Saturday, February 17, 2007


I'm sitting here in work, it's a saturday and I'm quiter literally staring down the barrel of a future of ruined weekends (thanks to the course I soon hope to embark on). There's not much work to do here, that is, there is plenty to do, but nothing urgent, nothing with a date stamp waiting to run out, or someone banging on the door in dire distress of lost work or importance. So, what's a guy to do on a saturday having had 5 hours sleep?

Rather than write one of my many projects (will I ever become a writer? Is it too much mental power to ponder upon what to type? I'm doing it now aren't I?) I'm reading a James Patterson novel. I was over at one of the branches yesterday and they had a donation, Patterson's Cross (supposedly one of his best for tense, fast paced, thrilleratrics). I don't normally read thrillers, and certainly not crime - my last thriller was... ahem... the Da Vinci Code - so, perhaps, I thought, I should branch out a little more and give it a go (it's free).

Chapter Ten (2 or 3 page chapters abound by the way). The opening paragraph is thus:
Jiang was tall and looked almost emaciated. He had a scraggly black goatee that hung a good six inches below his chinny-chin-chin.

Oh, come on! Chinny-chin-chin? Would you look at that?

I read something like this and I wonder what they hell is going wrong in my head? This is a multi-million dollar selling author with a sturdy and devout readership. He's writing by the numbers fiction that, I find, fairly similar to Dan Brown (yet no one has lambasted James Patterson), and though that is fine and dandy (hey, I enjoyed Dan Brown) I can't get my head round the fact that if this work was submitted to me for critique, I'd be editing it to buggery - show, don't tell; I don't feel this character; lose this, that; give us some more of the world - and yet, I have to now ask myself whether I'd be right. He's published after all.

This leads me, by-the-by, back to my predicament with the imminent arrival of my NAW course... we've all been posting our portfolios to the Moodle forum at uni, and everyone's been giving one another a right-royal slap on the back for good jobs done... except for me.

I'm not feeling the love, I'm really not. I can see what everyone is doing, where they're going, what they're trying to show, and I'm certain with a few tweaks I'll begin to feel what they are attempting to show. However, whilst the other members of the course just splurge their brief: "Wow, this was great, I really felt X, Y, Z. You made me sick/sad/happy/mental." I can't agree. That's not to say I don't like the work, or that my ego is that huge that I see myself as better; some avenging angel who must descend upon cack prose and whittle it with my writing-scythe.

Of course, I'd like to think I was better than the majority. I'd hope everyone on the course wants to be the best, wants to push themselves. But, that's not what this is about - oh God, please don't let it be just ego! No, I feel this is about my place in literature. I don't think it's even about the others at all - let them pat each other on the back (oh God, I do think I'm right don't I?).

I'm writing to be the best that I can be. I've stopped wasting agents' time because I'm not good enough - hell, I'm wasting my time blogging rather than writing. I'm surely not good enough for publication - and I'm trying to extract every bit of meaning from my prose (when I'm on the ball). I get pissed off at people who just want a pat on the back (none of us are in that place where we're ready for immediate, non-crit publication), and more-so at those who post something from 10/20 years back without re-reading it themselves to realise how cack it is. And of course, this goes for Litopia as much as moodle.

Where's the self awareness?

But that's not the point of this thought process. The point is one of my fellow moodlers wrote a 300 word story which claimed high praise from the other students. It begins thus:

Look at the adjectives, the unnecessary description, the wasted lines that could be showing more than they currently tell. And what about the lack of flavour. We, the reader, can't go along simply with being told words like delicious and succulent. And yet my fellow students all believe you can. What can we learn from each other by letting this stand?

I have changed that opening, and moved some other facts about in the piece. Though it took me ages, it was only one pass, but I feel that my version goes some way towards the way I really want to write. I've tried to listen to Solvey's advice, tried to make the sentences work hard, tried to bring in colour, flavour, taste. Admittedly there is no smell, but I find that the most difficult of all:

I know from the short story competition winners and Maria's post regarding the Richard and Judy winner of short stories: that great importance must be placed on the technical aspects of writing to draw the reader instantly in... however, and this is where I hopefully point myself out to be the weirdo and not my fellow students - who I'd hate to think stopped liking me because I disagree with their work ethic on this - what if I'm wrong and they're all right?

Patterson's pace is swift but his writing is shockingly sparse. I get no feel for anything, no world to immerse myself in. But then you take his description of Jiang and set that against my lengthy description of Penthera Discordia (see a few posts back), and well, he's writing for adults, I'm writing for young adults (in this incarnation)... but, who's missing the trick?

I can't write like him. I must stick to Philip Pullman's sensibilities on this. But can I keep that up if my classmates are too eager to please one another and not question what makes good writing? Are they even ready to hear what doesn't work? Am I pissing in the wind? Maybe I'll prove myself to be a lonely arsehole, when no one else disagrees with me? What do we all want to get out of this? What's the point?

1 comment:

Rob said...

Hi Richard
As a fellow Moodler I'm sorry to see how disappointed you are with the Moodling experience. You have to accept that you are far more versed in the science of prose than your fellow students.
Whereas you would never dream of putting your writing out there without lots of redrafting, clearly this is not the Moodling way - yet. Until it is and the students are closer to you re technique I have some suggestions for you.
Firstly, criticism is much easier to accept face to face when the writer can see the critiquer's positive non-verbal communication. In the absence of this, I believe, you have to be more careful about writing down your views.
At this stage in your fellow students' development, I suggest you try and be positive where you can and focus on helping them with the 'big' issues: 'show don't tell' and use of cliches for instance.
If I were you I would resist the temptation to offer a re-write. this merely opens you up to accusations of arrogance - 'how dare he take my invention and put his own words to it?'.
It's clearly inevitable that you will be offered a place on the NAW course. I hope you will take it up. If I get through the cut, I'll be happy to work with you.