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There's an old man in my village, who limbers up at the bus stop, and is almost beside himself with anticipation when the bus pulls in.
Imagine if he got on, and the bus went round the roundabout at the end of our road and took him back to the bus stop.
Or, imagine if you were on that bus, or at a party, and an old person sat next to you. Say you were going to spend an hour together. Admit it, you'd think - Jesus hell, no. Because that person comes with a lot of backstory. The older they get, the more of it.
We all want sunny days on buses roaring along roads to the place we want to go, and to spend time in our own thoughts or good company.
Backstory at the beginning of a novel is a sin.
It's the cardinal sin.
It's why the agent says, 'I just don't love your writing'. They don't say - man, you've got BACKSTORY.
Writers, backstory is bad breath. You don't notice it yourself, but the people around you take a step back, then another step... until by the end of...
Fiction is not mathematics. Yet, when we work at a draft a number of times it starts to feel that way. We write a novel step by step the first time, then we go over it at second draft to check how each chapter serves the story, each paragraph, each sentence, we look at how one thing leads to another and how they add up. Yes, this is how to write a novel, but no it is not everything. Sometimes addition can become subtraction.
You have to be really careful not to lose the mystery, those non-linear lines in your fiction which defy logic. These are the curious sentences whispered to you as you fall in and out of dreams and daydreams. They are the very soul of the novel.
With my first novel, I had a sentence which haunted me and it was really the 'x' that marked the treasure for me writing that novel 'Becoming Strangers'. That sentence was 'I am coming to you for help, I don't know why.'
I set it in a dream sequence in which my hero, who is dying of cancer, sees...
"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
For those of us in our prime, Autumn is the season of making good. A season is, according to Stephen King, the right time frame to write a novel. So, it's time to push your novel to completion using our novel school methods:
With important supporting characters in a novel, we like to go on a journey of discovery. So if you know one character is fundamentally mean-spirited, make it possible, even just slightly, that she might be kind then move over the terrain of the novel to show us she is not. This movement brings life to your novel. If your main supporting characters have revelatory moral trajectories, the novel sings and dances.
Remember, the purpose of each character in your novel is to throw rocks at your main character. Those rocks can vary, some come as rock buns, some as lumps of granite, but rocks they are each and every one of them, forcing your main player to face reality.
Of course, some characters can remain irrevocably bad but probably not more than one or two or your politics are showing. (Bad time, bad people, bad place...) Equivocate won't you, to draw the reader into the book?
For each of my main characters I make the following notes. Giving them...
If I were asked to replace all the holy commandments of writing with one it would be this; love thy reader.
I know. I know. I say to you - the first draft is for you, to get to know the story, and you need a gap between first and second to become the reader and see the art and entertainment in your work, but what if....what if... you began with your reader in mind.
I will begin to write my new novel in September with back to school vim and vigour and I hope you will join me with the Ninety Day Novel® process, but right now I am working between first chapter and plot and back again to find the 'liveliness', and when I feel drab I know it's because I haven't cracked the characters. They're not real. So I take my time now to get them alive and kicking, warts and all. They need to be loveable; well, some of them. Sure, they can behave badly, but for the most part those with which I am concerned must be redeemable.
Now set that old testament aside.
You see, I...
There comes a time when every writer has to face the awful thought that they may have to kill their manuscript.
“Often when I sat down to work,” wrote Michael Chabon about a novel he ditched after five years of work. “I would feel a cold hand take hold of something inside my belly and refuse to let go. It was the Hand of Dread. I ought to have heeded its grasp.”
It's hard to be sure for a while, then when it becomes clear, axing that book feels like a release.
Nothing is ever lost. You learn, you get better. Sometimes, as with the plot a novel, you have to go through a few ordeals to learn to turn and face the enemy. The enemy, in novels and life, is so often internal. But usually, there's a blind spot. Clarity, vision, can come a little later than you'd like.
If you have more than a niggling feeling that something's wrong with your novel, if you're worried it's not showing any signs of life, here are some clues...
I'm delighted to announce the publication of our very own Kritikme Krew member's novel - The Light Between Us by Katie Khan - which scored a five star review in Heat this week and is romping up the fiction charts. 'A bold new talent' says Matt Haig.
Published by Penguin's imprint Transworld this month, Katie began writing her novel with Kritikme in August last year.
As Katie said in her speech at the book's launch party at the Owl Bookshop last night - she was nervous about the 'difficult second album' but found it all came together. She thanked her family and friends and agent Juliet Mushens for support and has very sweetly thanked the Kritikme Krew in her acknowledgements too.
A writer needs a solid daily process, inspiration, encouragement and support.
Katie has a big day job, and writes bold and inspiring novels. You too can write like Katie - make sure you get the support you need!
That was The Great Gatsby, which Fitzgerald began in the wake of wild times had with his wife Zelda, their friends, and total strangers in New York City and on Long Island in 1922. Fitzgerald wrote steadily through 1923, and had a first draft of the novel finished by April 1924.
'Trimalchio' was the title of the finished novel, which he submitted to his publisher, Max Perkins, in October 1924.
Maxwell Perkins enthused about the novel's glamour, (you can read their exchange of letters below) but was uncertain about the way Gatsby's character was revealed.
In 1925 Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, spent six weeks in Rome and on Capri, where Fitzgerald revised the book to meet Perkins's recommendations and in April of 1925, six months after the initial draft had been sent, The Great Gatsby as we now know it was published.
The Great Gatsby...
When I was reading Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, I was struck by the name of the male character, the romantic hero, 'Nick Conway'.
I thought - 'Nick Carraway'?
You will know that is the name of the narrator of The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, and when I started to compare those two books, I began to think about the prose and structure of both side by side. Then I began to compare the roles of the characters in the great classic Gatsby with Conversations with Friends. In Gatsby, Nick Carraway observes the romantic hero, admires him and his beloved Daisy. In Conversations with Friends, the narrator Frances observes and admires most of all Bobbi, who has no love object. This little matter creates a bit of a dead end in the structure of the book; it turns out on closer inspection. Bobbi is self-sufficient in a way I guess many of us would wish our daughters to be; the ultimate modern woman. You may argue she loves Frances, but not the way Gatsby loves...
Sally Rooney is my writer of the year. 'Conversations with Friends' is my book of the year.
At just halfway through the year, and with Ms Rooney just 26, you may think this is a moment of ill-considered or reckless admiration on my part.
Worse, you may think I'm really stretching things to claim she is the heir apparent to Hemingway, based on one novel.
But I will make a case for that based not just on that novel but the short story 'Mr Salary' for which Rooney was Winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. I should add that with her new novel 'Normal People' being published next month, Ms Rooney is not a one-book wonder.
Sally Rooney writes with such a painstaking candour and more as I will show below, that I am sure we have great things to come from her.
It is the case that the 'truth' will set you free as a writer, as Hemingway himself practised sp robustly, and Sally Rooney purveys the same...
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