Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Comforts of Our Era

If I had to think about the 3 best inventions from the past century I'd find it very difficult to keep it down to 3. Heating and dish-washers spring to mind, among many other cons.

I may dream about the romantic atmosphere of the late 18th century I've pictured in my mind, but the truth is, I wouldn't give up all my comforts to live in a cold mansion with Mr. Darcy and no TV, phones or cars. I think I'd be asking for a divorce after a week and packing my bags to come back to this century.

However, the invention I most appreciate right now is the Internet. I can't begin to imagine the time translators and writers must've spent in libraries before the Internet.

Now, if I need to do research on 16th century armours, on wind-driven generators, on 18th century cures, on 2-core processors or on how to put someone under a curse (don't worry, I haven't had the need for that yet) I just go about clicking my mouse and typing in a few words from the comfort of my home and voilĂ .
I've learnt so much about writing these past months just by reading blogs. And each blog leads me onto another one, it's like the little boy who tried to count the stars, to think about the amount of blogs I'm missing is quite overwhelming.

But also, I get answers to all my questions by email or twitter in only a few minutes. If I had to wait for a courier on a horse to bring me the answers, I'd probably be 90 by the time I finished a book.

I love our era. Which invention do you most appreciate and which one has helped you with your writing?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Happy Endings for Children and Adults

Should children be shocked into reality? I like happy endings. I read books and watch films that will give me that feel-good smile at the end, and I certainly hope to find that in children's films and books. However, I've seen quite a few films lately where one of the characters dies and it doesn't add anything to the story. It merely catches the older audience by surprise, who then fights to hide the tears before the puzzled younger audience starts asking what has happened and why is everyone crying.

I grew up reading and listening to fairy tales and books where all endings were happy. Maybe this has influenced in my optimistic approach to life or maybe optimism is just part of each person's nature. But all these happy endings and the belief in one's own happy ending hasn't prevented me from facing harsh realities when they've hit me in the face. In fact, it's probably helped me to overcome them.

I don't write children's books so I'm unaware if children's authors are required to know some basics on education or psychology, but I imagine they have to bear in mind the impact their stories can have on a child. I understand the need to make children aware of social issues, but is it really that awful to keep them in a bubble of fantasy during the time they read a book or watch a film? Will these realist portraits of life and social issues bring up new generations with a highly developed social conscience and mentally prepared for death?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Strolling through literary fiction, galloping through commercial fiction

This may be an obvious observation but I read literary fiction much slower than commercial fiction. Based on an exercise I read about on the yingleyangle blog (which has amazing advice for writers) I've been comparing the layouts of the pages and evidently literary fiction has long chunks of narrative without dialogue, whereas commercial fiction is mostly dialogue with the odd paragraph of narrative.

Now, in the report on my novel I was told I used too much narrative so I set out to splash it with dialogue, but there came a moment where the dialogue was flooding the pages and I was loosing my voice. I like narrative, I know too much makes it boring -I often skip it in books when there's too much-, but a balanced amount helps the reader visualize the scene and actions in detail and immerse oneself in the plot.

My point is, I think there is a tendency to include more dialogue to the detriment of narrative, but then literary fiction enjoys greater prestige among literary critics so, in theory, this is what we should be aiming at if we want to become "proper writers". Here I'm being sarcastic because I don't believe literary is better than commercial, just different styles for different tastes and different storylines.

I believe our voice will determine the right balance between dialogue and narrative but it will also depend on the genre we're writing and the audience we're targeting.

Do you find narrative makes books too slow and tedious? And do you feel the pace of books with barely any descriptions is too fast?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Naive writer in search of basic instincts

It's time for a confession. I only began writing in July 2009 and I had the idea that you just sat at a computer or in front of a notebook and wrote down whatever sailed through your mind. So that is basically what I did.

I set myself a wordcount target for each day. I had to write 2000 words a day and I forced myself to do it. Three months later I finished it, I quickly showed it to my sister and mother who, of course, said it was marvellous and I thought, OK, that's it. I'll send it to publishers/agents and have it published by Christmas. (Stop laughing, this is serious.)

That was when I started reading blogs and I learnt about the reality of sending query letters and submissions, about rejections and the infinite community of yet-to-be-published writers, about the average time it takes to see your book in a bookshop window (if ever), yes, about today's writers' hell.

Then I received the critique on my manuscript from the Romantic Novelists' Association which was another bombshell. There were all these things to be considered when writing, all this about the balance between dialogue and narrative, ending chapters on cliffhangers, proactive characters, meandering plots...

But how did the great classical writers know all these things when they wrote? I'd swear they couldn't enrol on online Creative Writing Master Degrees, they couldn't check blogs for advice on how to show but not tell, no How-to-get-published books, no desperate tweets to fellow writers asking for suggestions... Maybe they didn't have as much competition as we have today, but it can't have been easy in their times either.

So why are our natural instincts no good any more? Or is there still people out there who do have those natural instincts for writing and get it right at their first try? That's probably it, the classical writers that made it to our era were those very few writers who were born with innate instructions on how to write. And it was probably them who set the models in the first place for everyone else. So there you go, I've found someone to blame for my struggle to find the right balance in plot, characters, page number...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

What age are your characters?

I recently read a book where the main characters were barely described and you never got to know their ages. I tried to work it out, but the years didn't make sense. I found it very difficult to visualize the characters and I never became attached to them in the way I usually do when I read a book.

This distance between me and the characters also prevented me from getting genuinely involved in the plot, and even if I enjoyed the storyline, I didn't feel anything by the time I finished the last page.

Age shouldn't matter, but it's a fact I need to know to be able to recreate the scene in my mind and plunge into the story. I find knowing the characters' age makes them more credible, it explains their actions, vocabulary and train of thought too. I don't care if they're 20 or 50 years old, I just want to know their age.

This subject also makes me wonder why authors choose one age or another for their characters. Most books I've read lately have women in their late twenties or early thirties, but this may be because I love romances, and it seems it's the perfect age to find the love of your life, unless you're reading one of the classics where the perfect age will be early twenties or younger. Sleuths I've noticed tend to be a bit older, you probably need more years to gain the power of deduction and the expertise to identify a murderer by the way a leaf trailed in the wake of a long-distance lorry ended up on the victim's shoe.

What I'd like to know if this usually matches the writer's mental age. You know when someone asks you your age and you have to think twice? I always think 26 or 28 at first but then realize (shocked gasp) that is not my age any more, in fact it's been five years since. You would think I'd get the idea by now... But this is what I mean by our mental age, and I often wonder if this is the reason to choose one age or another for our characters, or if it's chosen to fit in with the plot.

Do you need to know the age of the characters? And why do you choose one age or another when writing?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

An Alien in the World

Remember the song I'm an Englishman in New York, I'm an alien...? Well I'm an alien in the world. I was born in England but was flying over to Spain only three months later and I've lived here ever since.
However, I can't say I'm Spanish either, I'm always an outsider wherever I am. This has its advantages, as it justifies any weird things I might say or do. People will attribute them to the fact that I'm foreign and I get away with lots of mischievous behaviour in the name of bilingualism.
But it also has its disadvantages, like I never get the feeling of patriotism I admire in other people, or people give me wary looks when I say my name is spelt with an h, or my name is pronounced in the strangest ways possible, which has earned me a suppressed smile or two.

On the whole, I enjoy being both Spanish and English, it means I get the best of two countries and it has become the perfect tool for my job as a translator. But please don't ask me which football team I support, I'll probably give you the name of an F1 team. I'm useless at sports whichever the language or country; in some cases, there's no nationality to blame.

Recent posts