Sunday 16 December 2018

How (Not) to Write Like a Pantomime by Claire Fayers

It’s panto time! (Oh not it isn’t!)
I have to admit, I’m not a great fan of pantomimes. As a child, I disliked all the shouting and I couldn't get my head around dames and principle boys. But I do love fairytales, and so to celebrate the festive season, I thought I’d share a few things that fairytales have taught me about writing.

1. Get Out of the Kitchen. (Cinderella)

It’s hard when you’ve been brought up to be quiet and polite and never to bother anyone. In social situations, you’re the one helping in the kitchen or standing at the side of the room, with a fixed and slightly awkward smile.

Writing is a joy because you can do it whilst hiding in your kitchen – actual or metaphorical. I like an actual kitchen because it has biscuits, and everyone knows writing is the art of turning calories into words.

But then, suddenly, you have a book and you want people to read it.

The worst thing you can do is to stay in your kitchen hoping Prince Charming will find you. It’s scary to leave your comfort zone but you need to get out into the world, meet other writers, interact with people on social media, ask questions, share your experiences.

I am constantly amazed at the lovely people who inhabit the children’s book world, and the friends I would never have met if I’d stayed in my kitchen.

2. New Ideas for Old (Aladdin)

You’re fifty pages into a new work in progress, and progress is starting to slow. Then you hear a voice shouting ‘New ideas for old!’ and suddenly there it is – a shiny, golden idea.

You look at your work in progress – it’s a bit tatty around the edges. You can see where the writing is dull, the dialogue is flat. By comparison, the new idea is exciting and full of promise. You want to throw your work in progress into the nearest bin and get stuck into the new idea.

Do not do it! Make a note of the new idea, write a chapter if you must, but let it wait its turn. Otherwise, in a six weeks’ time, the new idea will also be a bit dull and tatty around the edges and you’ll want to throw it away for something else. If you’re not careful, you can end up with a whole stack of opening chapters which go nowhere.

Of course, sometimes your work in progress isn't going anywhere and you need to move on. But give it a fair chance and don't throw it away in favour of the first new thing that wanders into your mind.

3. I Can’t Cut That! (Rapunzel)

Rapunzel could have walked away from her tower years ago. All she needed was one decisive cut.
In fact, several princes had suggested it before. “But I can’t cut my hair!” she cried. “It’s the best part of me. Even though it’s overlong, and cumbersome, and drags everything to a halt, I love it!” And so she messed about trying to find a way around the problem, instead of doing the one thing that would get her story moving again.

I recently had to cut my favourite scene from Storm Hound. It was a great scene – funny and clever and I loved it. But it did nothing to move the story on. My agent and my editor both told me it needed to go, and I resisted for a while before admitting they were right.

Sometimes it can be harder to cut a scene than it was to write it. But cut scenes don’t have to be lost forever. I keep a file, imaginatively named ‘cut bits’ where they all wait for another story to find them.

4. Am I Famous Yet? (Snow White)

Google, Google in my hand,
Who’s the best author in the land?
What, you mean it isn't me?
I'll have to look again, I see.

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” said Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Grey. Nowadays, there are more places than ever where you can not be talked about. Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. You could spend half your life flitting from one to the other while jealousy drives you mad.

This time of year, it’s worse than ever with all the ‘best of the year’ lists. It’s hard to resist the temptation to keep looking, but resistance is the only way to go. Make these things harder to access, delete the apps from your phone, the bookmarks from your computer. If you must go looking, look up your friends instead, and celebrate their successes. Then celebrate your own successes. They don't have to be emblazoned on Google to make them real.

Claire Fayers is the author of the Accidental Pirates series and Mirror Magic. Storm Hound coming February 2019. Website Twitter @clairefayers


Penny Dolan said...

Useful thoughts to keep in mind! The still-keeping and the cutting especially. Thanks, Claire.

Hilary Hawkes said...

So enjoyed reading that. Useful and wise advice - thank you :)

Joan Lennon said...

I agree - wise words! Thanks for this!

Moira Butterfield said...

I hate pantos but I love your blog. Thank you!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I loved this! Such fun... and timely... a sort of wrap-up of the pantomime season and what we should have on our New Year's Resolution list!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I rather enjoy pantos, which have changed a lot since either of us was a child, but I do love your tips!

Anne Booth said...