Each week I write a little introduction for other peoples’ blogs – but this time it’s for myself. Spurred on by some recent blogs I thought I would join in the current popular topic of How I Write, with some contrary points of view
How I Write
Let’s start with the usual split of writers who plan (plotters) and those who fly by the seat of their pants (pantsers). I am definitely one of the former. I cannot imagine embarking on a novel without knowing where the story is going.
Central to me is establishing: –
What is the crime?
What is the motive?
How is the culprit discovered and brought to justice?
That creates the spine of the story and everything else is built around it, whether it be sub-plots, romantic interest, red herrings etc. These are then plotted out in detail, – but they will change as I write and review all the way through.
As my novels are set in the late nineteenth century, the other focus for me is being historically accurate.
The latter is a point admirably brought up by Alis Hawkins in her recent excellent blog. In it, my Crime Cymru colleague compared the restrictions placed on an historical crime writer out of necessity, with the writing of a recent award winner who, as a self-impose restraint, used a method called Oulipo.
Suffice it to say, I’d never heard of Oulipo, and would never ever use it. I would describe it, from my point of view, as an artificial contrivance to ‘funnel’ the author’s writing (I’ve actually toned down what I was going to write about it, for fear of causing offence).
I started writing novels late in life, never having studied writing as an academic discipline. However, decades of writing letters and memorandums at work where I needed to make complex matters understandable to a wide audience, or write persuasive business cases, taught me two things. Firstly, the importance of looking through your work from the readers point of view, to ensure clarity; and allied to it, the importance of punctuation.
I was fortunate to have had that sort of background, because many writers do now seem to have come through creative writing courses etc which are a sensible way to proceed, but they just weren’t available when I was younger. There are however a few like me who have just muddled through. Incidentally I do occasionally join in at a local writers (general – not crime) group and hear about things that have passed me by such as “Flash Fiction” (I still don’t know what it means).
So, probably, creative writing courses are the way to go nowadays; but this is about how I write, so I’d better get back on topic.
I get the feel of how my novels should be from having read many crime novels, usually those set in the Middle Ages, because that’s what I like. By feel, I mean the interaction between central characters and the supporting cast, the creation of a background feel and the variety of suspects. What I don’t do is copy styles, and certainly not plots or characters. I take this to an extreme by not reading any novels set in the nineteenth century for fear they might influence my own writing.
Neither do I follow a formula. There are certain norms in the genre which cannot be avoided e.g. the use of a sidekick to the central character, but I’d hate my books to become ‘samey’.
I think I’ll finish with a couple of tips.
Firstly, an exercise for writers. Just sit with a notebook outside a café for example and watch people go past. Pick on a passer-by and describe them in fewer than ten words. I find it most useful.
Secondly, if you’ve written something for submission, be aware of whether or not you have favourite words. For example, it is very common for younger people to start spoken sentences with “So”. Its possible that overuse has leaked into your writing. Try highlighting your document and running the chosen word through the “find” function – you might be surprised. This is something I do, as I definitely have some “favourite” words which always creep in too often.
Finally, always be prepared to take advice, I certainly do, but at the same time also be aware that opinion is always subjective. Keep a level head when you get praise, but don’t get devastated when you face criticism. To quote Kipling :-
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same”
You can find out more about me on these links :-
And keep a look out this Autumn for the next Inspector Chard mystery