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Archive for the ‘grammar’ Category

…Or focussed versus whole-of-scene narratives.

Whenever you write, you make a decision about how the reader experiences your work. Do you want to write in first, second or third person, do you want an unreliable narrator, do you want an omniscient narrator?

Your decisions may be deeply considered or a gut reaction; you may change your mind as the piece develops. You may even experiment with multiple approaches in one piece.

The aperture approach, as I call it, is like a camera lens: you focus on one part of the story to present.  You see only what a particular character sees, experience the events through a specific pair of eyes.  It’s a little like torchlight; your attention shines on only one thing, and the rest is unseen and therefore unknown.

The all-seeing eye is the omniscient narrator, the one who can describe the feelings of each character in detail, and is party to all events.  This is more like a floodlit room, where there’s no chance for things to hide in corners.

I think the choice is entirely dependent on the story.  My first novel had four viewpoint characters and each character shared only what they experienced; the four characters together gave a fuller picture.  My second is very much based on what one character sees and feels, allowing me to explore a collapse from an external viewpoint.

I haven’t tried unreliable narrator in novels, but I have in writing exercises, and it’s very useful when exploring ‘shady’ characters – characters who you don’t want to reveal too early on, or those whose motivations are suspect.

This article is a quick reminder of first, second and third person (and a reminder I often write my blog in a mix of first and second person which is very naughty!) and here’s a whole lot of basic information on narrative options that’s worth considering if you’re not sure which way to go with your manuscript.

Good luck and happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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This week has been a long one.  It’s incorporated all the normal elements – work, friends, family, shopping, studying etc – and added a new one into the mix: emergency house interventions!  I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, it’s been a little bit up and down here.

Still, the main issue as far as this blog goes has been work, and that’s gone pretty well.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time reworking my newest chapter though – much more than I thought I would when it went off to the proofreader last time.  I’m glad I’ve given it the time but it means it’s going back to the proofreader for yet another check.

I am still confident that I will finish by the end of Wednesday: the rest should be smoother by far. I’ll try to think positively and not think about famous last words…!

As always, my target is with myself and if I miss it, life will go on.  I know myself though – sending off to an agent is scary and I have to be really careful I don’t just avoid it altogether (which I know I will, if I can).

Along with that, I’ve committed to attend a poetry reading with a new group of people, all of whom are writers themselves so it’ll be another ‘critically supportive’ event, I hope.  I tend to use the same poems when I do these, as I’m confident in reading them, but I may add a new one into the mix and see the reaction.  Generally feedback on my poetry is very positive so it’ll be interesting to find out if that’s the same with a different style of poem.  Oh, and you may remember I said my friend was reading a few of my poems at an event in Cornwall – well, I got very good feedback from that too.

Hurrah for all the kind people saying supportive things 🙂

In other news – I am getting ready to enjoy one of music’s most cheesy and cheery nights: the Eurovision Song Contest.  I love Eurovision, and even though we generally don’t do very well at all, it’s still a most entertaining experience.  From Abba and Bucks Fizz  through to Lordi, there have been some memorable acts.  For the sake of the event, Europe’s boundaries are a little different, but no-one seems to mind too much!

Also (and much more writing-relevant) – I read this article about grammar rules and it made me smile.  I particularly like point four about the decline of the word whom, which I have defiantly used in this week’s post, whether it’s correct or not 😉

And finally – I’ve talked about the rise of e-books before, but this article really shed light on the growth of digital downloads here in the UK: I know EL James may have had a lot to do with that so it will be interesting to see if the figures are repeated in the future, but for now it’s very clear that e-publishing attracts a huge market.

Happy writing

EJ

🙂

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Writers are often advised not to use clichés; many people see them as an enemy to effective writing. Even when I go to publish my posts here, I am warned not to use them – and yet, I have to admit a fondness for a good cliché.

The issue with any overused phrase is that, at its core, it’s a useful concept. That’s why they get overused – they fulfil a writing or speaking need.  To say to a writer that they should never use these phrases is like telling a chef that they cannot use a certain ingredient.  Yes, you can find much more specific ways around the issue, and you may hit on an exciting alternative.  But, you’ll potentially be missing something too.

To someone like me, who wants to write accessible fiction in plain English, clichés are an easily understood shorthand.  However, the trick to using them is to choose wisely and – keeping with our cooking theme – treat them as a seasoning, rather than the main ingredient.

I should say before I get going that this is not what I think about poetry – where unexpected and unusual similes and metaphors are essential for rhythm and structure.

So how do you minimise the risk of cliché overload?

Well for me the first thing is to accept I overuse them.  In normal conversation, people who know me well will hear ‘at the end of the day’ or ‘for what it’s worth’ and many other phrases over and over again (sorry, all :-)); and because I use them in speech, I will use them in writing.  They normally appear in sections of dialogue or in the thoughts of a character.

The next step is to make a decision where they work, and I can only do this by reading my writing and seeing how they affect it (positively or negatively).  I sometimes keep them in sections of light-hearted dialogue between close family members; I wouldn’t want them in a dramatic scene but when people are more jokey and casual, their speech will be as well.  Using well-known phrases reflects that.

Another time I may keep them is to emphasise the foolishness of a character – if they only speak in hackneyed phrases and spout ‘buzzwords’ it is so the reader can see their lack of originality and understanding.

Nearly every other usage gets cut out – but if one makes it through my revision and editing process, and past the eyes of the proofreader, it can stay: it’s earned its place in the writing!

I said last week that I bought a book on clichés and this is proving valuable at identifying what ones I use in my writing, and helping me think about what I could say instead.  If, like me, you know you have to amend your writing language on occasion, it’s worth either investing in a book or investing some time in searching out alternative words and phrases.

Yes, clichés are something to be aware of as you write you stories down; but they are no less valuable to a writer than any other tool at their disposal – it’s all about how you use them.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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Now that project month is over I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I missed in the writing news, but I got sidetracked by a story that hit the culture headlines this week – the prospect of another three Star Wars films.

This reminded me of the efforts made a few years ago to encourage people to list their religion as Jedi on government census forms, and got me thinking about how some ideas become part of our cultural landscape.

As I have said before, storytelling is hugely important, and many stories remain part of our consciousness for centuries.  Their characters, or memorable quotes, become part of everyday language – and even if we have never read the stories ourselves, we use the terminology.

We might think of Shakespeare, who is the source of a number of phrases still in use today – and who would know they are using phrases written for Elizabethan plays?  Or Bram Stoker: he was not the first person to write about vampires, but Dracula is probably the most famous literary vampire (in English-language literature, at any rate).

A more modern example might be George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, a book that spawned the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’ amongst others.  The idea has taken hold and we now see the phrase used by some people when talking about covert surveillance – or reality tv!

So why do some stories seem so much bigger than others, and why do they seem to last in our consciousness for such a long time?

I don’t have an answer, really – it could be that they’re taught in schools so each age group is introduced to them; it could be that they survive and others don’t either because they went out of print or were not as popular when released; it could be that they caught the public mood of a time, and became famous/notorious as a result.

Nowadays, marketing has a bigger part to play, but I don’t think that’s enough on its own – it might make something fashionable but it won’t make it timeless.  On the other hand, the Harry Potter series has grown from a set of books into a world-wise phenomenon covering films, clothing, holidays, tours and countless official and unofficial websites plus lots more, so marketing clearly has some influence!

Of course we don’t really think about the fact we are using Shakespearean phrases, or referring to mythological characters.  Maybe in another five hundred years, people will say they’re as forceful as a Jedi, and it’ll be perfectly meaningful…

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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As part of this project month, I am going to start learning conversational Chinese.  I probably won’t use it in my work, but I think it will be fun to learn another language; it’s good for my memory if nothing else.

One language I have used for my work is Old English.  Old English pre-dates the Middle English of Chaucer by 400 years or more, so when I use it I have to take some liberties and mix it in with modern English.  What I love about it is that it seems designed for the oral poetry tradition: the language is musical and when speaking it there is a definite rhythm.  You can hear extracts of OE poetry read out on the web if you’re interested.

I want to learn some Welsh for the same reason – it’s a musical language that will suit oral poetry.

Incorporating different languages in poetry is for my own enjoyment though; I don’t intend to publish this type of poetry.  Some people do write in multiple languages, and there is an art to making this work accessible.  I have not mastered this art!

However one way to explore the rhythmic quality of speech in a more reader-friendly/listener-friendly (and writer friendly!) way is to use words that have their origins in other languages.

This got me wondering whether I should try something different with one piece of space poetry – not a different language throughout, but a different form,  incorporating recognisable words from other languages.  The result should be a mixture of hard and soft sounds.

I’ll try some new things out and see how they work!

Let me know if you write in different languages and how you think it influences your work – it would be really interesting to see if different subjects work better in different languages…

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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