Saturday, 24 November 2007

Those Tiny Blue Veins You Get

Yes, to quote myself from a comment I posted on my son's self-portrait:

'Those little zigzaggy lines above his eyes are those tiny blue veins you get. A curious choice for inclusion, and a lovely detail. I've read many novels, and I can't think of a single character whose little blue veins were given mention.'

And here's a snippet from Anne Enright's Booker Prize-winning The Gathering:

He is not good-looking. His mouth is too squished and full; he is too soft and unformed. But there is nothing wrong with him. I look at his hands and they do not disgust me, and his eyelids, when he closes them, flickering, in order to make a point about buffed steel as opposed to chrome, have a faint pattern on them of medieval veins.

I would tell my son that he inspired a Man Booker winner, but it might make him vain.

Saturday, 17 November 2007


I guess I must have blogged on this topic a number of times before.
It's something on my mind at the moment.
As I continue with my life change, I look at the choices I face.
A stomach takes life upon me and I look at it and think 'No fair! Where did you come from?'
Fight or flight.
So I choose to fight and I have started swimming and doing a few stretches in the morning (and it's bloody cold!).
But I think this will not be enough and I may have to make another choice soon.
Everything comes at the expense of something else.
Every word we choose comes at the expense of some other word; every tangent we take comes at the expense of all other tangents. Writing is all about choices we make.
So unfortunately my blogging has suffered (my apologies to you all). But I am trying to balance everything, and it will all settle soon, I'm sure.
And, of course, lovely Mr Esy coaxed me into online dating, and more time is pooled from my life into avoiding 'bubbly' women, women who can't tell the difference between your and you're, and occasionally chatting with the more amicable types.

I devised a theory quite some time back. I am convinced that we are far more likely to move away from something bad than we are to move towards something good.
When my bosses chose to revoke the bonus scheme (for reasons that I'm sure were necessary for them), I found my bank account spluttering in a puddle of blood and bile.
Fight or flight. I fought, asked for a payrise, and was refused. So I fought again, and I hope to have found a new job elsewhere.

These are some of the choices I have made.
Robert McKee reckons that character is revealed by choices made under pressure.
Furthermore, if you look round some of the 'beginner's mistakes' webpages, you'll notice that one of the biggest newbie errors is the formation of protagonists who make no choices; rather, they are cast unwittingly from one event to the next - mere pawns in God's grand plan.

If I look through my ms, I see that I am guilty of this too.
Take the inciting incident: When the lighthouse breaks, what choice does Penpa have?
I've made her afraid of the outside world (and juxtaposed this against her loneliness).
She can stay where she is, and hope that the lighthouse fixes itself, or she can leave her comfort zone and try to save the world.
I'm not convinced it's much of a choice. However, by opening with a scene in which her fascination with the outside world changes from naive wonder to skeptical fear, I have at least made the choice more difficult.

But the crunch comes much later on.
She discovers that her world has been sacrificed for the greater good.
And she fights.
Hang on, I came up with a good line of dialogue for this moment ... let me dig it out ...
Oh yes: the antagonist says to her 'Does your conscience extend only as far as your eye?'
And this is the critical moment for her. She has thought no further than saving her own planet. Now she has to consider that there are countless other planets and lives, and that everything comes at the expense of something else.
Sure, this is my social commentary :o)
Anyhoo, having recognized this choice, I am now eager to compound it - to intensify it.
She sees death all around her, and I should take the mantle of responsibility away from the antagonist and throw it at her.
Currently, she argues with the antagonist until she gets her way. It's not that much of a deal though, for the antagonist had already sorted everything out, and was about to restore her life-giving energy anyway.
So I will string this out. He will need longer, and life will drain all about her, and she will need to make this terrible decision - she will condemn her friends to death, or she will allow entire galaxies to die. What a choice!
It's akin to: Your child dies, or a faceless city of people you've never met and never will meet dies, but on a much grander scale.

(NB In book two, she must choose between her own life and the lives of others.)

Finally, whilst we're on this topic, it's worth noting that the most common question that I ask myself as I edit my ms is this:
Does any given passage move the story along?
Using this question, I have been able to remove paragraphs that have only a tiny importance, emphasize scenes that have a vital importance, and ensure that the reader is thrust breathlessly and effortlessly from scene to scene.

And now I face another choice:
Do I crack on with the edit, or do I tidy the house?

Would you eat this? How hard is the choice? What do you win, and what do you lose?

I'm a Celebrity ...

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Show Must Go On

It has been one of the great unexplained mysteries of writing to me.
Show, don't tell, they say, but they never say why.
Nobody ever says why. Like adverbs and clich├ęs. They're just bad and that's all there is to it (even if loads of great and/or popular authors persist in using them).
So it's with some reluctance and a murmuring heart that I tread on the great unwashed toes of this holiest of writers' maxims. I will retain an open-mind and a willingness to come down on either side of the fence.
(NB I've been working on this draft for two months!)

The first, and most obvious, problem with the 'tell' is that it leaves (or, at least, creates the impression of leaving) a non-omniscient pov.
She stood before the wooden bridge. It was rickety.
How does she know the bridge is rickety?
What does she see or hear or feel that allows her to reach this conclusion?
So a 'tell' is more likely to work in an omniscient pov; a 'tell' is a rough and ready shortcut. (Or, in ricardo's words, the 'tell' is vanilla.)

Now let's think back to the poppet.
We have demonstrated on many occasions and with much ease that the reader searches for a best-match response - a personal response to the words we write and the concepts they create.

We can never know how a reader might react to our words.

If I write 'she smelled of summer', the reader concocts his very own, personal, unique interpretation of that smell.
(See preconceptions.)
Every reader interprets our writing in a different way.
Every reader's experience is different.

So this idea of shepherding a reader along an emotional topography must be flawed then Solvey?
Not a bit of it!
If we work with the human condition, we can be sure to create a shared response - a response that is as close to universal as possible.
If we mention love or hate or anger or despair or ecstasy, we're sure to elicit some form of general response.
(NB I recently read an article on Hitchcock. Apparently, he was quick to point out that he was not a director of movies - he was a director of audiences.)

This is where I got a bit stuck until I found an article on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP):
- - -
All of our thoughts, emotions, memories and imaginings are made from pictures, sounds and sensations. The differences between our common experiences come from the myriad sequences and placings we can make with sounds and pictures and sensations and in the choice of subject matter that attracts our attention.
- - -

We use the word resonance rather a lot.
When I read of a tragic love affair, I want it to create within in me the emotional journey of that tragic love affair. The author should allow me to find these emotions within myself. This is my journey - me, me, me - I, I, I - I have been in love and I have known tragedy; the author should allow me to find my own resonance.

Here, we can see how a 'show' taps into our emotions at a deeper level.
Whereas the 'tell' goes for the end product, the 'show' constructs responses from carefully selected and arranged sensory inputs. (In her book The Emotional Hostage, Leslie Cameron-Bandler details her model of the structure of emotions, listing seven changeable parts to any emotion [more on this once I've read the book].)
In this way, not only are an impressive and vast array of subtle emotional variations and hybrids available to us, we are also working deep inside the reader, which is where we are going to move them.

Now this is interesting:
In this extract from an article on Language and Emotion, we can imagine the origins of our interpretations:
- - -
Language, Emotion and Memory. Both in the psychoanalytic literature (writings of Freud and his followers) and in sociolinguistics there is mention of the necessity or efficacity of reaching the language of earliest memory (for the Freudians) or the `basilect' (the individual's basic, unvarnished, unmonitored language/dialect). For the psychoanalysts, the point is to uncover the traumatic memory, which may be associated with (`coded' in) the patient's first language, in cases where a language other than the one currently dominant was used in childhood.
For the Labovians, asking a subject to recount a moment when they thought they were close to death tends to evoke the emotions associated with that memory, which shuts down the monitoring of their own speech so that the basic, unalloyed, unmonitored (casual, colloquial etc.) version of their idiolect emerges for observation.
[Source here.]
- - -

I have many more thoughts on this topic.
Moreover, by revisiting the idea of 'showing', I will be able to distil this rather unsteady post into an essence.
For now, my interim conclusion is that the 'show' remains in pov, allows for the invocation of specific and subtle responses, and flowers deep inside the reader; the 'tell' is emotionally less engaging, but gets to the point quickly.

Any thoughts or observations are welcome!