Discover Style. Don’t Force It.

One of the most important lessons I have learned in writing so far as that you must allow creativity to break through and guide you where it will. For many writers, this is probably a no brainer. But I am a left-brained, linear person. I like to quantify my knowledge into manageable blocks and see a logical progression from one to the other. It confuses me when I have to adapt to another way of learning.

For example, I was listening to my “Michel Thomas Italian Foundation Course” CD this morning whilst cooking. For those of you not acquainted with Michel Thomas, he was a multi-lingual teacher who developed one of the best language learning methods of the modern age. Eschewing traditional norms of sitting with a heavy grammar book and trying to learn a thousand different rules (a.k.a the method I’ve been using ever since high school), he maintained that the responsibility for learning lay solely with the teacher, and the student should not try to remember, memorise, take notes or do homework. The genius is in the way he teaches, building blocks to gradually ingrain the fundamentals of the language (he taught French, German and Italian) in the mind of a student. As he famously said, “what you know, you will not forget”.

The issue for me is that I am firm disciple of the traditional method of language learning called “grammaire-traduction”. (Grammar Translation). This involves sitting down with a chunky grammar book and learning all the basic rules for a language, studying conjugation tables and reading texts. So when listening to Michel Thomas, I had to keep reminding myself NOT to try and remember, not to try and memorize, not to go and look up everything I had just heard. I needed to tap into some confidence that I WOULD be able to pick up the language easily and naturally.

I think the same can be applied with writing. Style cannot be taught. Methods of good writing can. The key is to learn the basics in as natural and as pain-free a way as possible, supplement it with plenty of reading, and then one personally develops their own style. You need to put faith in the intangibles of writing; the things you feel, the things you sense, the inexplicable direction that your pen wants to lead you in order to make beautiful prose. This leads to the evolution of one’s personal style. You probably will not recognize this at first, but I think that when someone selects something they would like to read, and thereupon builds a preference in that arena, they are subconsciously deciding what their style will be like. And once oyu have a style, then all rules go out of the window– I maintain there are no writing rules, only guidelines. But my key point is that much of this gravitation is subconscious.

In my own case, I was never able to force myself to be aware of what I liked, until I was actually writing and doing some more reading. The summation of my preferences were simply based on things I just knew. I liked description, lots of it, written in marvellous prose. I eventually grew to like creating, examining, moulding and showing character, and this became my strength over plotting. I knew that when reading, I struggled to turn off my editor brain, and with regards to editing, I knew that I paid meticulous attention to the rhythm and flow of the text, the placement of comma’s, the use of semi-colons, word choices, fragments and succinct expression.

There wasn’t any “Eureka” moment for me, but rather a series of them. The description and preference for examing character led me to realize I preferred character-based stories, and literary fiction. My preference to for examining the nuts and bolts of writing expression led to my lifetime ambition of becoming a multi-lingual line-editor. But this doesn’t mean I can kick back and forget about all other forms of writing. My all-time favourite genre of writing is crime fiction, and this proves that although character-building is my stronger area, I will have to work hard on plotting if I am to successfully write my own crime fiction piece. Currently, I have one possible thread in the works which I thought up whilst half-asleep. (Unbelievable, but true).

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This works beyond the technicalities of writing technique itself. As I explained in an earlier blog post, Purgatory and Crime, I am currently a writing a novel in which my protagonist is trapped in a dystopian world as a punishment for refusing to keep the secrets of a shady company that engineered her decade-long prison sentence.

Then at the end of last month, another idea hit me. What if, in a future time, China fell? And then a new idea was born: an intrepid journalist who worked for a World Government in the year 2044 is turned against its deceit and tries to bring it down. I very quickly started scribbling notes down for this and now have at least 3000 story notes and counting.

So the big deal is that: both of the novels I am currently writing have some very strong similarities. They both have an anti-establishment protagonist (one female, one male) who is fighting against a the hegemony of a higher organization. One is fighting against the dystopian world of Purgatory, taken, of course, from Catholic theology. The other is fighting against a maginified Government that encompasses the world. Both refuse to yield to collective authority and will face increasingly greater consequences for not doing so.Therefore, I looked at these and wondered whether there was a problem with me happened to write two stories with such similar themes inside them. Did that mean I lacked creativity? Shouldn’t I be aiming to reach further away from my comfort zones, or at least be focusing mainly on crime fiction– neither of these two novels fit the label of crime fiction. The first one, which will be named “Banks in Purgatory”, was supposed to, but outgrew that label when I developed the concept.

But considering many of the great novels from history, one will see that their works had many similarities underpinning them. Social commentary and exposure of glaring inequality ran throughout Charles Dickens novels. Toni Morrison always deals with the black American experience, particularly the black female experience. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one of my favourite writers EVER, often deals with the hegemony of unjust totalitarian regimes (and you will see the influence of his writings on my own work). Jane Austen’s best-loved works always feature a heroine and one or more eligible bachelors. The difference is not necessarily the theme, but the characters, setting and plot.

So looking back, I can see many differences between my two novels. My female character, Dido Banks, is unwilling and shy, whereas Thomas Stackford, the journalist, struggles to determine whether he acts in the cause of right, or whether his actions are to appease his ego. Banks hates academics and is a true creative mind. (Hard for a linear-minded person like me to write her!) Stackford is erudite and speaks Mandarin Chinese, and is a seasoned foreign policy correspondant. Banks is a radically independent woman, whereas Stackford is an old-fashioned, traditional man at heart who might remind you of a Victorian gentleman. Banks has a connection with her roots, whereas Stackford, an African-American, has yet to discover his. Banks is a rebel, and that rebellion landed her in prison, whereas Stackford has always believed in living by the law.

I am going to have a LOT of fun building these two. It would be very interesting to see them interact; I don’t think Stackford would think very much of Banks, and vice-versa.

What I have found out, is that these novels will say something about me. To be honest, I am not entirely sold on the idea, as I like my privacy. But if these novels feel so natural to me, then, as I wrote in my story notes for “Stackford Versus The World”, it must mean that they articulate my way of looking at the world. There is some of me in both characters, some of my views in their outlook on the world.

I could never force myself to see this. I had to discover it.

 

 

 

 

Self-Publishing – Laying Bricks Ep 2: Mortar

Yecheilyah brings some excellent advice and encouragement for self-published writers. Well worth reading.

Pearls Before Swine

Laying Bricks(1)

“You cannot build your hopes upon unstable foundations and expect a product of longevity.”

– Audrey Prim,

Quote From heyygurrlheyy.wordpress.com

Sure, there are other things we’ll need to do: paint the walls, add furniture, and hire professionals but not now, not while laying bricks.

Execution is vital in going from an idea to something that is actually tangible. Goals are great, but alone they’re not enough. Written down, they are merely plans. Plans are awesome. But a plan that is not backed by action becomes fruitless.  Laying bricks is excellent, but it is not enough. No, you can’t just write, sorry. I wish it was that easy. Wait, actually, it is!

It is if you take your time. If we are to build a strong house, there are other things that we must do with these bricks besides lay them. In our first unofficial episode, we spoke about focusing on…

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Purgatory and Crime

 

I reserve the right to feel very smug about my writing progress at the moment. I can’t always explain why things suddenly turn out for the better, but whilst watching the brilliant 60’s TV Series “The Prisoner”, I suddenly found the right angle for my crime fiction story. Previous to that, I had read a BRILLIANT article that defined literary fiction.

Literary Fiction

I’ve known for the last two years at least, that I love description, and in the last year, I’ve really become attuned to the power of characterization. Plot and action scenes are not my forte– which means I need to work harder on those. As the article states, you CANNOT sacrifice plot in literary fiction. But deeper, philosophical works with finely-crafted sentences are more to my taste. I’ll take Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky and Okri over McNab, Patterson and Ryan. Funny thing? I never realized it. After reading the above article, and seeing that literary fiction requires focus predominantly on CHARACTER, a light-bulb went on in my head.

(I didn’t run into the street naked like Archimedes, though).

So in comes “The Prisoner”. This brilliant series (1967- 1968) describes the fate of an unnamed man in Civil Service (top-secret government job) who suddenly resigns. Alarmed by this, a covert organization (his former employers) knock him out and imprison him in a mysterious realm called The Village. He no longer has a name, but is referred to as Number Six, with the village being ostensibly controlled by a Number Two, who changes each episode. Number Six is rebellious and keeps trying to escape, but almost always fails, often because people he has trusted are secretly working for Number Two, or powerless in their own right. He is told he can ONLY leave if he tells Number Two why he resigned.

The Prisoner Opening Sequence

I love the deeper meaning behind this series. For example, if the man who controls The Village is called “Number Two”, then who is “Number One”? This relates to power structures in society, and criminal gangs are the best comparison. For example, in the great Sherlock Holmes series, we learn that several crimes he investigates appear to have been orchestrated by a higher power, who is likened to a spider. Of course, we know this is the malign Professor Moriarty– but he is too clever to make his appearance known. Hence he uses middle-men.

Whatever Number Six does is constantly being watched, which is reflected in our society today. Everything we visit on the Internet is being watched, and government organizations try to justify prying even more into our private lives. Because they control our countries, we are loath to argue with them. But are their powers justified?

The other Villagers seem very happy with their situation, and there is a quaint old English feel about the place, despite the sinister controls around it. I feel this reflects those of us who never challenge the status quo and prize our own comforts above challenging the authorities and creating change. This often leads to people appropriating too much power and being allowed to get away with excess or even crime– simply because people look the other way. Reminds me of several governments and other institutions in the news today.

The fact that the man is now called Number Six commodifies him, and this makes him angry. I find this most reflective of prison, and how your name turns into a number. I was recently reading Malcolm X’s autobiographical account (Chapter Seven- Satan) of his time in prison, and although he forgot his prison numbers, he could never forget the bars. Of course, every time The Prisoner tries to escape, he gets brought back in. Malcolm X discusses a fellow prisoner, Bimbi, who argued that the difference between those in prison and those outside was that the prisoners had been caught. Indeed, why is Number Six treated as a renegade criminal when he shouts “I am a free man!”, whilst Number Two unlawfully imprisons him, but acts as though he is merely keeping law and order?

And how many people in power today should really be in prison? Why aren’t they?

Depressing? I find it fascinating, and that is PRECISELY why I successfully revamped my own crime fiction original.

Going on the basis that no idea is original, the structure of my work is inspired by “The Prisoner”. My detective has recently served a prison sentence for art fraud, having worked for a shadowy organization called “The Company”, which is ostensibly an art dealership. She feels that “The Company” set things up so that she would take most of the blame, and is determined to expose them when she leaves. Unfortunately, an agent of said Company awaits her upon release and demands that she sign a Contract of Silence. When she refuses, Dido is kidnapped and sent to Purgatory, a mysterious city just outside London, and barred from escaping until she signs The Contract. If she repents of her sin (refusing to sign), then she will be released into “Heaven” (back to her hometown, London). If not, she will remain in Purgatory. Whilst in the city, she is used by the authorities as a detective, but it soon becomes apparent that she is merely a pawn and some criminals just cannot be caught.

This is a very rough plot at the moment, and in need of refinements. I welcome any critical suggestions and enhancements in the comments section. But I am mostly pleased about this, as writing a literary original will allow me to flesh out on character, examine philosophy and society, and still apply the principles of solving a crime.

Any writers out there? Do you prefer literary or genre fiction, and if so, why? What are you working on right now?

Feel free to let me know!

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“He can make even the act of putting on his dressing-gown appear as a gesture of defiance!”

Number Two, speaking about Number Six

The Prisoner- Episode Two: The Chimes of Big Ben

 

 

Easing Back Into Civilization

I’ve been going through a rollercoster over the past two or three years, but I’m finally at a place where I feel I’m getting to grips with life in general. So I thought, why not finish what I started two years ago when setting up this blog? I say I’m a writer, so maintaining this outlet and hopefully gaining a readership should give me the kick in the backside needed to publish my own work.

So, welcome back. I’m Deborah, but you can call me Deb or Dido. I’m not going to wax lyrical about every interest of mine, but many of my posts will revolve around writing and languages. On the writing front, I’ve always longed to write my very own detective fiction novel, ever since reading Sherlock Holmes mysteries ten years ago in middle-school. However, I wanted certain parameters: a black woman detective, an unconventional style and a howdunnit, rather than whodunnit. I hope to post regular updates on this front. Expect many posts on writing craft– particularly anything to do with line-editing.

(Punctuation is King).

As far as languages are concerned, I am angling towards a career in editing/translation in French at the very least, in addition to learning several others. I strongly believe in the value of learning languages– not just for improving personal competences, brainpower, and job prospects, but also as a tool of greater understanding between cultures, ethnicities and nations. We have too much division and anti-intellectualism in the world at the moment and very few people motivated enough to build bridges. I’m definitely excited to hear from other linguists, whether you speak just one or several languages.

I’ll also be showing my many other interests along the way, because I’m a big believer in open-mindedness and broadening one’s world view.

Hope you enjoy the journey!

 

 

 

If Anyone Is Guilty Of Disability Charity Hypocrisy It Is David Cameron Himself

An excellent article detailing David Cameron’s astonishing levels of hypocrisy regarding cuts to disability benefit.

the void

All smiles for the camera has he plots to cut the benefits of those with epilepsy All smiles for the camera as he plots to cut the benefits of those with epilepsy

It must take some front to vote to slash benefits to poverty levels for sick and disabled claimants whilst also acting as a patron or trustee for charities that claims to support them.  So it is good news that Tory MP Kit Malthouse has been forced to resign as patron of his local MS Society whilst Zac Goldsmith is also facing questions about his role as patron of a Richmond AIDS charity.  But this astonishing hypocrisy goes right to the top of the Tory Party.

David Cameron himself is vice-president of two major epilepsy charities, as well as two local cancer charities.  According to the register of minister’s interests the Prime Minister is vice-president of both the Epilepsy Society and the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy, as well as being a Trustee…

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Jamaicans need to condemn attacks on LGBTI youth

76 CRIMES

Did Jamaica ignore violence against LGBTI youth on IDAHOT-B?

Oshane Gordon (Photo courtesy of CVMTV News) Oshane Gordon (Photo courtesy of CVMTV News)

On Sunday, May 17, there was a public march in Kingston, Jamaica, to condemn an upsurge in violence against the nation’s children. That date was also the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT-B), and coincidentally this year, the focus was on LGBTI youth.

Regrettably, during the march there was no mention of the tragic situation facing LGBTI youth on the island, including vicious bullying, homelessness, senseless mob attacks, and unsolved murders, such as those of Dwayne Jones and Oshane Gordon.

Dwayne was a 16-year-old homeless trans* youth who was brutally killed by a mob on the night of July 22, 2013, because she dared to attend a public street dance dressed as she identified. Two years before Dwayne’s death another LGBTI youngster in Montego Bay met a savage end. Thugs invaded the…

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