Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You want ...more?

cried the beadle. So he reluctantly handed over another blog - The Broken Nib.

Monday, September 8, 2008

on Censors and Mentors

The poet, WH Auden, wrote that the aspiring poet needs to develop an internal Censor. This is the voice of a past master. The poet needs to have a 'literary transference' onto that master. It is the poet's apprenticeship, served in a library, not on a building site or workshop. By studying your chosen master, you develop your internal Censor, the voice of the chosen master who tells you what the poem is like, what is working, what isn't.

I am attempting to cultivate the voice of Australian poet, Les Murray, as my Censor for my poetry. I can imagine him stomping around in frustration at my efforts. In deference to Les, I have put my poetry book aside for now. I suspect that even my imaginary Censor can only take so much.

While this idea of poetry Censor is only some weeks old for me, arising out of a poetry lecture several weeks ago, I believe that it applies equally well in writing fiction. And I am already cultivating these to an extent as mentors.

Jack Dann's novel, The Memory Cathedral, resides on my bookshelf as a reminder of verisimilitude. This is a concept that Jack tried to get into my thick skull as a workshop on a brutally cold July weekend in 2003. The Memory Cathedral is more than a reminder of this concept, it practically reeks of it.

Time Future by Maxine McArthur, sits by Jack's novel. Maxine's story is a magnificent example of how to construct a self-contained world with a cracking story.

A goodly piece of shelf space is devoted to David Gemmel's novels, magnificent examples of how to write heroic fantasy. His untimely passing was a tragic loss to the story-telling world.

Rounding out my collection of internal mentors is Bernard Cornwell. His novels about Richard Sharpe, primarily set during the Napoleonic Wars, are cracking reads, packed with authorial authenticity from his painstaking research. Cornwell's telling of the Arthurian legend, putting it in a much more realistic setting, fitting what a is traditionally a Welsh legend, is a fantastic read.

For my money, Cornwell is a master storyteller, everything that I aspire to be as a writer. My interest in Cornwell has become refreshed by two recent occurrences. First, a friend returned my set of Cornwell's Warlord trilogy, his telling of the saga of Arthur. Second, I recently required a box set of the 15 feature-length dramatisations of the Sharpe novels. These have all been very well done with every appearance of the same care being taken in their presentation as Cornwell in his own research.

So what do my mentors think of my writing now?

Back in 2003, Jack Dann told me something along the lines of 'guy, you have a LOT of work to do, but it will be worth it.' He also told me that my work was page-turning, but that I need to do a lot of work developing my plots. Earlier this year, I emailed Jack to let him know that courtesy of my studies, I now understood what he meant. Jack was delighted to hear this and replied that I had taken a great step forward in my writer's journey. I think Jack would be pleased with the way that I am now developing things, although probably would find room for improvement, encouraging me to keep on writing and working at refining my skills.

Maxine has previously read my work and been complimentary. However her advice was that I need to bring in more detail, the details that brings the story alive in the mind of the reader. I believe that Maxine will be pleased with my development in this respect next time that she reads some of my work.

Cornwell would no doubt have plenty of good advice to offer on my research, on my research techniques. I realise that this is still an area that needs more work. I find myself easily losing direction, not sure what to look at, becoming distracted, unsure where I need to be searching.

I have made progress with my apprenticeship but it is a long way from over.

Claudia Hunter Johnson writes in her excellent book, Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect, that the writers apprenticeship takes 5-10 years to learn the craft. I am 45 years old. I have an auto-immune disease which means, statistically, I will most likely not make it to average age. I simply do not have 10 years to spend on my apprenticeship and still make any impression on the stories that I want to tell. So I have to find ways and means of compressing this apprenticeship as much as I can. That is why I need quality, demanding internal mentors.

postscript - this weekend's The Age, has an article about another writer who was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at 15, and then found to have aggressive bowel cancer at 31. Another emphasis on potentially how little time I might have and the need to pack it all in as much as I can.

I often find themed anthologies a good source for targeted writing. They provide a specific thing to think about, to inspire the story-telling neurons. Whether or not I end up with a sufficiently good enough story to warrant submission or even finish by the end of the reading period, is another matter entirely. But I do have a good-sized pile of partly developed stories or notes on story ideas that have been inspired by an anthology.

My usual forum for discovering forthcoming anthologies is Ralan's

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild is currently calling for submissions for its forthcoming anthology, Masques. The submission period opened in April, closing at the end of October. I have been toying with an idea ever since the anthology was announced. In particular, the fact that masque is apparently old French for performance started the mental cogs creaking and turning over. But that is all I am going to reveal about potential stories.

With my increasing awareness of story and plot development, I came to the realisation that my idea was too large a story for the Masque's 5000 word limit. Since then I have been trying to come up with either an alternative version that would work within those constraints or an alternative story entirely.

The first-half of second semester came to an end last Friday when I handed in a the final assignment due by that point. I have been on the mid-semester break since then and putting a lot of thought into a solution for my Masques dilemma. I believe that I have found a solution, reflecting my greater awareness of story and plot development.

A key to this story redevelopment has been applying what Elizabeth George calls step plot and running plot liens.

The step plot involves coming up with all the potential, causally related scenes arising from your general story idea. Each step contains all the ideas that could work within that scene, paying particular attention to the causal relationships. The final step plot therefore contains the basic plot outline.

The running plot is the next activity after the step plot. This is a present tense, stream of consciousness exposition on the page, exploring the particular scene. This further develops the plot.

I first read these ideas by Elizabeth George some time ago in her book, Write Away. They made sense at the time. But it was studying script writing and the steps in scene development that really made George's ideas come together even more. Yet another sign of my growth as a writer and the benefits I am receiving from my studies.

Now for an annoucement - I am also exploring something really different for me. I am also exploring a potential poem or poems for submission to Masques. A poem with a speculative theme. This could be interesting. Who knows - I may even make it work! :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

And here it is, Space Opera Rules; But By Whom, an essay by that astoundingly impressive writer, Ross C. Hamilton, published by the harbinger of good taste, the Internet Review of Science Fiction. Now watch me have to turn my swollen head side-on to get back out through the door. Being published is not new to me, but I still get a buzz seeing something in 'print' in a paying market.

Here's a link to the article. You may need to register to see it, but it costs nothing and I haven't seen a single piece of spam arising from being registered with them.

I have to be honest and admit that this only my second published piece in quite a while, but I stopped writing entirely for quite some time, partly through health difficulties, and this year I have been a bit too busy with my uni studies.