Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Grovelling in 300 words

As part of the NAW course, us students have access (in part) to the hundred or so patrons of the National Academy (Helen Fielding, Jim Crace, Ken Follett, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin). The first is with Jim Crace (if you hadn't guessed... he's my new God). But to get onto the workshop we, the students, have been tasked with writing our reasons for attending (there are only 8 places available), and in 300 words or less. Ahem, I hope it's enough:

I’m missing the final ingredient that will make my writing stand out. I’ve recently overcome basic errors and developed a strong ear… eye… for visceral imagery through metaphor and simile. I’ve condensed my prose to say more with fewer words and I’ve successfully begun to show my characters through their actions rather than appearance. I still, however, struggle with wrapping all these elements together in a narrative that flows without visible joins. I struggle to introduce momentary references that enhance the world for the reader and yet don’t distract from that flow and I never know when to flesh out the story by telling the reader what they need to know at any given time. Finally, I still overwrite, focusing on where a character is putting their hands and what a location looks like rather than what is essential to the pace of the story.

All this was encapsulated for me recently by Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and the extract of Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse (from his website). My eyes are opening to this greater notion of knowing thine characters – through backstory characters can be fleshed out, and these references may be drip fed to the reader like golden nuggets (candy store moments, as the American publishing industry call them). I need Jim Crace’s help to better handle this, control the flow of information and the pace of the plot, and answer questions of how much work need be put into these sub-sub-plots that are backstories.

As Princess Leia may have said, had she been caught by Imperial Troops on the NAW course and not aboard the Tantive IV: ‘Help me Obi Crace, you’re my only hope!’

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