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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

What Are You Conscious Admiring Influences?

The title of this post is taken from this excellent interview with China Mieville - Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author of 'Perdidio Street Station', 'UnLundun'  and 'The City And the City'. "Kraken" is his latest novel and it is released this month.

Mieville mentions being influenced by numerous writers and works; elements that you may not be aware at the time of writing, of being influenced by things you hate. However he mentions a strong debt to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy as a Conscious Admiring Influence.

Who or what are some of your Conscious Admiring Influences? They include writers/poets/playwrights/ actors/directors/painters/ etc..., books, poems, passages or even phrases that set off inspirational fireworks in your nascent creative consciousness.
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Monday, 21 June 2010

How to Switch Genres With (More) Ease

Not long ago I had to write some stories in the crime and erotica genres. Genres that I never tried to write before. Sure I'd read a lot of both but it's like constantly going into a swanky boutique, always browsing and yet never trying on the merchandise. Was I nervous? Did I quiver? After several pithy attempts all I wrote was an analogy for my difficulty:

It is like visiting a distant relative and having to find your way around the relative's home during a power cut. You scream and stub your toe on some table legs that you thought were not there, stumble on the way into the storeroom to find some candles and a torchlight, but only to discover that the batteries are the wrong size and the matches are wet. All you can do is wait in the dark or feel your way around strange surroundings.

Pain! The dark! Being lost in a strange place! After I identified these three dominant elements I had a revelation, and narrowed down the cause of my writing difficulties to four main fears. (Fill in the blanks with the genre of your choice):

Fear #1- Suckage
I can't write ______   because I'll suck at it.

Does the disparity between your current writing and ______ genre appear like a chasm that you cannot bridge? Consider that literary fiction star EM Forster wrote a superb short story called 'The Machine Stops ' as an anti-science fiction riposte to H.G Wells and adult thriller writers John Grisham and James Patterson are now writing YA fiction. Hard work and a little daring should carry you across to the other side of that chasm.

Fear #2 - Unfamiliarity
I can't write_____  because I do not know the genre conventions and expectations.

Feeling your way around strange surroundings maybe awkward but you'll be gifted with a different view. That is precisely why you should write because you are not weighed down by common expectations and cliches. What if you were not aware that zombies are slow-moving reanimated corpses and made them run faster than a normal human being? What if vampirism is curable by homeopathy? Read as much as you can before you begin writing; learn the map of the genre and then chart your own way through the territory.

Fear #3 - Intimidation
I am put off by _______  's (insert name of genre writer) achievements/sheer volume of output in this field.

Do not be daunted by bookshelves and Amazon wishlists dominated by a few names. They hit their rhythm and never let up but they've had their hard beginnings. Stephen King wrote 'Carrie' in a trailer laundry closet, JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers and Agatha Christie went through 2 divorces and depression.

Fear #4 Restriction
I do not want to write genre fiction because its defined and confined by set tropes and boundaries.

Some writers like working within confines and coming up with variations on the tried and tested, whereas some would rather endure quadruple root-canal than to write according to a set of genre rules.  Perhaps this is more of a personal than a literary choice. Hence please determine whether making the genre switch is for you in the first place.

Never fear failure, but fear being not brave.
What are your ways to overcoming fear of change in your writing?
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Monday, 14 June 2010

Writing Prompt: Ponte City

Yes, it's a real building in Johannesburg, its Ponte City- a looming hollow column of once posh apartment blocks. You may have seen it from the outside in "District 9" and it is soon to be a cinematic focus again as Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is set to direct a movie that takes place in Ponte City. The haunting Neo-Brutalist architecture really fires the imagination.

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Character. Actor #2: Atonement

James McAvoy said that portraying the character of Robbie Turner in the film adaptation of 'Atonement' was very difficult, because Robbie is too much like a saint despite his situation.

McAvoy is right, although the character in the novel recalls Winston Churchill's quote when describing the Soviet Union; "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Robbie Turner's persona is romantic idealisation,  the embodiment of Briony Tallis'  childhood infatuation. It may be argued that pinpointing the moment when Robbie Turner becomes a tad too saintly could be the first indication to the reader that the  book is a meta-narrative artifice.

Manipulating your characters like the moving parts of a Chinese/Japanese puzzle box takes skill and planning. A prime candidate for main protagonist," ... should be the one(character) that hurts the most", according to science-fiction writer David Gerrold. The young lovers Robbie and Cecilia Tallis, suffer due to a painful separation brought on by Briony wrongfully accusing Robbie Turner of raping her cousin Lola, but Briony's later compounded guilt ensures that she suffers the most over the course of the novel.

'Who does your story hurt?' and 'Who does it hurt most of all?" are two questions to consider in the initial planning stages of a WIP.
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