Friday Fictioneers – Erasure

claire-sheldon
PHOTO PROMPT © Claire Sheldon

The artist sketching by the riverside was young, his long brown hair stringy and unwashed. But his pencil captured with clean lines the dark surging water, grey cloud lowering close, and granite houses on the far bank.

“Wanna buy it?” he asked, noticing my attention. “It’s yours for a tenner.”

The deal done, I rushed my prize home, spread it on the desk and took up the rubber. My hand lovingly consumed his effort, erasing the lines to pristine whiteness. I only ever work on other artists’ canvases. One day I will acquire a Michelangelo sketch and create a masterpiece.

 

Note for US readers. A rubber in British English is what you call eraser, not what you first thought.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on plot.

88. Ideology and fiction

Does a writer have to eschew ideology in favour of empathy?

This topic was heavily explored in an online writing course on Identity and Social Issues that I have just finished with the University of Iowa. Ruel Johnstone, for example, argued that a writer, even a political writer, must take off ideological lenses. You have to look at people, he says, much more closely than in ideology. Jane Bledsoe argued that explicitly trying to push a political agenda or a social justice agenda usually fails. Kia Corthron, Inara Verzemnieks, Tim Bascom, Janine di Giovanni, and Vladimir Poleganov all argued similar points.

When so many people agree, they must either be expressing an obvious truth, or they must be speaking from a similar point of view. It is, of course, a defining characteristic of a dominant ideology that its adherents believe they have no ideology. George Orwell wrote that “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’” How might we tell the difference between these two alternatives?

neoliberalism20160420_630_630
Image: Outlook

There does seem to be a self-evident truth to the Iowa argument. As readers, we identify with characters, and so a writer must approach political or social issues through their impact on the character. But, then again, who anyone is and what they want depends on where they sit in society.

And several of the presenters in the course acknowledged they were still expressing an ideological position, and that the reader would probably figure this out. Some offered advice about how to slip information in, so the reader wasn’t aware of it. So the neutral empathetic stance of the writer is not all it seems to be at first sight. Sneaky people those writers!

The dominant view in Western cultures is some form of liberal tolerance. But that’s not necessarily how things really work. Equality of opportunity, for example, is meaningless without the opportunity of equality first. It seems to me that it’s a writer’s responsibility to explore and expose how things really work, to show the clockwork beneath the mask.

Ideology is part of character

I think we need to approach the question by thinking carefully about what ideology is. Ideology is not false consciousness. On the contrary, it only works because it makes sense of a person’s lived reality and experience.  For the investor, it is his (or her) money that creates wealth. For the worker, it is her or his labour. For the person who loses their job to a foreigner, immigration will seem a problem. Ideology isn’t false consciousness, any more than being kind or religious or miserly is false consciousness. It’s simply reality as viewed through the personality and experience of an individual.

In other words, ideology is a part of character. When we render the mental and spiritual world of a character, we are, among other things, rendering that character’s ideology – that character’s understanding of why the world is as it is. If we don’t understand our characters’ ideology well, we will render it as a stereotype. And that will lead to stereotyped characters because it’s poor writing, not because it’s ideological.

If, for example, we want to explore why ordinary decent people in the right circumstances can be persuaded to engage in genocide, it just won’t do to label them as monsters and say “never again”. Because it does keep happening again, and again. We need to get inside their heads and explore their ideology, and the very human hopes and fears that drive it. They’re people pretty much like us.

We never just let the reader come to their own conclusions

I think it’s a fantasy that we allow the reader to come to their own conclusion. How could they? We select the events, we craft the order in which they’re told, we polish and shape in order to create the effect we desire. Creative writing describes events in the light of the ends we ordain for them. The open-endedness is an illusion. Of course, no two readers ever render exactly the same story in their minds, I accept that. They may even disagree with our conclusions, depending on their own concerns and life experiences. Even so the writer is not only witness, but also advocate, judge and jury.

An alternative approach

If we want to authentically render the way the social realm shapes character, we have to build character on more than just individual psychology. In the Iowa course, Karim Alrawi advocated starting from relationships, rather than just the individual. He described his own practice as in his novel Book of Sands set in the Arab Spring, of seeking out and dramatizing the underlying metaphors, not people or events.  And Jennifer Cognard noted that identity is never singular, it’s always plural.

 

The Scrivener’s Forge 7 – Plot: Go in late, come out early

schmiedefeuer
Medoc

This is a classic principle of gripping screenwriting.  You create more drama in a scene if you enter it with some action already underway. You avoid the boredom of a drawn-out conclusion if you leave it once the action is done (preferably even adding another hook to the next scene).

Exercise:

Write a scene that starts slam bang wallop in the middle of the action. No introduction, no back story. Use what you’ve learned in previous exercises about character, description, and action to fill in any details we need.

Click the little blue frog to post your exercise.

Friday Fictioneers – Fairy Tale

HPIM0533.JPG
PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

A thousand years of footfall and cart wheels had worn grooves into the slabs of the alley. Cool arches, crafted by stonemasons gone half a millennium, shaded Rick from the Mediterranean sun. History lay heavy as a lover on this place.

And yet time had gnawed it hollow. Beneath his feet, metal lids covered the entrances to tunnels. Trunks of piping and gossamer threads of cabling slowly strangled the ancient street. Rick hacked through the undergrowth. He knew at its heart would be a secret, sleeping in a glass case. A kiss would awaken an old and terrible beauty.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on character and action

 

 

 

87. How to succeed as a novelist – the facts

At last, there’s some real data, which busts a lot of myths. Jim Hines, a fantasy writer, published a survey of 246 novelists and now we know what the elements of success look like. The sample is probably not representative, being made of people who chose to respond to Jim, and it seems to be biased towards writers of YA, fantasy, sci-fi and romance. It also defines a successful author as one who earned an advance of at least US$2,000. Though the data is far from clean, it’s a great deal better than the hunches, prejudices, and sheer opinions that I’ve had up till now.

People tell you all kinds of things about how to succeed. Get an agent. Self-publishing is the way to go and you’ll net an offer from a traditional publisher. Others folks say, put in your time publishing short stories to earn your spurs. Do an MFA. It’s all in who you know. There’s no shortage of contradictory opinions. But which, if any, are true?

What the data says is:

  • You do need to put in the time learning your craft. The average time writing before first getting a novel published was 11.5 years.
  • The average age of debut novel publishing was 36.
  • A track record in publishing short stories is not necessary. The average number of stories sold before their novel was accepted was 7.7, but fully 116 of the 246 authors had zero prior sales of short stories. It looks like a portfolio of short story publication hasn’t been necessary since the 1980s. This was a revelation to me, since I decided last year on the basis of good advice to stop writing novels and concentrate on building up a track-record in short stories first.
  • Getting an agent helps a lot. Most of the sample (55%) achieved publication through an agent. Selling the first novel without an agent increased the time spent writing before breakthrough by 3.3 years
Hiines publication survey
Steve Saus
  • Having an agent is not completely necessary. 29% of the sample successfully submitted directly to a publisher. Direct submission to publishers was more common in the past. 100% of those who first published in the 1970s went this route. This dropped in each decade, particularly for YA and fantasy novels, while romance novels showed a small increase in direct sales to publishers. By the 2000’s only 27.7% of the whole sample successfully submitted directly to a publisher, while 67.3% went through an agent.
  • Self-publishing is not a good route to getting an offer from a mainstream publisher. Only 1 of the 246 authors self-published their novel and went on to sell it to a publisher. This is not to say it isn’t a valid route to making sales
  • You don’t need a degree in English or Creative Writing to get published. Only 38% of the sample had such an undergraduate degree and only 10% had a Masters.
  • Networking may help, though the effect isn’t clear. 61% had attended a writer’s convention and 59% were members of a writing group. Having attended conventions reduced the number of years spent writing before publication of the first novel by 2.5.
  • You don’t need to know an agent or publisher beforehand. Less than a quarter of agented authors had been recommended by a friend, and only 5% knew the agent beforehand in a personal capacity. 

     

    For those of you who’re interested, there’s a detailed statistical analysis of his data by Steve Saus

Friday Fictioneers – Departure

ted-struts-in-the-rain
PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

Muffled in mist, the shouted words are indistinct. But she hears the rattle of heavy chain and the clangour of metal. The ship is making ready to depart for another week, and seven days’ aloneness descends again.

The ship’s horn gives a last bass call, like a circling raptor. Go and open the door, she thinks, but is afraid of the creatures that will populate the silence.  Go and open the door. Death won’t be standing there in his dark fedora.

She opens the door, but drizzle shrouds the vessel heading into the sound. There is moisture on her cheek.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on character and action

Friday Fictioneers – Duet

dale-rogerson4
PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

This was a technical exercise, a challenge to myself to write two different stories each using the same fifty words in a different order.

1

The man sobbed as he had forced the pony trap up the rolling road. A fear loomed, and gnawed for his heart. Eyes took in the castle, silhouette against the sunset, knew he had left it too late to save her from death, and a shadow of gates was all.

2

The castle heart was a man-trap.  The pony knew too, her eyes rolling in fear. Save for the late sunset, all as he had left it. The gates loomed up, took in and gnawed from his silhouette.  He sobbed and forced a road, had to, against the shadow of death.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on character and action

 

Friday Fictioneers – Beam me up

sp-overgrown-summer-house
PHOTO PROMPT © Sarah Potter

Almost nothing survives of the Old People. The radioactive rubble, of course, will endure for tens of thousands of years. And they left twisted metal and crumbling concrete.  But of the people themselves, nothing. Save this one fragment of a letter, written in Anglish by a young man to his lover in Birmingham. He plans to visit her.

It is from this letter that we learn they had mastered matter transference. Perhaps they are not gone. Maybe they beamed to new homes in the stars. We only know this unnamed writer was coming to her in his “beamer”.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories hereFor readers whose first language isn’t English, it may (or may not) help you to know that beamer is slang for BMW, or more generically a cool car.

Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on character and action.

 

Loving Kiran – Scrivener’s Forge 6 exercise

This is my exercise for the Scrivener’s Forge prompt on character and action to create character through action, rather than description

 

Let me tell you about Kiran. I loved her with a love that corroded the soul. Like, there was this time I took her to a friend’s party. She talked philosophy with Daniel, a practitioner of that art. He asked her if she thought it was now, now. Without missing a beat, she said ‘No, Dan, it was now then.’

She had Roddie stand on her stomach. Now Roddie was a big guy. He played rugger. She just lay down and sucked in air and told him to stand on her stomach. And that stomach remained flat.

For each and every one of them, she had something special. That’s how she was. I felt ten feet tall that she had come with me, and that she left with me. I was so proud she was mine. When we were walking home, she said ‘Wow, I did it. I dominated a whole room full of guys. I held their attention, and none of the other women got a look in.’

You’re probably thinking round about now that Kiran was a bit superficial. You’d be right. I didn’t care. She was gorgeous, and everyone wanted her, and she was mine. I guess I’m a bit superficial too. When we made love, it was like nothing, I’d ever experienced before. When we fought, it was also like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Nobody before, or since, has ever come at me with a knife.

I didn’t know how badly I loved Kiran until I lost her. I became a crazy man. She was going out with this wimp. I think she did it just to annoy me. I took to following them around. One night, I jumped out of an alley, and told the wimp if he didn’t fuck off and leave her alone I was going to kill him. Kiran really got off on that. I think she loved me more then, than all the time we were together. She had that look, lips slightly parted, grey eyes glistening. The wimp ran. She practically dragged me to her flat. We started to fuck just inside the front door. It was like coming home.

The Scrivener’s Forge 6 – Character is action

schmiedefeuer
Medoc

A new writing exercise every month. When you focus on one aspect of writing at a time, you can concentrate on making it the best you can possibly create. That way you can reach a professional level that may be harder with longer works. We’ll explore one aspect of the craft each month.

If you comment on other writers’ efforts, they’ll usually comment on yours. So you get lots of critiques, advice, and encouragement.

Please don’t post your entry in comments here. Create your entry on your own blog, and then click the little blue frog to join the link-up and read other people’s work.

6. Character is action

Characters act. The ways they act, and hence the stories they create, depend on their natures. In this month’s exercise, we’ll explore using action to reveal that nature.

Exercise

Create a character in your mind. Visualise her or him. Learn what their goals, mannerisms and peculiarities are.  Then write a short scene that shows us who your character is, entirely through their actions. Show us who your character is – do not tell us. Do not use any describing words (adjectives or adverbs). Make your verbs count – if a character walks, we don’t learn much about them, but if they stride we see their confidence and purpose, whereas if they slouch or creep we see their discomfort.