Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I guess we can all blame the ash cloud from Iceland's spewing volcano which halted air traffic across Europe (some authors and guests speakers were stranded there). However, Ian McGillis from the Gazette Narratives pointed out that there were some other inconveniences. For instance, "The bookstore is one of the few areas where people naturally congregate, and they want to chat, so surely there's a way. And how about closing the door during events in the auditorium, especially those that involve film screenings? Not only does sound from the nearby bookstore leak in, but the light is distracting. Finally, the decision that certain smaller rooms don't require amplification needs a re-think. On Sunday afternoon I attended Devenir ecrivain in the Versailles room and the back few rows could barely hear what the writers were saying. Several people gave up and left before the end."
Mr. McGillis also added, "The hotel itself still seems to have been laid out expressly to prevent spontaneous gatherings. There's a bar and restaurant but not the kind that encourage hanging out. And obviously the Delta can't be blamed for being where it is, but I can't help thinking how different the general festival atmosphere might be if the venue were located a little more in the thick of things. Imagine stepping outside straight into the bustle of Ste-Catherine or St-Denis as opposed to a cold concrete canyon. I wonder how many visiting writers leave without ever knowing how exciting our city can be."
We just hope that the Blue Met organizers pay heed to some of the comments people have made regarding this year's event and implement new ideas for next year's festival.
Friday, April 23, 2010
1) How long did it take you to write this novel?
I thought about it for a couple of years. I would go to Las Vegas, sit in coffee shops and sketch out the book on placemats. The writing itself took about a year. I finished a first draft, then put it aside to write a nonfiction book (Super Pills). Then I went back and revised the novel over a 6-month period. The publication process took about another year.
2) How did you come up with this idea?
I'd written a lot about psychiatry, and had interviewed people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The hyphen was what interested me: it's the space between the obsession (the mental drive) and the compulsion (the behaviours).
3) Did you ever get writer's block writing this novel? What advice would you give to aspiring writers if they ever get writer's block?
Writer's block is a peculiar obsession of writers. I'm not sure why. To me there are three types. The first is simple: you aren't writing because deep down you have nothing to say. So figure out what you would like to say, then move to the second type of block.
You may not be writing because you don't know yet what to write or how to write it. That's a sign that you need to lie on the couch, take a shower, walk the dog, or whatever it is that you do to generate ideas. The problem may be that you don't know how to approach the scene. How do you enter and exit? What is the point? Where is it set? So you need to think about it some more. Once you've got it clear in your head, it's just a matter of labour to write it down.
Try reading. Some people may think this is a displacement activity but it isn't. Writing is about solving problems of characterization, scene-setting, tone, etc. and countless other people have addressed these problems - successfully or not - in their books. If you have a library in your head, you can say to yourself: this author solved the problem by doing this. That can be a big help in unblocking yourself. Now if you're thinking that reading someone else's book has nothing to do with your creativity or your self-expression, then I'd suggest that you're misinterpreting what self-expression means. It about expressing yourself, not expressing your Self. You are crafting a story, and you will inevitably be there on every page. So focus on what your characters do and say, not on what you would do/say in that situation. That's why I advise people in workshops to avoid first-person narratives, but that's my particular bias.
But I digress. When you're planning a piece of writing, cut yourself some slack and give yourself some time to sort it out - with the caveat that you have to assure yourself that something will get written at some point. It may not be today or this week, but it will get done.
The third type is motivational - why bother? Isn't there something else you'd rather be doing? That can delay things for quite a while, but ultimately you have to decide: Are you a writer, or not? If you are, then a writer writes. If you aren't, it doesn't matter.
Wise words for all us! Fellow writers, I hope you are inspired after reading this interview. Once again, I thank author Steven Manners for taking time to answer my questions.
The book is available at most bookstores, including Chapters and Amazon. Or from the publisher http://dundurn.com/
Monday, April 19, 2010
1) Each scene is a capsule that depicts a specific story event. That event relates to the events in each of the other scenes, and when the writer strings all the scenes together, s/he's got a book.
2) Each scene moves the plot and characters ever forward toward the story's resolution and conclusion. When we discussed plot, we determined that to hold together and carry the story weight, the plot had to contain specific elements. Well, a scene has to carry its weight, too. Something essential to the whole (novel) must be in a scene to justify its place (and space) in the novel. That justification is an earned right—each scene must prove that including it is essential. Otherwise, in editing, it gets the ax.
3) Every scene needs an inciting incident, a spark that sets the scene in motion. Think of this as the cause that incites an effect (remember, in plot, we worked from cause to effect to cause to effect) that links the scenes to each other. (What happens in a scene causes the next scene to happen, and so on.)
4) In each scene, the character has a goal and a strategy for reaching that goal. If the character doesn't want anything, then the scene lacks purpose. If the character doesn't have "a plan" (ill-conceived, halfcocked plans are fine; there must just be some semblance of one which motivates the character to act) to get what s/he wants, and there is no one trying to stop him/her from getting it, then you've got no scene goal/strategy and worse, no conflict. If there is no conflict, you have no story—applied to the scene, you'd have no scene.
5) Each scene has a resolution. Now the scene resolution might carry the character closer to his/her goal, or push him/her further away from it. It also might cause the character to change from one goal to another. The point is, there is a sense of closure, on having gotten all we're able to get from this scene, and there is movement. Each scene resolves (goes from beginning to middle to end), preparing the way for the next scene or the story's conclusion.
Do keep in mind that just because a scene is wonderfully written and lyrical and pleasant to read doesn't mean you keep it in your novel. Every scene requires conflict. Without it, the scene can't be justified. As I said (but it's worth repeating because it's so important), every scene carries the burden and blessing of advancing the story. If it doesn't, then it shouldn't be there. Run a check on your scenes to make sure the elements are there. It's a great way to tighten your writing—and to help bulletproof your manuscript.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Mr. Hoare added that we have to show appreciation for unknown authors. Great books deserve to be published even if they are not best-sellers. For instance, The Life of Pi, a fantasy adventure novel written by Canadian author Yann Martel. It was first published by Vintage Canada and was received with enthusiastic reviews but moderate sales.
In Montreal you must sell a minimum of two thousand copies in order to be called a best-seller. And that’s only in Montreal!
Furthermore, McArthur and Company (which he co-owns) produces twenty to thirty titles a year because they are very particular at what they take on. Private publishing will always have a place for authors who are willing to do their own peddling. Mr. Hoare also said that we shouldn’t be afraid of Kindle, the largest E-ink screen (a thin, lightweight, electronic reading device that you can take anywhere and download your favorite book, newspaper, or magazine). He said that there will always be books. True, Kindle has its charm but also a downfall. Customers (like me, for instance) want to see and feel so they can buy. People who grew up reading conventional books will not stop buying conventional books. Avid readers like Mr. Hoare won’t stop buying books. Let’s face it, we love books!
In a nutshell, Mr. Hoare says the market is there, vibrant, curious, and thriving for novelty. The market for book is expanding, not contracting.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Although dialogue should sound real, it doesn’t mean it has to be exact to the way we talk on a daily basis. We also have to take into consideration our characters: where they come from, where they live, what their native language is, what their social or educational background is, etc. Failing to do so, will lead us to a failed story.
Here are some points to consider when writing a dialogue:
• Establish the tone or mood
• Provide exposition or back story
• Reveal character and motivation
• Create immediacy and intimacy (build reader empathy)
• Move the plot forward and/or increase its pace
• Create or add to existing conflict
• Remind the reader of things they may have forgotten
When in doubt, we have to ask ourselves if someone we know would say this in a trivial conversation. Let’s not forget that dialogue is the vehicle that moves our story forward. Be careful of the character’s language as this reflects conflict and emotion. Don’t extend the dialogue in such a way that the reader may get bored. Remember: it’s a short story, not a play. Don’t confuse the reader by letting him/her guess who’s talking. Use tags: she says, he asked, I said (but don’t overdo it). Don’t use unnecessary adverbs attached to the tags. This just kills a good dialogue. And last but not least, ask your fellow writers, family, and friends to read your dialogue to see if it resonates with them.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
“There is a big difference between sentiment (which is good) and sentimentality (which is not). Sentimentality is unearned emotion. In other words, if, as a writer, I am asking a reader to fill in the story with experience from their own life, or with stock responses, then I am being sentimental. It is my job as a writer to bring energy to the reader, not to take it from the reader.”
Let me provide you with an example in order to prove his point. A story that begins with “Tears flowing like a river,” is sentimental. We don't know the character. We don't know the situation. Tears flowing like a river is a cliché. My mentor told me that “We are being asked for an emotional response that does not fit with anything we know from the story. If you had prepared us, given us a very emotional scene that led, eventually, to a moment of high emotion and conflict that demanded those tears, and if you had prepared us for that particular river, then it would not have been sentimental.”
Some key points that'll help you avoid sentimentality:
1- Use specific images and situations, not general or conceptual ones.
2- Don’t rely on clichés or trite subject matter.
3- Don't rely on adjectives.
4- Use events and images that amaze the reader.
5- Don’t tell the reader what to feel. Instead, let the reader experience feelings along with the character.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
1) Read your entire draft. This doesn’t mean you have to do it right after you’ve finished writing your draft. “Put it in a drawer,” as my mentor used to tell me. Give your eyes and your mind a break. You can come back to the story the day after, or a week later.
2) Determine what the problem is. Pay attention to your POV, your character’s development, dialogue, plot, and climax.
3) Make a modification chart. My mentor taught me to draw a chart where I divide it into scenes (almost like an outline) and place the protagonist and antagonist on each half of the page. This would give me a visual of where the story (climax) is going.
4) Rewrite. After you’ve cleaned up, rewrite the whole story. Don’t get the “attachment syndrome” as I call it. Let go of dialogues, words, similes, or anything that may not be moving your story forward. You wouldn’t stay in a bad relationship, right? You would want to move on with your life. So does your story!
5) Polish your prose. Pay attention to clichés, redundancies, weak verbs, and extra adjectives. My mentor always reminded me to use strong adjectives and verbs that would be more effective to the story.
So in the spirit of spring, let's get cleaning!
Saturday, April 3, 2010
1. There are no rules. You can do anything you want as long as it works.
2. Don't bore the reader. You can bore the reader in a sentence, in a paragraph, by misusing words, poorly choosing words, using the wrong length, etc.
3. Don't confuse the reader. Don't misuse point of view. Don't do too much at once.
4. Don't get caught writing. Don't let you, the author, enter the story. (E.g., "And he never would see Memphis again." How would anyone other than the author know that the character would never see Memphis again?)
5. Shorter is always better. Write tight. It makes you use the best words in the right way.
6. Don't lie to the reader. It's OK to mislead, but don't lie. If you say the character's motivation is A and it turns out to be B (and you haven't foreshadowed it at all), the reader will feel cheated.
7. Don't annoy the reader. Don't use names that are hard to pronounce or write choppy sentences throughout the entire book. It keeps people from getting close to your characters.
8. You must tell a good story. Bad writing can be forgiven with a good story. A bad story with the most beautiful writing cannot.
Although these are essential points to keep in mind when writing, they are not written in stone. I’d like to add my personal point: #9 Let your heart be the pen to your next great story. I hope this inspires you to write your next masterpiece.