Saturday, January 3, 2009

Any Questions?

I know that this is an odd idea for a blog, and that you've probably got all sorts of questions you'd like to ask which don't belong to any of the existing threads. So go ahead: ask them here. I'll answer them if I can although if I've been on the margaritas, I might just point and laugh.


Nicola Slade said...

I think I get the drift, Jane. Little - is the word 'vignettes'? or maybe snapshots? of life/people/emotions/whatever? And not actually getting into plotting?
Hmmm, that doesn't come naturally to me as I like to know where I'm going, but it's an interesting exercise and a good discipline. I shall have a think!

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, this is literary flash fiction. The characters and locations drive the plot here. Which means that you don't do without plot: you just ensure that each piece stands alone, and where possible links to other pieces, and you'll do fine.

Glimpses into everyday, ordinary lives which are extraordinary in their own ways. That's what we want. But each piece must have its own sound internal plot, and provide implications which could resonate through other pieces.

Read RJF's "Whitey", the first piece here, for an idea of the perfect piece: that woman is a very good writer, and to be honest I could do without the competition!

Nicky Slade said...

I'm fascinated by this idea of writing for the sake of the writing. When I read, or when I write, the impulse is the same. It's the story that's important, so closely followed by the characters that you can't see the join, but the story comes first. Just.
When it comes to the writing, obviously it has to be fluent and engaging, or I get bored, jarred, abandon the book. But I'm not looking for, or necessarily wanting, passages of beautiful writing. All my training over the years is this: Grab the reader's attention in the first para or two. Start each chapter with a hook and end it with a cliffhanger. Not just the crime, but the rom com too. This is because another term for Romantic Fiction is Women's Commercial Fiction - this was a term I came across and use when I'm doing talks and it soothes the worries I see on some faces at the thought of 'romantic' fiction because I know they're thinking Barbara Cartland.

And this is where I'm finding Greyling Bay fascinating and difficult: it's different. Not better, not worse, just different.

It's also, for me, the difference between painting a watercolour landscape or an acrylic still life. I can admire how other people paint in watercolour but it's not what I'm interested in doing. It's just different. Not wrong, just different.

Sally Zigmond said...

A very interesting post, Nicky. I suppose if writing fiction could be divided into two main types, then it would be 'literary' and 'commercial'--although it isn't always as clear cut as that. But let's stick with it. Some writers do one to perfection but often have problem with the other.

I am somewhere in between although my preference for writing and reading is 'literary' BUT if it's too lacking in narrative and too precious then I can't read it and laugh at myself if I find myself writing it. To me a plot is about change more than anything else and without change of any kind, then fiction is static, however beautifully written. But then again I like my writing to be good to read in itself as well as telling a story. It's that balance thing again.

But with me, character always comes first. I always seem to see my characters in a place first like a snap-shot. Then I start writing to find out for myself why they're they, what lead to it, what they're feeling and what might happen. Take Owen. I first saw him out at sea on his boat looking back to Greyling Bay. Full stop. Then I began to wonder why. I decided he was contemplating suicide. And as I explored that I realised I was really writing about the death of 'manly' occupations and the trouble some men have today adjusting to a more female world. They feel redundant and useless. (This was the theme of The Full Monty as well but approached in a different way, with humour as well as pathos. Owen is a humourless Welshman!)

Nicky. You say you have to have a story first and then character but in fact when you wrote about Louise you created a very clearly defined woman. I could see her and understand her. Once that character is there, although she will change and grow if you choose to write about her, the story should follow easily because you will know how she might react in any situation. For example, she's unlikely to grab a knife from the cafe table and run amok down the high street (as she might if she was in Eastenders, for example.) I imagine she's more likely to take a deep breath and wander down to the beach, think a while and then make a decision. But, she may surprise you, the writer, as she develops, but it will be integral to her character, whatever she does.

That's why I prefer literary fiction because in it I can explore feelings and moods that lead to action. In the most formulaic commercial fiction--which I suppose is soap opera--characters behave in a way they never would in real life in order to shoe-horn them into a plot-line. I always find it unsatisfactory.

But I do write both. My soon-to-be-published novel, 'Hope Against Hope' is pure historical commercial fiction (because everyone told me I didn't have a cat in hell's chance of being published if I wrote a literary historical novel. I wish I'd stuck to my guns now but never mind.) Then again, I do like to think that the people in it act according to their nature and not to fit the plot.

Sorry. I didn't mean to write a thesis. I just find the variety and processes of writing eternally fascinating.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to ask about the continuity between the pieces? I have already noticed some slight changes in regards to the cafe. I also wanted to ask what time of year it is? In one piece it appears more like winter and in another more like summer.



Jane Smith said...

Anonymous, if you notice any errors or issues then do please make a comment on the offending piece(s): that way, I'll know exactly what you're referring to and can correct it if it's necessary.

Do remember, though, that this is a collection of interrelated pieces, and not a novel with a linear narrative--so there won't necessarily be any continuity between pieces at all (although if your issue is with established characters changing characteristics from piece to piece, for example, then you'd have a valid point).

Next time you post here I'd appreciate it if you'd leave your name: I've asked everyone to do that so that we all know who we're talking to. It's much more civilised (and god knows, I try...). And I'm bemused by your sign-off: what does "FSTBH" stand for?

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the alias, I’m a little intimidated by posting on open blogs and forums. There’s some wonderful work here and I didn’t want to spoil things by commenting directly under people’s work regarding continuity, as it may have appeared I was picking on one writer when my comment was meant to be a more general observation.

Elizabeth Styles.