Posts Tagged ‘yourturnchallenge’


When asked what I write, I usually grunt and say, “words”, before making a hasty retreat.

When asked why I write, the most honest answer would be, “I don’t know, and even if I could afford a psychiatrist, I’m not sure that I’d want to find out.”

The phrase I once came up with when trying to sum up what I write was, “I want to show the world its own dreams.”

No doubt this is pretentious art-bollocks and sounds like something you’d read on a t-shirt or the blurb on the back of a book, but let me explain what I mean.

Imagine the world is a group of people, and your country is one of the people among them. It has views of itself, it thinks it is a pretty good guy deep down.

It means well, or at least tells itself that it does in order to get to sleep at night, and tries to convince other people of the same. It also likes to look at how well it stands in relation to others — how important it is, how popular.

The world wants to be loved. But when it sleeps, the truth comes out like a broken river.

All the nagging fears and doubts pour out as dreams, hidden truths, in a stream of images and symbols that form their own language and say more about them than they would ever say when awake.

This is where the truth is. Dreams show the world what it really is, or at least would do if it could only remember them when it was awake. You can’t learn from dreams that you don’t remember.

Bill Hicks said that, “If you are living for tomorrow, you will always be one day behind. Any organization created out of fear must create fear in order to survive. A living philosophy is not a belief — it is an act.”

I want to take a stand and give voice to something, not politicised or political, but in response to the world as it is.

This also ties in with the mad ideas that I have that all writers are shamans and creativity is a magickal act, intended to manifest change and influence the real world.

‘Show the world its own dreams’ isn’t the most accurate and literal description of what I do when I write, but it’s the best that I could come up with at the time.

So, fuck it. If anyone asks, that’s what I do.

What do you write? Why do you write? Answers on a postcard, in a tweet or as a comment on this post, please.


A literary attempt to evoke the voice of someone far removed — a different voice and sensibility (eg. of an insane person, animal or child).

The alienation effect is sometimes a work of translation. Translation, at great distance from yourself, of this alien idiom, into your voice, because you can’t always keep up their idiom and vocabulary.

The alternative is to communicate what they know, in your words, to explore the data they acquire at their eye level. You have access to what they can understand, their thoughts, their head, but translated into the writer’s narrative voice. The implied author.

That’s one solution. Any solution is a literary artifice, but can have its own power and poetry. There’s always a meeting of minds (of the character and the writer) but it’s a question of where the emphasis lies, and interpreted by the reader.

Sometimes liminal characters, on the margins in one way or another, are beneath or beyond language. The truly alien, the truly broken. Those who can’t think or are beyond thought. You have to translate from another world — the damaged brain, the feral animal, the extraterrestrial.

This has implications in authorial access to character. Write something that only the character could know. Write it in their language. Then try it in a different narrative voice, someone other than the character.

Some things can only be known through the body. Tell a story that can only be told through the senses of an animal. Talk to the lunatic on the bus. Then write the conversation from their point of view.

This is the real work of fiction. The one thing novels and short stories can do better than film is put the reader inside the heads of others.

How do you get published? Write a good novel. How do you get an agent? Write a good novel. But what about self-publishing? Write. A. Good. Novel.

Write the best novel you can. Then make it better. Don’t even bother thinking about agents or publishers until you’re done.

Good to go? Ready to contact publishers? You need an agent.

  • An agent is a necessary go-between. They’re the spokesperson for the author in negotiations.
  • Don’t approach publishers directly, you’ll end up on the slushpile. Get yourself an agent.
  • When writing to them, to gain their interest, remember to say where you studied and your publication track-record. If you’ve experience that’s relevant to the book you’re pitching also mention that.
  • Your working relationship with your agent is more important than your relationship with the publisher. You must have a good agent-writer relationship.
  • Agents may work editorially with you before presenting your work to publishers but publishers no longer do.
  • Any agent worth their salt will fight your corner, earn their cut and get you the best deal.
  • Advance and Royalties are important, as are film rights, foreign rights and digital rights. Give away as little as you can in negotiations.
  • Agents are cool.
  • Agents are your friend.
  • Agents have a better view of the market than you do.
  • Agents make sure you get paid.
  • The agent-writer relationship can become a lifelong agreement.
  • Agents earn from your earnings, not before they sell you. If any agent asks for money upfront, walk away.
  • You can be an agent and get published too, but you’d have less time for either.
  • It’s best not to be your own agent.
  • Agents have their own preferences and specialisms so make sure your work ends up in front of someone who wants to read your stuff.
  • An agent must LOVE your work to take you on.
  • Agents want an original voice and a good story. Something different / challenging in the way it’s written. You also need to get them at gut emotional level. You need some sort of connection AND an original voice AND a good story.
  • LITERARY FICTION is a genreless genre. You have to find a way to talk about your work (eg. in your opening letter).
  • It’s important to locate an individual in the firm. Think in terms of particular agents, not just the agency, even with the big firms.
  • It’s always a good idea to phone around first, or at least speak to the receptionist and ask who to send your manuscript to.
  • Get to know the agent you’re sending stuff to. Don’t stalk them, just make sure you know what they want and who they’ve represented in the past.


Alienation effect: animal, child, mad person (Les Murray’s Translations from the Natural World).
The practical problem of rendering animals in fiction. Monologue.

These techniques are cheating, against dramatic conventions. Artificial device, where drama not fiction, should work on its own terms instead of in a cinematic way.

Voice-over in a film is an admission of defeat.

1)Omniscience: in relation to all characters. The authors unadorned voice, denied access to others.

2)Intermittent Omniscience: to all characters, shifts in and out, author, sometime to one by characters behaviour, knows the reader rather than the character.

3)Adoption of character point of view: one multiple (consider structural implications) Evoke the way the character thinks. Stream of consciousness is a possibility. Get into the feel/process of thinking, even subliminal thoughts and unremembered dreams. Further in, but can lose dramatic interface between characters. Even schizophrenia is a variation, becomes a kind of medieval morality play if not done carefully, playing good vs evil inside characters head, kind of dramatic break / soliloquy.

“Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.” — Winston Wolfe, Pulp Fiction

How do you make characters that have character? Here’s my carrot and stick approach.

Badly written characters are cardboard cut-outs: unconvincing, sensational, two-dimensional, exaggerated and only there to serve the plot. Like painting by numbers or dot-to-dot, they’re just there to fill in the blanks. They’re often stereotypes and don’t have enough flaws or substance to make them interesting.

Good characters are like icebergs — there’s far more to them than the jagged bit that you can see sticking out of the water. To create them, you have to know what the iceberg looks like underneath the water.

If you know something about the character and don’t say it out loud, it will inform your writing. Your readers will pick up on it sub-consciously and start to ask questions — What’s their secret? What happened to them? Who are they deep down? From the carefully chosen tip-of-the-iceberg, that you show the reader, they’ll infer enough of the rest to keep reading.

Great characters are seriously messed up. They’ve got issues. They’re flawed, believable and have a sense of their own history. What emotional baggage does your character carry around with them? Who are they? What do they do? What do they think? And most importantly, what do they WANT?

Don’t be afraid to base your characters on people that you know. Real people are always far weirder and more complicated than anything we can dream up. Change them just enough to avoid getting sued.

Spend some quality time with your characters. The more you write them the more you’ll get to know them. What’s your protagonist like when they’re not out saving the world? Describe them getting up, getting dressed and going out. What do they wear? What do they put in their bag?

Follow them round for the day. Take them out shopping. See how they cope with the mundane everyday world. Take your time over this (like eating jelly babies). Once you know what they’re normally like, you’ll have something to compare with how they react under pressure — then it’s time to really put them through their paces.

If you don’t believe in your characters then no-one else will. You’ve got to treat them like real people. What’s more, you have to be willing to treat them badly. You want them to be interesting — put them through hell and see how they react. Shove them together just to see how they get along.

Now stir things up a bit. Think of a significant event, one that will challenge or change the direction of that character’s life. Make it happen. What do they want in life? Whatever it is, they can’t have it. Not yet. Put all manner of conflict and obstacles in-between them and what they want. Throw at them everything you’ve got.

Your characters have got to learn to fend for themselves. And in struggling towards what they want, they’ll change. They might not even want or need their goal or object of desire any more by the time they get there.

Audition your characters. Hold tryouts. Make them earn their place. Scar them for life. Take them to hell and back (sometimes literally). Give them a carrot, to go after, and beat them with a stick. Then decide whether to give them a happy ending, or just to happily end them.