower you with one simple spell that only they could cast - I got in enough trouble with my parents as it was, I didn't need these other authorities stepping in to force me to behave.

As a child of around, ooh probably eight to ten years of age, I remember seeing a lady who looked exactly like the horrible queen dressed as an old beggar offering Snow White the poisonous apple while I was at the supermarket (Walt Disney's cartoon version, I might clarify!).  Unfortunately, she was at the display of apples and I was convinced she was looking to poison someone else! I glared at her with pure hatred until she returned the apples and moved on once she realised that frowning back at me wasn't going to stop my intense dislike or scruitinising staring. And me, well I felt quite the heroine for having just (temporarily) saved some intended victim from their terrible fate, now that she knew I was on to her. I think I might have told her as we were staring each other down that 'I live next door to a policeman, you know.'

I lived near a creek, and often went and explored it until my teenage years when my sister came home and told me she had seen a red-belly black snake and I freaked out because I never previously considered that such slithery beasts might frequent my favourite spots! I couldn't return after that.

These childhood stories of magic and adventure held me captivated, so no wonder I loved the Harry Potter books and one day while filling out an application form, genuinely, accidentally, wrote that I attended Hogwarts as my High School - though, I guess the overall storyline became darker as the series progressed - because I was distracted and trying to rush to complete it.  A mistake that any normal forty plus years person can make! (And to much amusement of my late teenage children who pointed out my error and thought I had done this deliberately).

So, I think at some stage I am going to revise some of those works-in-progress to make them lighter, funnier, easier to read, and, allow each of the strange and quirky characters eccentricities shine for all to see (without making them caricature). Maybe then, I will not lose enthusiasm after the initial writing fever abates.

Are you a writer?  Do you write in the genre of the books you love reading?  I'd love to have your thoughts on this, so please add your comments below.

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