Friday, 25 April 2014

Advice on Writing: good in essence but bad for my nerves

As a writer I always find myself either on the brink of elation or depression, while working on a book, and advice on writing, that overflows the Internet, makes me doubt every decision that I've ever made regarding my novel. Instead of helping, it plunges me into an abyss of despair and alienates me from the writing process so completely that I can't look at a word I've written. Maybe that's just me. Maybe my reaction is over-the-top. Maybe my mind is too fragile. I don't know... But I'm being overwhelmed, discouraged and demoralized by all the writing advice that is out there; about how to write your book and how not to write your book; how to begin your book and how not to begin your book, etc..

Especially, the piece of advice about not starting your book with your character waking up or an alarm clock going off. I mean, it seems like such a logical place to start! I would never have thought that there was anything wrong with such a beginning if not for an avalanche of no-no's that I've encountered only this week on Twitter. I know that people who work in the publishing business think that they are helping by pointing out how cliché this or that is, but I also think that there is a huge difference between working in the book business and being a reader and that readers might not mind or might not even notice those things that agents and editors do, simply because they don't care - it doesn't spoil the story for them.

I understand that agents and editors are probably fed up with such a beginning and, maybe, an overwhelming number of authors, whose manuscripts they read on a daily basis, begin in such a way, but the thing is that only a small percentage of books that are published (let alone that are submitted to publishing houses and rejected) actually reach the reader. In this way, readers are not exposed to the horrible waking up routine of the main character in the same way. But does it actually hurt the story? I'm pretty sure that readers don't care whether the book starts in the morning, in the afternoon or at night as long as they like the story, the characters or the world that it opens before them. 

I don't mean to say that agents and editors are wrong, but I just think that they tend to look at the books in a jaded light of a professional, who has seen it all and craves for something new, and that by rejecting certain things that they regard as dreadful clichés, they deprive readers of their chance to decide for themselves and to choose what they like. It is all so very subjective I'm surprised there are any rules at all! How can you tell what will work and what won't? No two people, no matter how alike they are, have the same reaction to the same book.

I, for one, don't have a problem with passive voice or adverbs. I like them. I'm sure that the majority of readers (and by 'readers' I mean people who read for pleasure and entertainment and not as part of their everyday job, that, like any job, can contain an element of boredom) don't mind them either. Don't even notice them most likely. Personally, I'm pretty sure that readers can draw their own pictures in their minds, while reading, and you don't have to shove everything into their face by 'showing' rather than 'telling'. As though their minds are so weak they can't digest adverbs and interpret them in the correct way. I'm surprised that so many people read and love classics! How do we even process the old-fashioned language nowadays? I sometimes think that people within the publishing business tend to underestimate readers and by imposing rules upon writers trap both writers and readers within a publishing matrix none can escape unless they choose to be self-published. The publishing machine decides what to write and what to read and if you don't fall into their strictly categorized routine then you're out.

I mean how can there be any rules in the land where imagination must run wild? I don't talk about technical aspects, such as grammar, punctuation, logic, consistency, etc., because they are of vital importance. I'm talking about the freedom of writing the story in a way that makes perfect sense to the author and the reader, even if it starts with the alarm clock going off and bores agents and editors to death.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process, by Farida Mestek

I was tagged by Courtney J. Hall to participate in “My Writing Process” blog hop. Hop over to her BLOG to read her answers. Here are mine: 

1) What am I working on? At the moment I'm working on a fantasy novel about a seventeen-year-old princess who must bring her abandoned kingdom back from oblivion. I've been working on this particular version of the book for about two years now, reworking it from a novella-length fairy-tale that I originally wrote many years ago, when I didn't know what I was doing. 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think it has quite a lot of differences. It doesn't have any typical fantasy creatures and beings. It doesn't have fights or epic battles, even though the fate of the whole kingdom is at stake, and it's strictly female-centered. In fact, you'll have to squint hard to find a male character there! Also, my heroine is not as clueless as other heroes and heroines in her situation usually are. I don't mean to say that she knows everything – there's plenty for her to learn on her way to her goal – but she knows enough not to blunder abound in the dark, feeling like a fish out of water, which allows her to contribute on equal terms to her companion's store of knowledge. 

3) Why do I write what I do? I always loved magic and I love writing about kingdoms with ancient history, magical castles and manors with underground tunnels; enchantments, potions and magical objects that help (or hinder) my heroine on her journey. 

4) How does my writing process work? I'm a plotter. I must know the beginning and the ending of the book before I start writing and I must know the names of the main characters, because I won't be able to start otherwise. I make a detailed plan of the plot and write it down, because I need to know where the story is going. But I don't plot out every single scene (unless they come already fully-formed into my head), because it's lots of fun to discover and to explore unknown components of the story as I go along, and I love those “A-ha!” moments that simply cannot be planned in advance. I often struggle with the middle of the book, because it's often the least defined part from the outset, but, in return, it supplies me with means and ways that I haven't thought of before. 

I tag Anna Shevchenko – an aspiring writer, a blogger newbie and my critique partner, who lives in Odessa, Ukraine just like me. Visit her BLOG where she posts her newspaper articles in Russian as well as a series of posts on her five favourite things since her childhood in English.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Blog Hop: Meet My Main Character, by Farida Mestek

I liked Debbie Brown's idea about introducing our main characters very much and decided to take part in the blog hop too. So here is my main character. I'd love to know what you think! I haven't shared this version of the story with anyone but my critique partner yet.

What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

The name of my character is Almendra. It means 'almond' in Spanish but - alas! - I can't remember when and why and how I decided that it would be her name. Though, she is quite fictional, she's been a part of my life for such a long time that my family and friends treat her like a real person.

When and where is the story set?

The story is set in the fantasy world of my own creation. I discovered it a long time ago and I've been exploring it ever since. I always thought of it as taking place some time in the latter part of Middle Ages in the world that exists next to ours but is separated by an invisible magical barrier. I also try to incorporate those bits of history that I know of into the story.

What should we know about him/her?

Almendra is seventeen and she is the queen of a once magical and powerful kingdom ruled entirely by women. Her favourite pastimes include reading, dreaming, climbing trees, running races with her best friend Woo (who happens to be a wolf), and driving her granny up the wall.  Despite her lonely life, Almendra is high-spirited and optimistic and greets every new day with a big smile and in high hopes that it will be the one that will change her life forever. Her granny oversees her education and allows Almendra a few hours of repose every day, ostensibly overlooking the fact that she runs races with the wolf, climbs trees like a monkey and brings back twigs, leaves and brambles tangled in her hair, that is so long it sweeps the ground when she walks, because she likes to have a nap on the edge of the cliff.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Fifteen years ago her kingdom was attacked and plunged into ruin and oblivion, its people and magic gone. Almendra, her granny and Woo are the only survivors. The kingdom has become big enough to accommodate just the three of them, so now they live on a small plot of land in the castle (with wood and cliff behind), able to use many of its magical objects but unable to do magic themselves. Almendra's life is extremely isolated and restricted and she spends much of her time bickering with her granny about pretty much anything as a way to relieve her feelings of such unnatural confinement. Her dream is to get out from under her granny's control and to become the mistress of her own fate.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Almendra's personal goal is to find true love, bring back magic, save her kingdom and reunite with her dethroned mother. Hopefully, she will be granted the chance, once she manages to accomplish the first three points.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

At the moment the working title is "Almendra's Journey". I'm also contemplating "Almendra's Quest" as an alternative. I'm afraid that you can't read more about it now, because I'm in the process of revising it and I don't want to show it to anyone but my critique partner (who has seen it at its worst) until I'm quite happy with it.

When can we expect the book to be published?

Ah! That is the question, isn't it? I expect it depends on my good fortune. It is my dream to find an agent for it and to have it published by a traditional publisher, so it may take... Oh, I shudder to think about it actually!     

Thank you for stopping by! I would really like to know what you think about Almendra so far!

I'm tagging my critique partner - Anna Shevchenko - who has just begun her blogging experience. I hope you'll visit her blog too, because she needs all the encouragement she can get to proceed. At the moment she's doing short posts about her five favourite things since childhood there. Her blog hop post "Meet My Main Character" will be up on the 15th. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Revision progress report

I wanted to write my revision progress report, but I'm so tired I don't remember what I wanted to write about. I only know that I wasted a week on revising the same piece for the third time, but, when I read it to my critique partner again, she said that she liked the previous version much better, even with its faults. It then occurred to me that all I had to do was to get rid of the faults and not to rewrite the whole thing over again - now in great detail, which completely ruined it all. Funnily enough, I did what my critique partner wanted me to do: explain everything. But, once explained, it robbed the story of its layer of mystery. Less is more, it seems, when it comes to revision and, of course, to how much information you want your reader to receive. I mean, some things should be left untold...

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Revision progress report

Apparently two weeks weren't enough to weed and wade through a backstory-packed piece that I'm working on at the moment. But it is something of a challenge to put together a conversation where one party's knowledge is based on lies and the other's on conjectures. I was discouraged and vexed yesterday when, while I was reading out the piece to my critique partner, I discovered that it was flawed and unsatisfactory and that I failed to think through a number of important points! I'm trying to rectify my oversights now... in longhand... not as a penance! I find the sight of a blank page of a note-book inviting, whereas I find the sight of a blank document on my computer intimidating.