Thursday, 26 March 2009

Susan Price: Weaving

Desperate for a subject on which to blog, I ventured to offer hints and tips on how to write. After all, after 35 years of earning my living doing it, I thought I might know a bit about it.

Well, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Just call me a fool.

Thinking about what writers do when they write and rewrite a book has left me even more awe-struck with admiration for the books I love than I was to begin with, and astounded at my own audacity in even attempting it.

Just consider even some of the elements that go to make up a book.


All the time you're writing a book, you're dealing with one or more of these things, balancing them, weaving them together... Because although you can consider them singly, none of them really exist singly. They are, all and each, influenced by all and each.

It's often said that 'characters take over' a book, but that's not entirely true. If the characters really take over, then your plot pin-wheels off in all kinds of directions and breaks apart. The characters have to be characters necessary for the story being told – so plot influences character. It works the other way, of course – the characters have to seem alive and spontaneous, and following a character rather than your carefully planned plot-line can often improve a book. But they work together – characters drive plot, and plot shapes characters.

There are books written on Dialogue, and classes taught on it, as if it's something that exists by itself. Dialogue should always be natural and spontaneous – except, of course, when it's deliberately heightened and theatrical, for effect. The language of a particular character might be affected by their personality, age, background, job, nationality – and, of course, by their current situation and the other characters in a scene. You don't use the same words or manner to your boss as you do to your pet or a close relative.

Having taken all this into account, it may still be that the page of excellent dialogue you've written has no place in your book. It's natural and spontaneous. It reveals character – but does it, at the same time, further the plot? Do we need to know more about the characters at this point? Has this page of dialogue a strong enough reason for existing in your book?

Ditto description and atmosphere. Why have you chosen this setting, and why are you bothering us with these several paragraphs describing it? Does it serve a purpose in the book as a whole, or are you just enjoying the adjectives?

As a practiced driver uses pedals and gear-stick and wheel and indicators without having to think about it, I imagine that most practiced writers don't stop every moment of their working day to agonise about how the plot is shaping character while the characters is driving plot, and dialogue is revealing character and furthering plot, and the descriptions are aiding the theme... They just get on with the writing and then, later, cut out every passage that isn't multi-functional.

The more I consider it, the more I feel like the centipede which, when asked, 'Which leg goes after which?' lay distracted in a ditch, considering how to run.

So, distracted, I sign off, and go to learn again how to run. This is my last blog for a while..

1 comment:

Anne Rooney said...

It's like thinking about breathing, isn't it? As soon as you start concentrating on it, you fear you'll stop doing it if you stop thinking about it. Eeeek. I like your analogy with driving - and centipedes!

Sorry to see you signing off Susan - hope you'll rejoin us later.