Posts Tagged ‘ prose ’

Fish or Beef? Family and Taste.

We all know family changes us. There’s the big nature/nurture argument to go with it. What if our ancestry, our genes, does too?

The three pictures of forests spread throughout this post, for example, show the diversity of life even within one snapshot of forest. Place effects story and lives so much. Don’t forget if your story is based in cold climates to make it snow in winter or in wet climates to have swampy areas etc. Think about how these climates affect lifestyles, too; do they swim, canoe, ski, snowboard, travel, hitch-hike, rock climb?

Place is more important than you think. I read a book last year: Who’s your city? by Richard Florida. The idea is that certain qualities in people such as creativeness, liberalism, traditional etc will draw people to certain areas where these qualities are popular and centralised. It makes for an interesting read and some videos can be found online that talk about it. I read it as a: where should I live? Where would I like?

These qualities, if in the wrong amounts for your character, can, of course, create a lot of great tension in a piece. It’s worth experimenting with!

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Many families don’t know much of their history, at least not beyond grandparents. This can be where you find out who you really are. I’m not plugging any ancestry sites – usually the best information is on site anyway – but perhaps there are some places you can get started.

Personally, I know my grandfather was Latvian. I’ve looked into their culture, their way of life, and realised a lot of it I’d picked up without ever going there. From an incredibly young age I’ve loved anything pickled and vinegary. I thought, and still do think, that it is sweet. In Latvia dishes like sauerkraut and verrry vinegary fish are common place.

I also love potatoes and prefer chicken to beef. I also absolutely love fish. A lot of these things are popular or usual in Latvia, too.

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Perhaps it would be useful to get into your own histories to find a story. I’m thinking of writing a novel based in Latvia so perhaps there is a whole story of injustice, love or adventure hiding in your past too, whatever origin you may have.

If not, at least this might give you ideas about how to portray characters from other cultures: often they’ll pick up some, if not all, of the likes and taste, even if they never lived there.

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Character: My Credentials.

Or something like that…

I have a little success story to report! I have won the October competition run by The Literary Consultancy on their facebook page to describe a character in three sentences based on the Diderot painting above.

I have received an analysis of my entry by Rebecca Swift and my writing is showcased in a post atop their facebook page . I’m very thankful for the recognition.

For those interested, this is what I wrote:

“Peteris was the shy, shuffling type that walked through squares with his eyes to the cobbles but, once home, sat dreaming through dark windows. He was a stable, dependable chap that was often called upon to fix watches, sketch portraits or thread a woman-friend’s needle. He never spoke an unneeded word.”

Please tell me what you think and maybe try your hand at the premise of the competition. I’d love to see what you come up with!

“Hello, Sir. Nice day, isn’t it?” *Character*

Character is a tricky thing to get right. If you get it spot on, it should be seamless, natural.

Dialogue is often the biggest facilitator of character.

Perhaps the first sentence is a little like this guy?

The title to this post, for instance, would imply a formal individual – the sentence uses formal language and is essentially small talk. It also leans toward implying a man over a woman – the speech is to the point. The pause before “Sir” indicated by the comma suggests something else: anger or the idea they are not quite happy deferring to the listener. It’s amazing how much you can give away casually in speech. Try reading things aloud, with punctuation, to spot things.

A girl may be more likely to phrase the sentence this way: “Hello Sir! Don’t you think it’s a lovely day?”

How about this one for a woman?

Both of these sentences are obviously high class when looking at word choice. This one seems more feminine because the world gets more layers of feeling than “good” “bad” and “crap”. Also, the exclamation point indicates an excitement or happiness about a very banal subject that most men don’t seem to have. She also asks for more validation than a man would with “don’t you think”. I’ve never heard a man phrase it that way.

Now, a lower class male may instead say: “Good day, ain’t it, eh Sir?”

Or this one for a worker?

The sentence structure here has dissolved. It’s less proper and there also seems to be no problem with the address of “Sir”.

However, there are other ways to impart character than dialogue. Narration and actions laced through it are also great ways but they are often done badly.

Many starting out writers will overload readers with information. (The colour of their shirt, eyes, hair, skin, shoes, necklace). Most of this is unnecessary: a big dollop of information all at once is normally never good. Information needs to be dispensed slowly throughout a piece of writing. The appearance of a character beyond small amounts of info (well dressed, shabby, ruffled, sporty etc) isn’t needed and is no substitute for character. Even the things I have mentioned here can be shown in setting. For instance, they may have a messy house with cheap goods littered about and no TV or they could have a treadmill and weights by the window.

If you show character well enough, a reader should be able to fill in the blanks – just give them the stuff that is unchangable, necessary or central to the plot and only if  you don’t show it elsewhere. Always, always, wonder if it is worth showing in other ways, too.

Good narrative manages this balancing act well. For example:

Thomas sat straight up in the wing back chair, a ruffle of hair over one eye. He jerked it free and took a large sip of red wine, savouring the taste before the swallow.

This is much better than, for instance:

Thomas sat in a wing back chair, old and patterned like wallpaper – the repetitive kind. He had dark mahogany, curly hair and often moved it to the side before drinking more wine. His ice blue eyes and porcelain skin made a great contrast to the drink.

This has much less character and implies less about the man. It tells us more about him, yes, but these facts aren’t all necessary. It’s pretty clunky, too. In a story, this would slow down the plot and bring a reader to a halt. Keep that story moving!

Hopefully this has given you a bit of an insight into how I do character. Please let me know what you think!

Is My Novel in Tune? *Writing Soundtrack*


It has been too long since I last posted. I went home for the weekend, enjoyed the countryside but this doesn’t matter.

Music is today’s issue. Long journeys are best for music – by car, by foot, train, aeroplane. They zone out those horrible little munchkins that sit and scream on their mother’s knee. Spoilt brats. They stop the incessant beat of some hoodlum’s tasteless music. Besides all that, they give you an excuse not to have to talk to the last individual.

However, music is helpful for writing, too. I usually find I need silence when I’m first getting into the world I’m writing. I need to wander through their lives and this takes concentration, not beeping alarms and drunken warbles.

These things are, of course, all very useful for inspiration…just not the practicalities of getting started!

A lot of famous writers have admitted writing to music, too. So, what’s the allure?

Does the genre of music change the subject or tone of what you’re writing? Does it change the speed in which you write? Do the beats of the music naturally occur in the prose/poetry you produce?

This exercise should give you some answers to these questions and help you plan a soundtrack to your novel writing hours, should you want/need one.

I’ll try it first and analyse what I get. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A computer or notepad & pen.
  2. A stop clock: Timer (It’s free)
  3. Some videos/music from your mp3 player of choice.

I suggest you play the same songs/similar ones to me when first trying this to see if you get similar results but you are welcome to experiment.

The videos that I use (just below) have been placed on repeat. You can do this with youtube by going to the video you want and deleting the “uk.” or “au.” etc out of the URL bar before “youtube.com/”. Then change “youtube.com” to “youtuberepeat.com” and keep the rest of the URL the same.
Press enter and the song should be on repeat.

This allows each piece of writing to be effected by only one song.

Now, write without stopping (as far as it is possible to) and didn’t judge what you’ve written. No editing beyond spell check! Deal? Deal.
You can either time your writing or just write till you come to a natural end. I’m the latter kind of writer so have set no time limit.

This is what it inspired me to write:

The door slammed, a splash of water ruining her suede heels. She wiped her eyes, smearing the running eye liner, and blinked into the night. Prickles erected the hairs on her shoulders as water dotted her skin. Ignoring it, she checked the alleyway.

A cat was under the rubbish bin, its eyes flashes of colour reacting to every headlight, but she didn’t notice. she only saw the bin bag pyramid, the wet rankness that went hand in hand with damp cardboard and newly watered walls outside a waterhole.

Smiling, she hiked her tights, pulling a new hole into the smooth material, and took out her phone as she headed for the main street. It was an old thing: white scratches nicked the paintwork and the often bashed screen dulled its back-light with tiny trenches in the glass.

The clap of her heels was soon hidden by the screech of old breaks in double decker buses, the distant horn of an angry driver and the always present whir of a police car on patrol.

“Drop the phone.”

The words were cut by the metal at her neck. It was ungiving, maybe a thumb’s width at most. But, he had a posh accent. He spoke proper. She thought she could reason with him.

“Sorry honey, do I-”

“Don’t turn around.”

She stilled her neck, bit her lip and dropped the phone from her hand. It crashed to the floor, the last straw in their abusive relationship, and split into parts.

This took me around 15 minutes. (Sorry, I forgot to time it). Obviously, there will be some problems with it as it’s a first draft and unedited. That’s normal. What I will try to work out is if there are any simularities to the music.

For one, I had it rain in the scene. This is intrinsic to the song. I also seemed to have played off the beginning of the video and the images of 90s clubs that the video showed. I went for a young woman around the age of Shirley Manson when she sang the song and the melancholy feel to the track played out in the dangerous swing at the end of this section of prose. It also shows itself through how unaware the girl is, caught up in her good night out.

The echoing feel of the music could also have played into the auditory sounds in the story; the clap of her heels, the splash of the water, the screeches and whirs of the street. It has brought more than just the sense of sight to the story.

It took about 5/6 playthroughs of the song to write this much but it didn’t bore me when I finished, I just found a natural break in the piece.

I’ll try this exercise again with what you will (hopefully) agree is a very different style of music. This time I’ll try my best to remember to time it!

I grabbed my shoes and ran out the door, bag over one shoulder. The bus was at the stop, the end of the road. One minute. I sprinted, the bash of the bag bruising my back. Damn thing. I gulped air and reached the bus door as the doors started to squeak  The driver kept the door open, glaring. He’d have to deal. I nodded at him anyway, delivering my best good girl smile. His lips didn’t even move. Bad day or not, he was a jackass.

I moved down the bus, fingering the wire to my ipod around my neck. Most chairs were full. I could smell the nappy of a sleeping child. The mother stared out the window, eyes blinking with the break of the white stripes on the road. At least one person couldn’t taste the stench, then. Lucky cow.

A guy at the back was alone, reading the newspaper. The rustle was stupidly loud as I sat down. I looked over, to see what was so interesting. It looked financial. Boring. I covered my ears in music and zoned into my newest big thing: The Thumps. They had music right. It thumped, it moved, it sang. My feet bobbed on the chewing gum floor and added new black streak marks to its pattern. I liked to think of them as my feet’s sheet music. I’d be able to write it all down some day, after the classes, after I’d learnt all the moves.

the bus stopped and I jumped down, imagining a pirouette as I landed, absorbing the force of the fall. The great pillars of the contemporary dance academy posed above me. I forced my feet to a slow, decorous walk and tried to keep my face serene, serious.

It was a losing battle.

The inside was just as impressive. Wooden panelling reached half up the wall and above that leafy wallpaper spread to the painting ceiling. It was old world, grand. A bony lady, wrinkled and sat sideways in her seat, watched me carefully. She saw that my outfit was wash-bobbled, that the shoes wrapped around my wrist were scuffed threadbare. Well, fuck her.

“Sara Wilbury. I’m here for the six o’clock session?”

The grey haired matron checked her lists and grimaced when she found my name, checking it off; she couldn’t send me away, after all. Ha!

“Second door on the left. Be good.”

I snorted. I am and that’s her problem. You have to be good to get in here and this is not going to be the last she sees of me.

“See you again tomorrow, lady.”

I said the last with just the right spice of sarcasm and slipped through the floor to ceiling brass-knobbed doors. My first day. Here it is!

This took me 14 minutes and 16 seconds to write or 5 playthroughs. Again, there are mistakes. There are places where paragraphs need to be split or description added etcetera but it has the bare bones of a beginning.

The song actually really helped me for this one. The fast paced beat to the track helped me get into the mind of an energetic teenager who’s as excited and passionate about their day as a four year old on their first day of school. The prose therefore reads fast, almost as stream of consciousness.

The class issues it speaks about are probably what helped me create the conflict with the public and the secretary too.

So, give it a go. Maybe music can create ideas where you didn’t have any. As I can tell you honestly, I had no story ideas in my head at all until I started writing to these tracks. Give it a go! It doesn’t take long, promise.

You might even find something you like and want to expand.

Even if you don’t, perhaps this exercise helped in other ways. It’s possible it has taught you what works and what doesn’t. For instance, on a slow writing day a fast paced song might help you punch out those words or a particular theme of music might help for a certain genre of writing. Experiment with it and find what fits.

***The pictures in this post are all picture I’ve found after doing the exercises to give you something to go with the story, for the more visually inspired. ***

As usual, I still have a twitter.

If you want to contact me in general though, feel free to comment or message me either here or there.

In case you’re interested, my next post will be about characterisation.

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