I appreciate that I don’t often write about technique or the process of writing here, instead boring my few readers to tears with endless hand-wringing and noise about all the things that stop me writing. Well, it’s time to give something back I guess. I’ve written four of my ‘shoes’ short stories in the past ten days, which means the collection is coming together. I think I’m up to eight now, in various drafts. I’m beginning to get a sense of my own style, how I workm what I enjoy, and what I don’t.I’m finding that I enjoy writing first person p.o.v. a lot. It feels like I’m exploring other people’s heads. I was never quite sure about a phrase that Neil Gaiman uses a lot to describe why he writes – ‘to find out what happens’. But that’s exactly what goes on. I start writing, and the character slowly becomes more focused, more clearly motivated, more ‘real’. And then he does something, or says something. And the story changes. Each time I’ve sat down to write, with a clear end in mind, or a dramatic turning point, each time it’s changed as the pen skitters across the paper, and changed again when I’ve typed it up later.
I know a story’s good when I want to know how it ends. I know that may sound stupid. But it’s true. Unfortunately, it also means that I need to get a little better at the editing part. Re-writing when you do know the end is an entirely different job. Like inking a comic. Or, I don’t know, re-touching a photograph. Anyway.
In my head, the initial process is s a little like what I imagine orienteering or scouting is like. The story sends little feelers out as to which way would work best, and then lays out the breadcrumbs for the mechanical human – the typist – to join the dots. And then it’s fun to look over my shoulder, so to speak, and see where I came from. Did I write consistently? Did I cheat – is it a logical progression? But I’m not good at picking that same story or trail up later, and seeing where the footprints went.
My favourite part is the mcguffin search. Did I leave enough clues and red herrings?I like my red herrings. I like the casual slipping in of a phrase or a description, that over time, readers will come to recognise. Two stories I’ve written this week hinge on a single word. It’s enormously satisfying when they come off. If happiness in writing is about something other than readers, or royalties, it’s about the little smile when you hide something like that in text.
I guess it’s my version of an oli 360 tailspin. I said that like I knew what I was talking about. Some kind of skateboarding nonsense. I need to work on my factual detail. A couple of posts back I linked to a Cory Doctorow piece where he advises against doing research while writing, simply write in a combination of letters you won’t find in the rest of the text (such as TK or XYZ) and fill in the detail later. And for the most part, in my shorts, it doesn’t really matter what type of guitar someone plays, or which two towns in Italy someone is travelling between. But it irks me that I don’t know. I feel like I should know. But I guess I should keep that level of commitment for the novel.
I’m also struggling a little with dialogue and characterisation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally know a lot of psychopaths or people with various types of shoe fetishes and phobias. So I have to imagine. Which inevitably means that I’m building on the descriptive work of others – from tv, books and occasionally the tintertron. And this does mean I reinforce some tropes and use more cliches than I’d like. I try to make clear that these characters are grotesques, but I know it doesn’t always work. And my female readers are much more forgiving and comfortable with shallow male characters than shallow female characters. Inverse sexism, but something I need to look at. Similarly, I’m nervous about writing non-white characters, and I need to get cuter about how I signify regional differences.
But all things considered, I’m pretty happy. A lot of my characters are deeply flawed, unhappy and suprisingly violent people. I’m trying – honestly – to find more upbeat material, but for the most part it’s dark. I guess all that time spent reading murder mysteries and ghost stories as a kid is finally paying off. Or maybe I just watch too much CSI. When I get back to writing Tom (the novel), I know it will be lighter – experimenting with shade and texture a lot more.
I don’t particularly want to be a horror writer. Or a crime writer. But thriller writer (let’s see what MJ spam that throws up) sounds good. Literary thriller writer sounds so much better. But I’m not good enough yet. Practice, practice, practice.
Write on, my friends. Write. On.