Monday, 17 October 2011

A Poxy Week

The last few days have been pretty poxy.

Three weeks into my bursary period and M, 4, has come down with a much more severe case of chicken pox than her brother, J, underwent two weeks ago. Net result: gone through a whole roll of cotton wool; slept really really badly; watched too many episodes of the Mr Men than I care to remember, and feel more connected to my daughter than I have done for a long time, especially since she started school.

However, it does mean that I hadn't felt at all connected to my creative work - until last night, with the kids fast asleep, we happened upon a fascinating documentary on iPlayer about the reclusive author of To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee (only 13 hours left to watch, at time of posting this!).

What interested me in this documentary was how the presenter increasingly discovers that this novel was based heavily on the author's life, and on the events surrounding her Alabama hometown of Monroeville. I'm no scholar of the author's work, though like many teenagers now, I suspect, I studied the book for my GCSE. I've been digging through the dusty wine boxes of books in our spare room trying to find the heavily annotated copy that I once owned. It will be interesting to see what spoke to me then and what, in this classic text, will speak to me now...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Car Crash Characterization

Sol Stein, in his book Solutions for Writers: Practical Craft Techniques for Fiction and Non Fiction (St Martin's Press, 1995), writes "we need to know the people in the car before we see the car crash." And so, in fleshing out (ha ha) my characters in my Scrivener binder, I am imagining them hurtling, head-long, into a brick wall and asking myself who these people are.

The added complexity for this project is that, in my first draft I mainly wrote from life so the key to this project is to amplify the story, and release it from real life events. But there are some elements of the characterization which I portrayed in this mainly autobiographical first draft which I can't bear to cut out. For example, my old head teacher - a mean and authoritarian man - had a scorpion suspended in a glass paperweight on his desk. I can remember fixating on it and wondering if I broke it, would it still sting? Somehow this fear of the paperweight translated into my fear of him, but, as this scorpion was suspended in glass I too felt that I was untouchable, and confronted him about a school rule which I, and others, objected to. I hope this small detail makes the final cut. The scorpion speaks loudly.

Many 'How To' books extol the virtues of getting to know your characters well before launching into writing. My first stab at a full-length novel ended in disaster when, on my way back from a daily commute to and from work through several fields, I lay on the grass and shouted to the heavens: 'WHERE ARE YOU?' There was no response. Not long after that episode, I binned the project; although I had researched the setting and themes thoroughly (New York, Venice and dyslexia, respectively) I had no idea who was going to inhabit that book, and those characters never arose from my subconscious, let alone crashed a car. This is not something I wish to repeat. And so, I am getting to know my characters; if I keep talking to myself, it is not necessary to reach for the straight jacket.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Scribbling on Scrivener

A few months ago I was told about an application you can download for writing books with, called Scrivener, available from an American website. 

I've just been trying it out on the 30-day free trial to see how intuitive it is. I admit that I'm nervous of losing my data. Somehow, writing in Word seems safer, more akin to carbon copying on a typewriter than saving your life's work on a wizardly and remote book-binding application, but I have to admit it is making life easier.

For example, I'm just compiling characters in the binder (the panel which collects and collates all your material) which is involving copying and pasting some of the work on characters that I'd already begun in Word and pasting it in a new format. The Scrivener application suggests a character sketch format (as well as others) to fill in, which you can update to suit your project. It then houses them all together and is at-a-glance when you're within your project so you don't have to go searching in your hard drive for separate character sheets.

Although some of the menu options are a bit puzzling, and I'm finding it tricky to navigate, I'm going to continue writing and planning the book in this application for now, and give it a chance. I guess there is always the option to cut and paste back to old-fashioned Word, isn't there?