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July 2011

June 2011

The red spot in the monograph

On a thread about Point of View, in the public bit of WriteWords, I posted a link to this admirable exploration by David Jauss of the whole business of point of view and psychic distance in fiction. Jauss starts by discussing Hemingway's story "Hills Like White Elephants", which is an exemplar of what some call the Dramatic point of view, and some call Third Person Objective. The story is largely built from dialogue, and the rest is plain narrative of physical action and setting: it's dramatic in the proper sense, in other words: it contains nothing that someone in the... Read more →


How do you eat an elephant?

A writer friend - a short fictioneer turned novelist - cried for help on a forum: So, I've been through the script of the novel and edited it and made masses of notes. I have reworked plot strands on paper and in my head and done lots of character development on the underwritten men in the book. But now I actually have to sit and put this work into the script and I just don't know how. I feel like I know you're supposed to eat an elephant one spoonful at a time, but there's no spoon, just one massive... Read more →


The Daemon and the Prig, by the man who saw the torturer's horse.

I've stumbled on something that Auden wrote to an aspiring teenage poet, John Cornford: The real problem though for you as for every other writer... is that of the Daemon and the Prig. Real poetry originates in the guts and only flowers in the head. But one is always trying to reverse the process and work one's guts from one's head. Just when the Daemon is going to speak the Prig claps his hand over his mouth and edits it. The idea of the daemon and the prig is of course at the root of the ideas of Shitty First... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "How do I get myself to read my book in one sitting?"

Dear Jerusha: I can't seem to read my novel from start to finish – perhaps in one sitting, perhaps over a few days – without changing things. I’m not a fan of directionless editing, but I’ve never read my book without spying at least a hundred words that need cutting – or maybe a couple of grammar catastrophes. I can’t just sit, read, relish. In fact, I think this type of editing – when all you want is to read and assess the flow – massacres the enjoyment: it’s disruptive and dispiriting, constantly illuminates the flaws, poses questions such as,... Read more →


Relax! It's only a synopsis

Your synopsis is not the thing which will make or break your novel's future. It’s the voice, above all, and the characters and storytelling in the sample chapters, which will do that. A synopsis is for showing the big bones of your story: that the main characters' problem is urgent and compelling; that the stakes are raised steadily through the novel; that the engineering of cause-and-effect works; that the end is satisfying. In other word,: you're showing that the plot-route is a good one, but also conveying what will make the reader care about the story-journey. (For more on story... Read more →


Finding the first line

In the film of Michael Cunningham's The Hours, Leonard asks how Virginia's work is going, and she says (as I remember) "I think I've got the first line". A reviewer was scornful: how typical of Hollywood to have one banal speech standing in for the creative complexities of writing anything, let alone Mrs Dalloway. It is notoriously difficult to make drama out of writing (hence the clichés of the scrumpled pages and the clacking typewriter), but the reviewer was revealing how little he or she knows about writing fiction. I and lots of other writers know that's exactly how it... Read more →