Thursday, 31 March 2011

My apprenticeship

And the torrent of bloggery continues...

I want to talk a little bit about where and how I've learned whatever writing ability I have. I've been writing a wide variety of stuff for a long time and I don't want people to think that 'Bad Romance' sprung fully-formed from the void. While I've never finished a novel before, I've done plenty of other writing, and that is the only reason I'm even considering publishing BR.

I have, as is the case with many writers, been writing stories for as long as I can remember being able to write. I grew up surrounded by books and stories, and discovered fairly early on that my brain was capable of making up its own stories. My parents still have the Little Red Riding Hood/St.George crossover story somewhere that I wrote aged about six.

I first started taking seriously the prospect of writing when I was about fourteen, and my first efforts were, I suppose, embryonic technothrillers. My biggest influence at the time may well have been Tom Clancy. After plowing that furrow for a year or two, I discovered modern high fantasy writing (primarily in the guise of Raymond E. Feist, Janny Wurts and Robin Hobb). I have several word documents in the 10-to-20-thousand-word range which are the beginnings of novels which resulted from these inspirations, but as I said yesterday, long novels aren't my thing.

Moving on a bit further, I discovered cinema in a big way. I went through most of my childhood and early teens terrified of anything resembling a cinema experience. I'm not altogether sure why, though I still turn into a gibbering wreck if I have to see a horror film, even a fairly tame one like 'Evil Dead 2'. Anyway, in my mid-teens, I discovered that there are films I can quite happily watch. Imitation followed, and I started writing screenplays.

This and a combination of other factors (particularly my discoveries of Dan Simmons and Orson Scott Card) prompted a swing towards sci-fi which has more or less stuck. I did take a crack at a couple of SF novel projects, but I had far more success with screenplays. I've written five, total, of which two were space-opera stuff, two 'gritty' (read: comically over-written) action thrillers, and one semi-autobiographical teen film WHICH WILL NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY. I sincerely hope.

Of the screenplays, the two sci-fi projects ended up half-decent, if fairly derivative. The important thing to me was that I finished them. I learned a lot about writing along the way - constructing (and blocking out) effective action, appropriate ellipsis, and how to show character through dialogue being the biggest lessons. I highly recommend trying your hand at screenwriting if you aspire to be any kind of story-writer, for precisely this reason. (Quick plug: make it a challenge, try Script Frenzy in April!)

It was around this time, too, that I started having to do lots of essay-writing, for school and then for university. I discovered I have a knack for it. I got through my undergrad degree primarily on the strength of my academic writing ability - I certainly didn't do much in the way of reading, revising or paying attention in lectures (our main lecture room is kinda hot and stuffy - I fell asleep in a lot of lectures, sometimes in the front row). Again, I highly recommend learning how to do academic writing, and specifically academic philosophical writing.

Writing philosophy is all about being clear and concise. It's about picking words that not only mean the right thing, but that will make your reader understand the right thing. It's about communicating as clearly and smoothly as possible, with no interruptions to the reader's train of thought - sound familiar? There's a real craft to contemporary philosophical writing, and learning it has massively enhanced my ability to pick the right word, not to mention trained my thinking habits to far higher levels of precision and given me the foundation for writing such conceptual novels.

The third big factor in my writing experience is my webcomics. Now, I don't think I've done a particularly good job, overall, of writing webcomics. I'm bad at writing humour and I'm bad at structuring around a punchline. I have, however, learned how to use visuals, how to construct subtle character undercurrents, and had a lot of practice writing explanatory and expository dialogue. I've also, among other things, learnt not to plan the main plot points of a story while severely feverish (and that purple dancing wombats make tricky villains to use effectively).

By the way, if a picture is worth a thousand words, the webcomics alone are worth several million words of practice - not that my drawing is good enough to generate 1000-word pictures ;D

Anyway, that sort of brings us up to date. I haven't had a lot of training in writing prose fiction, which is where - if anywhere - I fall down, but I've had a lot of practice of storytelling and good prose writing. I would like to take a moment to mention Writing Excuses, a how-to-write podcast I've been listening to religiously for most of the last three years, which is one of my main sources of information on how to write. I'm open to suggestions for other essential advice on the writing side of the business.

No comments:

Post a Comment