Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Can you work like an actor?

At the SCBWI Professional Series, Novel Masterclass, on Thursday 22nd February, Pamela Johnson told us we need to consider dialogue and movement like an actor.

She said, you can cheat the eye but you can’t cheat the ear, so read it out loud. Be in the body of your character. Stories are oral and this is why voice is important. So write like you talk. It really is as simple as that. Say something. Then write it. Record it if you want and read what you wrote aloud. If it sounds stilted or wooden, stop and think about what you're trying to say. Say what you want to convey aloud. Then write it down. A group reading or performance is even more useful since each reader, like an actor, will deliver their lines of dialogue at a different pace. But she reminded us, for dialogue, less is more – use limited speech tags.

However, it is not only the way the characters talk that is important, Pamela said you should prepare for writing like an actor prepares for a role. Spend time trying to understand why your characters do the things they do, and how they feel about it. Think about the characters and their motives:
  • What would she do?
  • What happens next?

Make these motives plausible.

Create character sketches and think about their off the page activity:

  • Are you giving yourself enough rehearsal time?
  • Can you step into your characters shoes?
  • Do you know their world?
  • Do you know their voice?
  • What food do they like?
  • What is their taste in music?

All these things can contribute to moving your story forward.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Can you write more like a reader?

Pamela said you need to enjoy reading more to enjoy writing more. She told us to read for inspiration. If you admire an author and their writing, copy a couple of pages of their work and take it apart to find out how they did it.

When you read you forget the words. You enter the fictional dream. You don’t read on unless the dream is continuous and vivid. You have in your mind’s eye what you want to write about and the film is running in your head. What you feel, hear, touch, the clothes you are wearing, the sensation on your skin. Know these physical clues and work the scene. Pamela said, if you put your energy into getting all the senses right the words come easier.

The story produced is like growing crystals. You have to be there. Being there is writing what you see, hear and feel. An image or idea can be developed. Your unconscious will join them up. Work with your unconscious and accept the ideas do not come in the right order. Ask, what does the reader really want out of this scene? By seeing you can lead the reader into the fictional dream.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Can you work like a visual artist?

When I first heard Pamela Johnson mention this, I thought she meant in the way picture book writers and seasoned bloggers use the shape, size, colour of their words and illustrations to add to the story. But, she meant so much more than this. Pamela was not just talking about how we write on the page but our whole working environment.

She meant, turn your writing space into a studio ~ sketch with words, trial pieces of paper about the room and sculpt them into a 3D version of your book ~ move things about, add some colourful phrases here and a touch of darkness there. Think, where is the light coming from? Put the light on the page. Look for key images within your story and draft them into key scenes to add texture to your text.

Ok, maybe I’m going over the top but writing is multi-tasking. So come on girls we should be good at it. Pamela did emphasise we should not try to glue down the pieces too early and allow our minds to free-flow.

Remember, writing can be a visual, multi-dimensional experience similar to painting or designing a structure.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Are you hung up as a writer?

This is my 100th post
As you will be able to see, I am in a very philosophical mood today. The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said,

“Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
He also said,

“Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.”
Confucius

Pamela Johnson suggested to help yourself move on with your writing, think as each step you write as a single incident, such as writing one paragraph, producing a character sketch or sketching a map of the location. It is a process of going through the layers.

The process of writing itself, even for very experienced writers, can be difficult and frustrating. The choices involved in creating the text, selecting appropriate words, arranging these words into meaningful sentences and using these sentences to explain a flow of fast moving ideas is hard work. Writing is a physical activity:

So take the first step...
Think what is it you want. Where you are now? Where do you want to go? What's the first thing that you need to do to get moving? Don't worry about making mistakes just get the story down on paper.

And keep taking steps....
Even if they feel like baby steps! We all have days where every step feels painful, or there is something else to do, or it's just plain too difficult. This is the, ‘Don't wanna’ tantrum, I’ve mentioned before! Go on, even if it's something really easy, take that one step. Just open the file on your computer. It's only a small step, but it proves your intent. After all, the files open now, you might as well do something with it.

And most importantly enjoy every step you take…
It was Haim Ginott who said:

“Happiness... is not a destination: it is a manner of travelling."

So have fun on your journey. Enjoy your writing and when you get there rather than moving straight to the next place, next goal, and next challenge, rest a while and glory in the fabulousness of what you have achieved. Read it aloud and be proud of what you have written.

Pamela said that instead of saying, “I must…” say, “I wonder…”

Recognise what is relevant and throw the rest away. I’ve said many times before - don’t be precious about your writing. I know this is easy to say and a lot harder to put into practice, especially when you have invested so much time into it. But, try it and see. You may be even prouder of the finished article.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Six Diagnostic Questions

Pamela Johnson identified six diagnostic questions to help you recognise the pitfalls in your own writing. They are:
  1. Are you hung up as a writer?
  2. Can you work like a visual artist?
  3. Can you write more like a reader?
  4. Can you work like an actor?
  5. Have you set scaffolding or stepping stones?
  6. Are you pressing the delete key too often and too quickly?

And just to be really frustrating and hopefully bring you back begging for more, I am going to go through each question separately over the next few weeks and will add my own ideas to Pamela’s.
Bye for now,
Anita ~ xxx

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Novel Masterclass

On Thursday 22nd February, Pamela Johnson, novelist, critic and curator, gave a Novel Masterclass for the SCBWI Professional Series in London.

Pamela has published two novels, Under Construction and Deep Blue Silence. Her third, Taking in Water, will be published in 2007. Her short stories and poems are published in anthologies. Her critical work includes Ideas in the Making. She teaches fiction writing on the MA Creative and Life writing at Goldsmith College, University of London, and is working on her forth novel.

She believes you can’t teach writing but, writers can learn and are capable of more than they know. Pamela explained how writing is experimental learning. You have to do it to get better at it.

So, what do you do when you are six chapters in and can’t get any further? Pamela narrows this down to three hurdles:

Belief – You have to believe in yourself and the novel. Is it the writing that is the problem or the resistance? You have to question rather than judge the work. One solution to this hurdle is to ask the question and answer it on paper. The aim is NOT to get it right but, to get it written. Remember, writing is on paper not in your head.

Time – Is there enough of it? How much do I actually have in between the school runs and the housework? How much can I steal back? How can I utilize the time available effectively? You’ve cleared a morning to write and you’ve sat there and written nothing! Remember, being anxious about writing is normal. It takes time out of your life and it may be for nothing. But, you can waste time by rushing around trying to do everything. You wouldn’t read a novel one page at a time, once a month, so don’t try to write like this. You need to engage with your work regularly. Break down your time into useful 40 minute slots. Define a piece of time and decide you are going to do one thing. Then define the task and do that one thing, nothing else.

Resistance –There are two forms of resistance:
The diving board syndrome - you keep going back and tightening up but never go forward. Will I ever get past page 20?
The flood - writing pours out of you but you never revise, so never have a finished product.
You need to recognise the boulder on your shoulder. Journaling is great for this as you can talk to yourself on paper. This is one way of giving yourself a tutorial every morning. But, only read your positive scribbling back. Move towards the triumphant don’t dwell on your negative thoughts.

However, if you are already a published author, Pamela identifies another even larger hurdle for you to jump.

PISS (Post Incredible Success Syndrome) - Sometimes a second and a third novel can be harder than the first. There is more pressure to do well and make a repeat performance. One solution that can help with this is to read other writers talking about writing. Pamela recommends four authors that have helped her:

Right, now you’ve jumped the hurdles but somehow, something feels wrong. You know you have a great storyline but the characters don’t quite live. Or, is it you have some fantastic characters but they just don’t seem to be going anywhere? What do you do then?

To help identify any problems, Pamela outlined six diagnostic questions to ask yourself about your writing. And guess what? I will tell you them another day. You know what that means don’t you? You have to come back and read my blog again! LOL