Monday 11 December 2017
Writing: how? 19 thoughts.
1. Year 8, Harrow Weald County Grammar School, 1959: we read Browning’s ‘dramatic monologues ‘ and talked about what was told and how. Homework: ‘write a dramatic monologue, long, short, prose or poem.’ And we could!!! Literature that works is infectious.
2. How do writers of non-fiction research, select material? How do we lay that out in sequences? How do we make sure there are as few ambiguities as possible. How do we distinguish between fact and opinion? How do we invite (or not) readers to debate what we write?
3. Why would it be in anyway sensible to take advice on writing from Gove, Gibb and their pals rather than from eg Frank Cotterell Boyce, Philip Pullman, J.K, Rowling, Shirley Hughes, Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond, Jamila Gavin, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine, etc etc?
4. Many stories have an elbow or crux, the moment when an accumulation of problems has led to a defining moment which in theory could lead to success or failure, good or bad outcomes. These elbows should be almost painful!
5. The questions, who am I? Where am I? When am I? are often good places to start writing, even if it’s non-fiction: the ‘who’ can be eg the impersonal narrator of a scientific description. It’s still a ‘who’! These questions help define the genre(s).
6. The formulas for ‘expected level’ of ‘good writing’ created by the govt are nonsense and could only have been created by people who don’t write or are lying about how they write.
7. With jeopardy in writing, always ask who or what is causing it? Who or what is it happening to? How does the jeopardised get out of it? (Or not!)With whose help? (Or not!) And why did we choose that cast to display that jeopardy?
8. Writing relies heavily on the writer assuming readers are constantly predicting. Writers create *possible/probable* outcomes and then confirm, disrupt, ruin these...usually done in an unspoken way. Hidden story syntax.
9. Fiction is writing about ideas and feelings attached to beings who readers care about. The feelings emerge out of our varying attachments to what characters do and say with/to each other. Ideas emerge out of a sense of right/wrong, Fair/unfair, in scenes and outcomes.
10. Part of learning to write (which all writers do till the day they die) is ‘finding a voice’( or voices). We find these through reading and listening, saying to ourselves: ‘I could write like that.’ As we imitate, we adapt to suit the purpose. Continuity and change.
11. The ‘cliffhanger ‘ is the most extreme form of ‘reveal/conceal’. In truth, all writing, even reports, argument, non-fiction , Poetry relies on many, many mini-cliffhangers: moments which ‘say’ I’m not telling you all, there’s more to come.
12. Fiction relies heavily on dramatic irony: situations, states of mind etc that the writer creates in which a protagonist appears to know less than the reader.
13. All writing is a ‘con’ in one respect: it pretends to ‘reveal’ but at the very moment it reveals it ‘conceals’. That is: it implies but doesn’t say *yet* what’s coming next. This is what ‘pulls’ the reader through a text, thinking ‘I want to know more’.
14. In writing, there is no such thing as a good or bad word in itself. It always depends on context and purpose. Will it help me say what I want to say? Will it help me say it in the way I want to? Does it ‘do’ humour? Sadness? Nostalgia? Anger? Or what?
15. When writing, we ask ourselves if we want to draw attention to the writing itself eg through ‘self-conscious narrator’, deliberate over-description, heavy repetition of sound or word or the metaphorical. Or aim for invisibility through ‘sparse’ technique.
16. Every part of a sentence or whole sentence has a rhythm. To find it, repeat it out loud several times. When writing, we can ask ourselves if the rhythm ‘feels right’. Sometimes, we might want to accumulate detail = running rhythm. Contemplative might = long phrases etc etc.
17. The moment we start to write we borrow from previous writings:the genre (or mix of genres),the narrative voice,the register(formal, informal, regional, etc),motifs (eg the ‘disruptive force’, pathetic fallacy), rhetoric (eg hyperbole, rule of 3,, story syntax (eg rising jeopardy)
18. If you write dialogue in fiction you make rhythms between eg speakers taking turns, what characters are thinking, descriptions of how they speak, narrations of events, past, present or future. Some texts (or parts of) do all these. Some rely on dialogue standing on its own.
19. Any writer who has chosen a ‘narrative voice’ has them to decide ‘what does this narrator *know*?’ If ‘omniscient’, inside everyone’s head? Specific character(s)? Only what can be seen/heard? Or other narrations? 1st person? Multiple? Crucial decisions for all writing.