Monday, 5 September 2011

A QUESTION OF WRITING

Hi Everyone! I hope you all had a fantastic weekend. I've not quite managed to get my characters talking to me again, but they are at least muttering sullenly instead of going quiet as soon as I walk in. So that's progress. Right? Right.

In other news, as some of you noticed, we hit 300 followers on Friday! Whooo! I can hardly believe it. I've made an appointment to get my hair dyed and also cut (eeep) this week. I'm not going to tell you in advance exactly what I'm going to get done, other than what you already know, which is that pink/purple streaks are involved. You'll just have to wait until Friday when I post the pictures.

Now onto some writing questions from my Dear Readers.

Firstly, this question came from Rebecca, via email:
"I just wanted some advice on how to get through a really tough part in my writing. I recently started a new story and I really love the idea and how I'm going to develop the characters and relationships but I'm stuck on a part in chapter 1 that is essential to the story but not the most interesting part to write, compared with what's going to happen in the next chapter and following chapters. I keep on stopping and daydreaming about what's going to happen after I've written this part, but I can't get to it because I need to finish the first chapter first. Does this ever happen to you? How do you inspire yourself to really work through the tough parts to get to the better parts?"
Aha, young grasshopper! Let me direct your attention to my post on Writer's Kryptonite where I talk about this problem and how to fix it. Namely, the scene that's boring the pants off you? It may be vital - but it's NOT vital for it to bore the pants off you. Give it a twist and find a way to make it exciting for yourself so that it stops being a slog and starts being something you're eager to work on. Your readers will also thank you!

The next question comes from Cam, via  comments:
"I'm working on a fantasy, and while I'm pretty happy with the plot, I'm looking for ways to flesh out my characters' homes and cultures. I would like them to feel unique, not just mildly European. What are some good ways to do this? Is it something I should worry about later, when working on rewrites?"
Other writers may feel differently about this, but I'd say that leaving the decision about your characters culture until re-writes is the WORST thing you can possibly do.

Try to imagine Zira from Daughter of the Flames being who she is, making the choices she makes, living the life she does - in a vaguely European world, with no meaningful religion, where all the people are the same race. You can't, can you? Because Zira would be a completely different person and her world would be an utterly different place without those factors.

In treating the ethnicity, religion, social status and race of your characters like an after-thought, you risk making some really worrying mistakes in terms of your depictions of diverse characters. This is because you're not seeing these people as fully rounded individuals whose personalities and decisions are a result of many factors - including their background and upbringing. You're treating their ethnicity and culture as a costume that they can shrug on over their pre-existing traits, which will add colour and interest to the story, but not influence the development of plot or character in any meaningful sense. That way lies madness. That way lies a cast of straight, white, male, able-bodied, vaguely Christian characters who react exactly the way that straight, white, male, able-bodied, vaguely Christian people do in every situation and think the way that straight, white, male, able-bodied, vaguely Christian people think - DESPITE THE FACT THAT THEIR SKIN MAY BE BROWN OR THEY MAY HAVE DISABILITIES OR LADY PARTS OR WORSHIP THE GODDESS KALLISSH OR FANCY PEOPLE OF THE SAME SEX.

If you want to create a richly textured and unique world for your characters then it needs to be an integral part of the story you're writing, not just window-dressing. The universe of the story and the ethnicity, race, social background/status and religion of the characters should be a huge factor in the way the story develops.

My advice to you on how to do this world building work is (predictably!) to look at the real world. The setting of Ruan was inspired by a documentary series on India and a Sunday afternoon programme about Lake Tanganyika in Africa. The religious tensions and the different races came from thinking about the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 and the situation in the Middle East. Go to your local library and check out as many reference and non-fiction books as you can about different cultures and their history and read them. Read about Russian Cossacks and Indian Rajas and Bedouin Tribesmen and French Revolutionaries and British Imperialists and Chinese Scholars. Listen to world music. Watch documentaries, programmes by National Geographic, and news reports. Something will spark in your brain, and from that spark a blaze will grow. The whole world is out there and it is a fascinating place. Use it!

OK, finally we have an email from a lady who wishes to remain anonymous:
"Describing has always been my strongpoint and I've just found out that it's all I'm good at. I can never think of a full storyline and if I improvise my work gets really bad. I read lots and see so many great stories and ideas from other authors but can never think of any of my own that I have the patience and endurance to stick with. If I write, I end up stopping at the 2 pages mark just because I've run out of things to write. I don't know how to plan my work properly or sustain a story. Would you be able to help me?"
Firstly - you are not alone. This sort of issue, where a writer struggles with figuring out What Happens Next and gets stumped after a few pages, must be one of the most common ones I come across. As a result (and luckily for you!) I have written maaaaany many many posts on the topic. Let me direct your attention to:

Neverending Stories

Isabel's Question (and I advise you to click on all the links within this link, too)

Lexie and Elise's Questions

Hope this is useful, everyone! I'll see you all on Wednesday.

12 comments:

Megha said...

This is an awesome post. (And: woaaaaaah! So many links!)

I can't wait to see what you do with your hair! :-)

Zoë Marriott said...

Megha: I should have called the post A Feast of Linkity! Oh, well.

Cam said...

Thanks! This was helpful. I've also discovered that as I write, the world is developing on it's own. I really like it, it feels fresh and real to me. Of course the truth could be a whole different story...

Zoë Marriott said...

Cam: You're welcome. Remember to enjoy it! World building is - or should be - pretty much pure fun.

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Thank you for the advice! I've been tearing my hair out with this scene that I'm doing but I think I know of a way I can twist it so it's a bit more interesting before th BOOM, WOW part. Well, I hope people will think it's a BOOM, WOW part, like I do lol.
I can't wait to see your streaks! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Rebecca: I feel for you - it happens to me everytime! Good luck with your scene :)

Isabel said...

The last question is really good, best of luck to whoever asked it! I'm so excited to see the pictures of your hair!!

This is random, but do you like Adele?

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: Yep. I have been an Adele fan since her first album came out, lo, these many years ago.

Isabel said...

Yayy! I LOVE HER! <3 <3 What's your favorite song by her? My whole family is into Adele, esp. my dad. ;-)

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: I love Hometown Glory and Cold Shoulder from her first album, and Someone Like You, Rumour Has It and Make You Feel My Love. But those are just the ones I'm listening to most right now! I've listened to Rolling in the Deep about 400 times in total.

Isabel said...

Haha, I haven't listened to very many songs in her first album, but I probably should. I can't stop grinning every time I listen to I'll Be Waiting and One And Only, but Someone Like You was my favorite for some time, too. Basically, I love all the songs in her new album -- I also love Chasing Pavements. One of the things I love most about her is her personality; she's so natural and human and she's not afraid to make mistakes. Some people tell me she's unprofessional, but I think that she's just not afraid to be herself no matter what.

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: That's what we love about her too. I can't imagine someone calling her unprofessional around here and surviving! We think of her as a national treasure.

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