Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Controlling the Narrative - ***Adult content Warning ***

First and foremost, here's a warning about adult content! Don't go deeper if you don't want to!

There are two ways of writing a narrative!

Bold statement indeed. Please follow...

In the first, the writer is not holding anything back. And I don't mean they're avoiding maintaining suspense. I mean, their story is unfolding with a clearly established scene involving a couple of characters who are immediately set in the reader's mind, and whose dialogue / action is clearly visualised and understood.

Now then, there is a second way of writing... and is favoured by some brave souls when opening a story. An opening such as mine - one in which I am attempting to deliver myself whilst being brave but possibly without the nous to pull it off.

This second way involves the development of a feeling of senses or style rather than immediate understanding. It's meant to bring along the narrative but does so in a way that is trying smoothly to deliver an experience instead of simply stating: "Here we are, this is what we're doing".

Still with me?

Okay, imagine this... or rather, read it:

At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man came in, for she had never seen one before; but-

Rapunzel withdrew as the Prince leapt in from the window, forcing the awkward placement of his rapier to the side. His circlet of gold shone in the sun’s heavenly light and yet Rapunzel felt ill at ease from his arrival. The jut of his codpiece was unnatural; unnecessary and distracting. His face lacked, like the Old Witch, all feminine charm. But he might have seemed easy to behold, appealing even, had it not been for the intensity of his gaze; Adam regarding Eve for the first time. What could he want with her? What were his intentions?

-the Prince spoke to her so kindly, and told her at once that his heart had been so touched by her singing, that-

A strange sensation akin to nausea (but not so repulsive) bloomed within...
Here we have the opening of my latest work (after the preface you have already read, of course). In it we have two narratives that relate directly to one another.
  1. The words from the fairy tale "Rapunzel" - begun mid-story - and pasted exactly as the Brothers Grimm intended. This is a narrator's voice, no?
  2. My own narration of Rapunzel's meeting with the Prince, after he climbs up her golden tresses.
Is that easy to follow? I'd imagine so.

Now then (this does relate to my previous post on dealing with questions as they arise in the reader's mind, BTW), the narrative swings back and forth between Brothers Grimm and myself for just over a page as the BG narration moves on unfalteringly, but my own narration places Rapunzel and the Prince in bed with each other.

But, I don't want to deal with the reader's question of: Well, why are we having to listen to the BG narrative as well? What's the point.

Because if I did so, it would ruin the effect I'm trying to create - an effect I'm hoping will lead the reader on rather than bore or confuse.

The problem arises that if the reader does become confused, then I, the writer am not controlling the narrative.

This is exaserbated when my narration swaps the third-person pov of Rapunzel and the Prince with the first-person pov of me... okay, well not, me! Per se:

-she put her hand in his and said: “Yes, I will gladly go with you, only how am I to get down out of the tower? Every time you come to see me you must bring a skein of silk with you, and -

He held her down with the heat of his body alone. And she, open to his advance, floated in that ruby sea and drew up its velvet waves in her fists, exclaiming her elation with a hoarse cry that roused the night dwellers of that great wood. Breathless, she could not be fulfilled.

-I will make a ladder of them, and when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse.” They arranged that till-

I spread myself beneath him, let him push against me. Felt the heat flushing from me, chest to neck to face, as I cried out. Again! Let him thrust. Take me! I wrapped my legs about his waist, let him deeper.

-the ladder was ready
Forgive me! I write like this under the lame pretense of literary wantonness. :)

So, while I'm lost to my own excesses I'm failing to keep the reader attuned. They get to the change in tense and think: "I've lost it! The narrator hasn't a clue, and neither do I. Why the double narrator? And why the change in tense? Is this a schizophrenic narrator?"

This is made worse when, half a page later, my narrator discusses a whole new scene while the BG narrators continue.

The fact is that literary curlicues and clever tricks require grounding so that the reader feels that they are being led by someone with a map and compass. Not someone who's going to take them through this field, turn about... look at the horizon for a clue about where they're going... you get my point.

So, in controlling my own narrative, the above passage can be changed to:

He held her down with the heat of his body alone. And she, open to his advance, floated in that ruby sea and drew up its velvet waves in her fists, exclaiming her elation with a hoarse cry that roused the night dwellers of that great wood. Breathless, she could not be fulfilled.

-I will make a ladder of them, and when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse.” They arranged that till-

I spread myself beneath him, let him push against me.

The two characters entwined atop Rapunzel’s tower were gone. They had suddenly, and without my wishing, escaped my day-dream. Replaced by Holden and myself. My much shorter braid was coiled above my head and the sun-starved body of the Germanic prince was now the chocolate colour of an African-English boy. I tried to hold that moment, tried to ignore Mr Gimli’s droning narrative, or the rest of my English List class who were listening idly along with me.

It felt insalubrious to have such thoughts in public but after the fire of imagination Rapunzel’s story had started within me, I couldn’t help myself. I could see Holden pause above me, pushed up on his arms so that we could regard each other, allowing me to run my palms over his chest. My hands so pale against his dark skin.

He came on again. I felt the heat flushing from me...
Does that make it clearer? As I said, I didn't want to have to break the effect I was creating, but I have a responsibility to the reader. I was going for the effect drawn by movies when a voice over narration continues over changing visuals - but of course, the visuals will speak for themselves. We'd see the characters change from Rapunzel and Prince to... err... "Rapunzel" and Holden.

Monday, January 12, 2009

But Why? When a Reader Asks Questions

[Don't leave the reader with too many questions]

When a reader sits down to read your manuscript (obviously once it's all been polished and reshaped into a rectangle box filled with yank-free toilet paper) they do so on the pretense of a good story.

However, the one way street we all so assume we're creating here. Listening to one of Peter's Pitch responses recently and also in a discussion I had last night with MG, it is clear that the act of reading is a one way experience certainly: the acceptance and absorption of story. However the total experience does not end with boredom, annoyance, tears, joy, or thrills.

There is a separate and entirely essential element: questioning.

Writers are constantly looking for ways to hook the reader, if it's not simply to get them to start reading, then it's to keep them reading, keep them thinking, keep them guessing. The easy genre for this to work in is mystery and crime: Who dunn'it, will the cops get the badguys? Will the detective rescue the heroine in time?

But, these are your standard quizzies - look closer, there are more important, more basic questions that pop up in a reader's head as you woo them with story. Questions whose answers - answered / ignored /alluded to but put off - may have a stronger bearing on whether or not the reader gives up.

In my latest attempt at a manuscript I've started very late in the plot's development. So much so that MG asked why would I do that, considering the important facets I was leaving behind and would therefore have to deal with in flashback - not a great dramatic tool (and remember we're trying to be dramatic to hold the reader's attention.

But then, I've taken the choice to unveil the flashback as a series of vignettes throughout the novel to force the reader into changing their view of a couple of characters. Let's hope that works.

In doing this what I'm essentially doing is making my reader have to deal with a lot of unexplained issues, background elements and character motivations that I may elude to but not wholeheartedly explain (for fear of giving the game away). I cannot, however, ignore the fact that as a reader reads, questions are raised, points of interest that they instinctively want dealt with so that they can file it and move on in the narrative.

If I avoid considering these questions, and then fail to answer them at the point in the narrative when the reader thinks of them, then I'm going annoy them. Certainly, I won't be deemed the authority on my own work and therefore why should the reader keep reading?

How many books have you read that failed to tie up certain niggling plot points - and you were happy about that? None. Because we want resolution, we want to know - it's the gossip in all of us, the need to understand the truth of the matter.

Same principle with those little questions, that wish for the author not to skip ahead while the reader is still dwelling on the brief mention of the dead mother, the lesbian who used to be friends with the protagonist, what kind of town the characters live in, how that character got from A to B.

If you can't consider these for yourself it may be worth asking your beta readers to write down questions that emerge in their head as they read your work - they may not all be relevant, or the same. You may specifically wish to hold back. But if you raise too many unanswered questions, you're not on a winning streak.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


You quote something as being like your own intended manuscript and what must you do next? Read it. *SIGH*

I'd heard that Stephanie Meyer's book wasn't as good as the movie (I was forced - honest - to go and see the movie before Christmas - dragged there I tell's ya) and that many critiques were particularly critical about the book (the series in fact) for not being written brilliantly.

I guess that's a bonus for Meyer since poor old JK Rowling gets slated personally for failing to be a great writer. Meyer's got away with only her books being bad - not her.

Anyhoo, so, I've picked up a copy and found the preface pretty straight forward. All well and good. Nice hook. So, I kept reading... and I'm not sure how much further I can go.

The girl whose book I borrowed claimed that she got really annoyed by Bella's narration but still loved the books (that's a big pointer right there that the book might not be my thing). Bella's girly insights and her self-obsessed moodiness and commenting on absolutely everything, while SHOWING us her character also serves to cause the narrative to jackrabbit down the road rather than drive smoothly.

Case in point, this from the opening chapter, provided by TheTwilightSaga.com:

Oh hang on, they've got a funny way of editing their excerpt! Try this section instead from only a few pages in:
"Where did you find it?"
"Do you remember Billy Black down at La Push?" La Push is the tiny Indian reservation on the coast.
"He used to go fishing with us during thesummer," Charlie prompted.
That would explain why I didn't remember him. I do a good job of blocking painful, unnecessary things from my memory.
"He's in a wheelchair now," Charlie continued when I didn't respond, "so he can't drive anymore, and he offered to sell me his truck cheap."
"What year is it?" I could see from his change of expression that this was the question he was hoping I wouldn't ask.
"Well, Billy's done a lot of work on the engine - it's only a few years old, really."
I hoped he didn't think so little of me as to believe I would give up that easily. "When did he buy it?"
Does this girl have to comment on absolutely everything? And she seems so bitchy about it too! I only wonder because it allegedly gets worse.

What this does show us from a learning point is that in order to get us to know the protagonist we need to have a sense of who they are, and Meyer does this by bringing forth Bella's anxiety over the new car. We definitely get a sense of her character.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A New Fairytale

So, a new year, a new story idea.

Tis one I've been thinking on for over a year now - just no time to get it down - and obviously that perpetual fear that if I try, it won't come out right and I'll have wasted an opportunity.

Anyhoo, after a feverish few days of really consolidating the story plan I've committed to an opening paragraph (the actual plot is going to take a lot more effort as I'm actually trying to work out the chronology of what to tell when, and what flashback to use where, for maximum suspense and effect).

Without much further a'do, here is the opening to my contemporary Fairytale (imagine: Twilight - Vampires x Brothers Grimmest ala Angela Carter)

Fornitale, or as I originally conceived it, Wrapped Around Your Finger:
Rapunzel! They spun out my new name in breathy whispers. Spreading the message behind my back while I lingered on thoughts of the night before. Subconsciously I felt their attention, just as I'd felt certain on my way to school that everyone knew what I'd been up to. But I pushed the guilt away, consoling myself that my secret was safe. No one could know. I scooped my braided hair from one shoulder to the other and cradled it across my chest as I lost myself to my childish mistake. Little did I realise how my indiscretion had already gone to press, weaved into the fabric of the school consciousness by the note soon to spiral over my shoulder and skitter across my desk. Its arrival was to be heralded by a fanfare of sudden quiet. A wake up call I'd feared, but long needed.
Anyone have any thoughts?

Chain Letters

I guess that wasn't my last post! Fancy that.

I have been remiss and missed the love - the fragrant kisses of joy and sharing. Missed it in October, missed it in November but not yesterday!

That's nice... the three of you: MG, Esy and Solvey.

So, here goes:

This is how it works: Display the award. Link back to the person who gave you this award. Nominate at least 7 other blogs. Put links to those blogs on your blog. Leave a message on the blogs of the people you’ve nominated. You can only answer in one word.

1. Where is your cell phone? Coat.
2. Where is your significant other? Sofa.
3. Your hair color? Brown.
4. Your mother? Sorethroat.
5. Your father? Wii.
6. Your favourite thing? Stories.
7. Your dream last night? Murderous.
8. Your dream/goal? Published.
9. The room you’re in? Extension.
10. Your hobby? Writing.
11. Your fear? Death.
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Published.
13. Where were you last night? HabboHotel.
14. What you’re not? Focused.
15. One of your wish-list items? Time.
16. Where you grew up? Bracknell.
17. The last thing you did? HabboHotel.
18. What are you wearing? Jeans.
19. Your TV? 37".
20. Your pet? Spaniel.
21. Your computer? Slow.
22. Your mood? Concerned.
23. Missing someone? Everyone.
24. Your car? KA.
25. Something you’re not wearing? Bra.
26. Favourite store? CDWOW.
27. Your summer? February.
28. Love someone? Forever.
29. Your favorite color? Red.
30. When is the last time you laughed? XKCD.
31. Last time you cried? Elizabethtown.

Who do I nominate?

MG, Esy and Solvey, Kate, John, Crowe, Scribe, Lynn!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Now Morning from her orient chamber came...

And a happy new year to y'all!

[An ickle Sunrise picture - by me]

Now then, straight to it: if there is one thing I don't do, it's poetry!

If ever there a higher language be
whose obvious subtleties speak
of somethings and nothings
and flowers and loneliness
of war and of famine
of "unrequited love" and joy
then surely that impenetrable verbiage be
po - et - ry

Purposeless? Maybe! You'll have to forgive my own lame attempt - I stopped doing English Language at GCSE - that's poor show for a writer, I know, but my grade C (sigh) was deemed not good enough to attempt A-Level.

Oh this doesn't bode well, I hear you say... this whipper-snapper thinks himself a writer, be!

Well, let's ignore all that.

I don't make new year resolutions - because I don't believe in waiting to start a new year before changing my life - but, I've just been watching/listening to Agent Peter's video feedback to a couple of pitches over at Litopia
- if you didn't know, Litopia now has a pitch room where accepted members can pitch to the agent and receive a video response helping to diagnose where they're falling short (which is absolute bloody gold dust - and a masterclass far superior to any of been to on my course - bar, of course, Jim Crace's prose stripping [you'll have to check through my blog to find the results of that]).

Anyhoo, in one of his crits, Agent Peter recommended that one writer's clunky dialogue needs a bit of poetry to it, to smooth over the clunk. That she needs to get some poetry in her.

So, why not, I thought, do that myself. Tis a new year. I'm sure it's not too much effort to read one poem a day. How difficult can that be? Perhaps I could read more!

And in the process, I might learn something that infuses my own writing with better linguistic ability (than I am currently showing) - Solvejg, I can see you right this minute staving in your monitor with your forehead, screaming: "Why won't this idgit listen to me! How long ago did I say this?"

There's no rush, dear boy!

So, it's the 6th today - having read the first of Keats from the Penguin Classics edition, Imitation of Spenser, which was lovely, woolly and fully adjectivised, I'd better read at least 5 more.

Will this be my only post of the year? Who knows?