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Friday, 16 December 2011

Why do I write?


This is one of those times of year when I miss my mother. She died in 2002 at the age of 52. At the time it was sudden and shocking and I still haven't got over it. I didn't get chance to say goodbye so I wrote her a letter. Then I had to write a speech to read out at her funeral. After that I returned to the stressful job I was doing in the City, working in the back office, finalising documentation for the Derivatives traders. I was working 11-12 hour days and under a great deal of pressure. It's difficult to grieve in that environment so I took a career break just before I got married at the age of 29.
After I got married, I thought 'what shall I do now?'. I wanted to have children but not right away. I remembered that writing the goodbye letter to my mother and the funeral speech had made me feel better. Writing was like therapy.
I wrote a great deal as a child when we lived in the middle of nowhere in Yorkshire. I wrote a series of stories about a cuddly pink mouse I owned and sent them to Ladybird. I still have the beautifully-worded rejection letter. I won a story competition at the age of nine for a story called 'Bottle on the Beach'. Writing has always made me feel happy.
I thought back to the three weeks I spent putting together my dissertation for university about the changing role of women in Italy. I went home as it was the Easter holidays. It was spring, the sun shone through my bedroom window and the garden was in full bloom. My mum brought me cups of tea and discussed bits of it with me every now and again. I'd enjoyed creating an 8000 word piece of work and I got 68%. This made me think that I should be capable of creating a novel.
My mum liked to write. She wrote poetry and had been writing a novel for more than ten years when she died. I never got to read any of her novel but I knew that it was set in Italy and Yorkshire and that there was a love story in it somewhere. So I decided to use those ideas as my inspiration. My parents met on holiday in Italy and we'd been driving to Italy every summer since I could remember. As a child I loved the sound of Italian and I made up my mind that I was going to learn how to speak it one day. I went on to study Italian and French at university and I lived in Grenoble and Siena during the third year of my degree.
Writing my novel was initially part of the grieving process. It had to be an upbeat genre as I wanted to write to be uplifted. In January I'm going to send it to more agents and enter more competitions and do my best to get it published. Then I need to get on with Book 2. This seems like such a mammoth task. But writing is all about perseverance and I shall carry on writing until hopefully I get somewhere.
This is my last blog post of 2011. (My husband has asked me to stay away from blogging, Twitter and Facebook over the Christmas period and I feel I ought to try!) I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading my blog since I started it in October. I've really enjoyed writing it. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2012!
I'd be interested to read your comments about why you write or anything else.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Bringing scenes to life with photographs

The novel I recently submitted to an agent with working title 'The Grandson' is set in Siena, Italy. I lived in Siena for eight months in 1994. Five months of that time was spent studying Italian and three months was spent as an au pair. In 'The Grandson' the main character, Jessica is an au pair and she looks after an eighty year old lady called Sophia. Sophia's Italian-American grandson is the hero, Alessandro.
I have an album full of photographs from my time in Siena which I've used as inspiration for scenes in my novel. It's amazing how a photograph can jog a memory. The picture above was the view from the flat I lived in when studying. I've used that view as the opening scene in my novel. The heroine, Jessica is hanging out washing when the hero buzzes on the intercom.
In 2006 I went to Florence for the weekend with some friends and I got the bus to Siena for the day. I took some more photographs that day to help with scenes I'd written or planned to write.  Here is a selection of photographs which I've used as inspiration for scenes.
Above: The view from Jessica's bedroom window. The other rooms in the flat overlook Tuscan scenes.
Above: Jessica's flat is the one with the washing hanging from below the window
Above: The grand entrance to the flat where Jessica lives.
The restaurant where Jessica and the hero, Alessandro go for dinner twice. The first visit is a success. The second visit at the end of Act 2 is a disaster.
The above photograph was taken at the August Palio in 1994. At the end of Act 1 there is a series of scenes on the day of the Palio. This photo provided me with so much information: The heads in the crowd facing the same direction, children sitting on parents' shoulders, contrada scarves wrapped around shoulders, people taking photos, the red material hanging from windows, the way people in the crowd are crammed together, the hot weather demonstrated by the boys with bare torsos, the fact that noone can see anything...(The Palio is a bareback horse race around Siena's main square, La Piazza del Campo. There are two Palios each year in July and August. Siena is divided into 17 contrade, meaning districts. In each Palio 10 contrade take part)
The photograph above was taken at the street party of the Tartuca contrada which won the Palio in August 1994. There is a street party scene in my novel where another girl, Natalie competes with Jessica for Alessandro's affection.
 
The family that Jessica au pairs for have a villa in Castiglione della Pescaia, a charming seaside resort not far from Siena. Alessandro turns up at this villa to surprise Jessica at the beginning of Act 2.
This is just a handful of the photographs I've used to help bring scenes to life when writing my novel. I'd be interested to know if you've used photographs as inspiration or if you have any other comments.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Christmas scenes


When re-drafting or planning scenes I run through a list of words: time (year, month, day, time of day), place, temperature, lighting, season, senses, conflict, what happens?, goal for next scene etc. This helps bring a scene to life.
If a scene isn't working, I ask myself whether it can be cut. If the scene is essential to the plot, I find changing the location or season can make a difference. Christmas is a useful time of year to use. 
The run-up to Christmas can be hectic, but once Christmas Eve arrives and the presents are wrapped, I relax. A break from the daily routine is a treat and I enjoy drinking and eating my way through the festive period with family.
What a character does at Christmas says a lot about them and their relationships with others in the book. In Act 3 of my novel, 'The Grandson', the main character, Jessica spends Christmas with her family. She changed her mind about spending it with her fiancé, Sebastian's family at the last minute. This shows that she's having second thoughts about their upcoming wedding.  She talks to her mother, Mary in the kitchen on Christmas Eve whilst her mother prepares the turkey. The father is noticeably absent because he's working on the farm. He doesn't need to but he avoids Mary as much as he can.  Jessica's parents are stuck in a loveless marriage and Jessica points this out to her mother. Mary goes quiet and they have an awkward moment. Then she suggests they leave the kitchen to sit in front of the log fire with a sherry.
Christmas is a time when we make the effort to see the people we care about. Having a Christmas scene in a novel gives a writer the opportunity to show what a character's relationships with others are like. Helen Fielding uses Christmas in Bridget Jones's Diary with success. It's easy to see what Bridget's relationship with her parents is like. Her mother's pushiness is demonstrated when she tries to set Bridget up with Mark Darcy at Christmas drinks. When Darcy wears a ridiculous Christmas jumper given to him by his mother, it's clear that his mother has an influence on him.
Have you used Christmas scenes as an opportunity to show a character's relationship with their family or friends? Or do you have any other comments?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Do you use nostalgia when writing?

Annie's song by John Denver
When I was listening to Radio 2 in the car yesterday, Chris Evans played Annie's Song by John Denver.  I haven't heard this song for years and I was instantly taken back to the 1970s.  I was around four years old, sitting in the back of our pea-green Ford Escort. The John Denver tape was playing and I can picture my mother, with her long brown hair engrossed in the map whilst my father drove us along a country lane.  I've included a link from youtube.com in case you remember this song and would like to listen to it.

When I catch a whiff of Chanel No 5 I remember my late mother and a flood of memories come back.
Cinnamon reminds me of New York. I worked there for a month in 2001 and remember eating cinnamon bagels.
I ate Nutella on toast the other day and was taken back to Italy.
The senses bring a page of writing to life but they can also be used to evoke memories.
Backstory
After writing a few drafts of my novel, 'The Grandson' it took me a while to work out where the novel should begin.  Several thousand words which came before the new Page One were cut.  Getting that backstory into the novel without dumping the information everywhere was a challenge.  After reading 'how to' books and going to writing classes, I worked out that nostalgia can be used to bring in backstory.  When a character is being nostalgic, relevant information from their past can be included in a more subtle way.
Cross-referencing to an earlier part of the novel
Towards the end of 'The Grandson', the hero, Alessandro returns a cardigan to the heroine, Jessica when she visits him in New York.  Two years previously, she left this cardigan on the back of a chair in a restaurant in Siena. The cardigan smells of the perfume she wore then and Jessica is taken back to Siena. Alessandro likes the perfume but Jessica doesn't wear it anymore because her fiancé, Sebastian doesn't like it.
Inspiration
Nostalgia can be used as inspiration.  My novel, 'The Grandson' was inspired by eight months studying and au pairing in Siena in 1994.
Have you used nostalgia to inspire a novel?  When writing do you use nostalgia as an opportunity to bring in backstory or reference an earlier part of the novel? I'd be interested to read your comments.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

How do amendments impact the rest of the book?

When making amendments it's easy to forget how they impact the rest of a scene or other parts of the novel. I made this mistake recently when adding in an answerphone message from the heroine's mother.
In the previous scene, the Italian-American hero, Alessandro drove up to Yorkshire to find the heroine, Jessica. When he got to Bluebell farm where Jessica's parents lived, her mother, Mary told him that Jessica was living in London with her fiancé, Sebastian. Mary reluctantly gave Alessandro Jessica's address in London. She disapproved of Alessandro because she worried that Jessica would go and live with him in New York.
The following day Jessica is making Sunday lunch for her future in-laws. Sebastian will be breaking the news to his parents that they're engaged and she's trying to impress them by producing the perfect roast lunch. Sebastian is drinking coffee whilst reading the newspapers on the roof terrace. Jessica's pouring the batter for the Yorkshire pudding into a roasting tin, which is spitting hot fat when the intercom buzzes.  Sebastian doesn't hear it and she tells him to come down from the roof terrace.  It's likely to be his friend, Tarquin who's always dropping in at inconvenient times. The intercom continues to buzz and Jessica becomes flustered as she is trying to focus on getting the timings for the lunch right.  Sebastian tells her that Alessandro is downstairs and that there's no way he is setting foot in Sebastian's flat. Jessica is in shock as she hasn't seen Alessandro for two years.  After the way they'd parted in Siena, she'd never expected to see him again. Jessica goes downstairs to find out the reason for Alessandro's visit.
Here is the amendment I made:
Whilst Jessica is wondering why Alessandro has turned up out of the blue, her mother, Mary rings. The answerphone kicks in and when Jessica realises that it's her mother, Mary she decides not to pick up the telephone.  Mary leaves a message to say that Alessandro has been to Yorkshire and that he's on his way to visit Jessica. (Mary doesn't like leaving answerphone messages.  She tried ringing a few times the previous evening when Jessica and Sebastian were out.)
I decided to make this change because it occurred to me that Mary would want to warn Jessica that Alessandro was on his way to see her. It was one of those moments where a character told me what to do.
When I made this amendment I forgot to change something else a little later in the scene:
When Jessica goes downstairs, her and Alessandro talk outside the entrance to Sebastian's flat on Fulham Road.  The pavement is littered with trodden-on beer cans, a sea of cigarette butts and cartons from the kebab shop over the road. When Alessandro says that he's been up to Yorkshire, Jessica is surprised and asks why he went up there. It wouldn't be in Jessica's character to pretend to be surprised. So I had to adapt the scene accordingly. I did add in a few extra bits whilst I was there.
Before Mary's answerphone message:

            ‘How did you find me?’ Jessica said.
            ‘I got your parents’ address from Isabella,’ Alessandro said.
            ‘But how did that bring you here?’
            ‘I drove up there yesterday.’
            ‘You went to Yorkshire?’ 
            ‘With a stick shift too and on the left hand side of the road.  Your mom and gran weren’t too pleased to see me but they eventually gave me this address,’ he said.
            ‘Why did you want to find me?’
            ‘I need to know if you got my letter,’ he said, folding his arms.
           
After Mary's answerphone message:
            ‘My mum left a message to say you've been up there.  Where did you get the address from?’ Jessica said.
            ‘Isabella had it,’ Alessandro said.
            The morning Jessica left Siena, she'd pinned her parents' address to the noticeboard in the hall, asking Isabella to forward her post.   It had never occurred to her that Alessandro would track her down using information from that scrap of paper.
            ‘I drove up there in a rental car with a stick shift on the left-hand side of the road.  Your mom and gran weren't exactly pleased to see me,' he said.
            Jessica imagined that they'd been unfriendly. Mum disapproved of how he'd hurt her, despite it having been a difficult decision for him.
            ‘Why are you here?
            ‘I need to know if you got my letter,’ he said, folding his arms.
I'd be interested to read your comments. Do you find it easy to forget how making an amendment can impact the rest of the novel? Is it something you notice when returning to a scene a few weeks later like I did?


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Liebster Blog award


Liz Crump, a fellow member of The Romantic Novelist's Association's New Writer's Scheme kindly nominated my blog for The Liebster Blog award yesterday. This is what she wrote when she chose my blog:

Anita Chapman for writerly advice and thoughts that make me think outside of my own little writing box!

Thank you so much Liz!

In accepting the Liebster Blog Award, the recipient agrees to:
-Thank the person who gave them the award and link back to that person's blog
-Copy and paste the award to their blog
-Reveal the 5 blogs they have chosen to award, commenting on their blog to break the news
-Hope the writers of these blogs accept and award The Liebster Blog Award to 5 bloggers they would like to honour

This award is for anyone with fewer than 200 followers.

The 5 blogs I've chosen to award are:
1. Michelle Flatley for posts which make me laugh out loud (mainly about writing)
Latest post - A Writer's holiday from hell
2. Alison May for passionate posts about writing (and sometimes political issues)
Latest post - Where I get all sci-fi and fantasyish and do a bit of reviewing
3. Margaret Morton Kirk for posts about writing which get everyone talking - see 'Feedback Fear'
Latest post - Parliamo Glasgow or Lost in Translation - how much is too much local colour?
4. Cathy Powell for a taste of Italy
Latest post - Boots n All 30 Day Indie Travel Project - Day 14
5. Clare Wartnaby for interesting posts about writing and useful info about the path to getting published
Latest post - Write Stuff - What's the Big Idea?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Is the film ever as good as the book?

I went to see The Help last night.  I found myself comparing the film to the book, which I finished a few weeks ago. Maybe I analysed the differences between the two because I write.  The plot was more or less the same as in the book but the subplots weren't given much time. 
Why is a film different from a book? A writer can tell you what a character is thinking. A director needs to show what a character is thinking through dialogue, actions and reactions (unless a narrator is used. This was done in The Help with the character, Aibileen).
Why do I feel disappointed after seeing the film? Here is my theory.  When we read a book that we enjoy, we picture the characters and the settings. If this picture is different in the film from the one we created in our minds, we're left feeling dissatisfied. Another reason is that we already know what is going to happen. I certainly felt less emotional than others in the cinema because I wasn't being surprised.
When I thought about other favourite books which have been made into films, I realised that I haven't seen Captain Corelli's Mandolin or Memoirs of a Geisha. I saw The Time Traveler's Wife before reading the book.  This was worthwhile because I think it made the book easier to follow. I saw Chocolat several years after I read the book and liked it.  I expect that this was partly because Johnny Depp was in it.  Also I'd forgotten the details from the book so I wasn't making comparisons.
I've come to the conclusion that if we see the film before we read the book or a few years afterwards, we're more likely to enjoy it.
The film adaption of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell will be released next year. It's a while since I read the book, which I thought was wonderful, so maybe I'll go and see it.
I'd be interested to know whether you've enjoyed a film as much as the book (when reading the book first) or do you agree with the above?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

If only I'd known this when I wrote my first draft


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, see Links) has made me think about when I wrote the first draft of the novel 'The Grandson' in around eight weeks. When I'd finished, it still needed a great deal of work.  I enrolled in creative writing classes, read piles of 'how to' books and analysed plots in books, films and plays.  I've almost finished editing the final draft and plan to post a submission to an agent this month.  If I'd known the following when writing my first draft, it would have saved me some time.  An advantage about writing the first draft quickly is that the story writes itself.  If you think too much about the following, it may slow you down and stifle creativity.  It's worth bearing these points in mind as you write and looking at them in more detail when you've finished. 'The Grandson' is contemporary women's fiction so not all of these points may apply if you're writing in a different genre.
Genre
As soon as you know what genre you're writing - ie. romance, thriller, sci-fi, think about other books you've read in that genre.  How does the plot work? What tense and person are these books written in? (see my previous post on first person present tense) Do these books have more narrative or dialogue or a mixture of both? How long are the scenes?
What does the main character (the protagonist) want?
The story needs to be about the main character's journey. What does this person want at the beginning of the story? Do they get what they want at the end? - eg. yes with a romance.  If the main character does get what they want, there needs to be conflict (internal and/or external) and they need to overcome several obstacles first.
Coincidences
The main character needs to drive the plot forwards by the decisions he or she makes.  It's all right to have the odd coincidence, eg. heroine bumping into the hero in a cafe, but sometimes it might work better if eg. the heroine is in the cafe because she knows the hero will be there.
The main character needs to change (internally or externally)
I always think of Melanie Griffiths' character in Working girl.  At the beginning of the film, she has long hair, lacks confidence and she lets her boyfriend tell her what to do.  Then she gets a haircut, pretends to be her boss while her boss is away ski-ing and oozes confidence by the end of the film. Internal transformations work as well.  The heroine may be insecure at the beginning of the story or be struggling to come to terms with something that has happened. By the end of the story, she may have overcome this hurdle.
Work out the main plot using Aristotle's Incline
Link attached. http://members.shaw.ca/sedlers/resource%20aristotle%20and%20plot%20line.htm
Write in scenes using Aristotle's Incline (the key scenes are the framework of the novel)
Think of your book as though it's a film. Use favourite films of the same genre as your book to help you. I've plotted 'The Grandson' using an excel spreadsheet.  Each scene is on there and the plots and subplots are marked in different colours.
Characters
Once you have decided who your main characters are, you need an antagonist (you can have a few but one needs to do most of the work).  The antagonist needs to try and stop the main character from getting what they want.  It is useful if the main character has a confidante.  This confidante can be used to help the main character get what they want. Also the main character can have conversations with the confidante about what they are thinking/ feeling.  This saves having to put all of this info into narrative
What is the main character thinking?
When I first had my writing critiqued in classes, the comments were always 'I want to know what Jessica is thinking'.  (Jessica is my main character) Although I knew what she was thinking, I wasn't making it clear to the reader.  It's easy enough to put these thoughts between bits of dialogue or in a paragraph at the beginning of a scene.
Include reactions
If the heroine is the main character and there's a scene where eg. the hero and heroine fall out, the scene which follows need to show the heroine's reaction.
Dialogue/ Narrative balance
Too much dialogue or too much narrative can make it difficult for the reader to enjoy the story. The dialogue takes you into the scene.  The narrative slows it down.
Dialogue - a way to write it
1. When writing dialogue, it works well if you put it in the following order: reaction, action, dialogue. (you don't always need reaction and action) 
2. It's a good idea to put what the character is doing now and again in between the dialogue so the scene can be pictured.
3. It's an opportunity to put in backstory information (ie. what happened before the beginning of the novel)
4. See my previous post re using dialect and other languages in dialogue.

Eg.       ‘This would never have happened if you hadn’t have taken her to Italy,’ Mary said.
[Mother lifted the cosy off the teapot, which Mary had left there earlier to brew and poured herself a cup of tea through the strainer.] what character is doing- action
‘I took her to Italy because you wouldn’t come,’ Mother said.
 [Everything had changed since Sergio Benedetti turned up at the farm that day.  Mary wished it had never have happened.] reaction/ backstory [She picked up a tea towel and dried the plates in the washing up rack.] action
‘You could have found someone else to go with,’ Mary said.
‘She needed to get out of this village,’ Mother said.

5.         He said, she said or he asked, she asked, work well with dialogue.  There is no need to      say: he said quietly, he whispered, he shouted.  It should be clear from the dialogue      that this is what the character is doing.        
Point of View
Two to three points of view work well in a novel.  Any more may be too much. Omniscient isn't used much these days and it's best to write in the point of view of the main character and one or two other characters. One point of view per scene works best too. When writing from the point of view of a character, only write what they would see, feel or say. If they wouldn't use a fancy word to describe the sunset, it can't be used when writing in their point of view.
Show don't tell - but don't show too much
Emma Darwin explains this perfectly in her blog post attached. http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2011/10/are-you-showing-too-much.html
Use 'Cut to' (like in films)- recommended in The Weekend Novelist Redrafts the novel  by Robert J. Ray
If there's a six month gap in the story between the hero and heroine seeing each other for example, you don't need to write a long explanation about what happened in that time.  You can just cut to a scene six months later and feed in relevant information about what has happened during that time.
Overwriting and repetition
Don't overwrite, ie use flowery words which you wouldn't normally use.  Try not to say the same thing twice.  Don't use too many adjectives and adverbs. Find the right verb rather than use an adverb.  Ie. He ran quickly could be he raced.
There is plenty more.  This is just a summary of the most important points in my opinion, learnt from classes, books etc. Below are a handful of useful books to look at when it comes to knocking the first draft into shape.  There are more but these are the ones I've used most. Some of the books on this list have different methods of working from each other.  I've taken from them what I think works for my novel.
The Weekend Novelist Redrafts the novel (The Weekend Novelist may be a useful reference for first draft too) by Robert J. Ray
Novel Writing 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall
Solutions for Novelists, Secrets of a Master Editor by Sol Stein
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Do you have anything to add to the above and can you recommend any other useful books? I'd be interested to read your comments.

Monday, 31 October 2011

To plan or not to plan?



I went to Westonbirt Arboretum on Saturday.  Crowds had flocked to see the Autumn colours and we were directed to an overflow car park.  I've been there a few times, but it's easy to get lost as the paths, which have names such as 'Main Drive' and 'Loop Walk' twist and wind through the trees.  Usually we get a map but we forgot to ask for one when paying for our tickets. 
            The sky was blue that day and the light dappled through the trees, which were an assortment of colours; red, yellow, shades of green and brown.  Pine cones, acorns, twigs, logs, bark, leaves and dust covered the ground.  Usually we work out our route at the beginning and end up dithering because we see a path which we want to take.  We look at the map to see whether this path will lead us back to where we started or to the café, where we can get coffee and cake.  On this occasion we had a better time without the map because we just went with the flow.
            These two approaches to tackling the route at Westonbirt Arboretum could be compared to how we write a novel. I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about eight weeks (ie. without a map). Since then I've spent several years knocking it into shape by reading creative writing books, talking it over with writing friends and by going to classes where I've had my work critiqued.  It is almost there and I plan to send it to an agent in November.
            During the summer holidays I came up with an idea for a second book.  We were in Brittany and I decided that most of the book would be set in France. I came up with a rough outline for the plot, gave my main characters names and typed a few key scenes into a spreadsheet. When I've sent my first book to an agent, I want to get stuck into this second book.
            The question is now I understand Aristotle's Incline (see below), should I plan this next book scene by scene? (ie. use a map) If I do this, it would be like following the map around Westonbirt Arboretum without deviating from the planned route. When writing a scene, I always come up with ideas which impact the plot.  I've decided to spend a bit of time planning the key scenes and the subplots.  I'll make notes on the main characters, the confidante and the antagonist.  After that I think I'll just dive in and see what happens.

Just found a link which gives a simple explanation of Aristotle's Incline: http://members.shaw.ca/sedlers/resource%20aristotle%20and%20plot%20line.htm

Did you plan your second book more than your first because you knew how?
I'd be interested to read your comments, answering this question or on anything relating to the above.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Do you use dialect or other languages in your writing?

Dialect:
In my book, 'The Grandson', the main character, Jessica and her mother, Mary are from Yorkshire.  I've gathered from writing classes and creative writing books that using too much dialect when writing can put a reader off.  Apparently it is best to sprinkle dialogue and a character's thoughts with the odd word which gives away where they're from.  This makes it easier for the reader to take in the story.
Some writers break this rule however with success.  I recently read 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett.  Initially after reading a couple of pages, I put the book down because it is written using a great deal of dialect.  (It is also written in first person present tense which I find difficult to read-see previous post) A friend told me to stick with it so I picked it up again and I'm glad I did.  After a while I got used to the dialect and enjoyed the story which unfolded.
Using another language:
Most of my book is set in Tuscany.  In earlier drafts I wrote much of the dialogue in Italian, typing the Italian in italics and putting the English translation afterwards.
            eg. 'Stasera incontro mio nipote per la prima volta. Dimmi cara, com'è? Tonight I'm          going to meet my grandson for the first time. Tell me dear, what's he like?'
When I read this out in writing classes, it clearly didn't work because two versions of the same dialogue slowed the story down.  After reading several books set in countries where different languages are spoken, I worked out that I could put the dialogue in English but imply it was being spoken in Italian.  This was made possible by adding the occasional word such as 'cara,' meaning dear or 'grazie,' meaning thank you.  Another way was by phrasing the English so that it seemed as though an Italian speaker was saying it, translating the Italian literally sometimes instead of using the English equivalent.
eg. ‘Tonight I meet my grandson for the first time.  Tell me cara, what is he like?’

An English speaker might say 'I'm going to meet my grandson tonight for the first time. What is he like?'  We wouldn't necessarily say 'Tell me' whereas Italians use 'dimmi', meaning 'tell me' all of the time.

I'd be interested to read your comments on the use of dialect and other languages when writing. Have you broken the above rules and made it work?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense


Much contemporary fiction seems to be written in first person present tense. I find this difficult to do and I'm most comfortable writing my heroine, Jessica's scenes in third person past tense.  Whenever I've tried to write Jessica in first person, she becomes more like myself and that is (as per my previous post) exactly what I'm trying to get away from.  Writing her scenes in the present tense doesn't work either.

I have written a subplot (journal excerpts) in first person present tense however and the words seemed to flow more easily than when I tried to do it with Jessica.  I wonder if this is because the subplot is written from the point of view of a man, the heroine's grandfather, Peter and because the setting is during the Second World War rather than in the 1990s. I have found that the further away a character is from myself, the easier they are to write.
The problem with the word 'had' when writing in the past tense and referring to what happened before.
An advantage of writing in the present tense is it's easier to refer to what happened before as the past tense can be used to do this.  When writing in the past tense, referring to what happened before can be tricky.  The pluperfect (or past perfect) tense can be used meaning the word 'had' can crop up too many times.
eg. She went to the dentist, she had not been there since she'd had the root canal treatment. 
Nobody wants to read the word 'had' over and over again. By writing in the past tense, I have to find ways to avoid using 'had' when referring to what happened before. Sometimes rewording can work by merging sentences together.
eg. She went to the dentist. It was a long time since she'd had the root canal treatment. 
Another trick I've discovered is to use the word 'had' initially (pluperfect tense) and then convert to the past tense.
eg. She went to the dentist.  It was a long time since she'd had the root canal treatment.  That day the local anaesthetic lasted for hours and she survived on milkshakes because she couldn't eat.

By the way, my book isn't about going to the dentist - it's the first example that sprang to mind!
I'd be interested to know your thoughts. Which person and tense do you write in and why? What other problems occur because of the person and tense you're using? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Characters and Psychology

Whilst developing characters for my book, 'The Grandson', I've struggled mostly with the main character Jessica because she is female and the same age as I was when I lived in Siena. I don't want Jessica to be me but it's difficult not to make her like myself because I am so close to her. When I saw psychologist, Oliver James on TV about eighteen months ago promoting a book, I decided to order it (and ended up getting two others for a special price!). I thought these books would help me develop my characters and they did.  The book 'They F*** you up, How to Survive Family Life' turned out to be useful. There is a chapter 'Scripting our place in the family' which talks about how a person's character can be affected by whether they are first born, lastborn, from a large family etc.
Before I ordered the book, Jessica had an older brother.  I decided to take him out, making her an only child.  This would mean I could instantly give her character more depth.  Her mother, Mary could indulge her by never letting her lift a finger around the house.  Jessica would find leaving home difficult because of this and when taking on an au pair job in Italy, she'd have little idea of how to carry out routine domestic tasks.  This in turn would make it easier for Mary to play the role of antagonist by preventing Jessica from being with the hero, an Italian-American.  Mary could stifle Jessica's independence in an attempt to keep her from leaving their Yorkshire village.
Making Jessica an only child also solved a problem I was having with the plot. Mary wanted her to marry the son of the neighbouring farmer, Tom.  I needed him to have a good reason for waiting until she returned from Italy before she gave him an answer to his proposal of marriage. Being an only child, she was now heir to her parent's land, but a clause in the will would say that she had to be married.
Would love to know your thoughts! Feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Are the scenes we cut out a waste of time?


I recently took an Autumn scene out of my novel, 'The Grandson' (which I've almost finished editing).  The heroine's mother, Mary was sitting on a bench in her garden under an apple tree.  An apple fell to the ground with a thud and she pulled a letter out of her pocket from her only daughter, Jessica.  The letter said Jessica had met an Italian-American man whilst studying in Italy.  Mary's greatest fear was Jessica settling anywhere away from their Yorkshire village, never mind another country. She wanted Jessica to marry Tom, son of the neighbouring farmer but Jessica knew he was only interested in her parents' land. 
            During this scene Mary looked around her garden and she felt miserable because summer was over.  She looked up at the tree branches laden with apples and instead of seeing their beauty, she thought about the work she needed to do to clear up the rotten ones being eaten by wasps on the ground.  She'd have to get the leaf-blower out. The broken acorns and hazelnut shells would need to be picked up by hand.  Everything would have to go on the compost heap which was a mess and needed sorting out.  It was time to mow the lawn again. The tree needed pruning and the ripe apples needed to be picked and converted into chutney, apple and blackberry jam and crumble.
            I cut this scene out of 'The Grandson' because it didn't move the plot forwards. Initially I wrote it because I like writing scenes which happen in places I enjoy being in.  The only aspect of the scene which moved the plot forwards was the letter.  Mary didn't need to receive a letter to find out this information.  Jessica could tell her when she got home from Italy. So I cut and pasted it into my 'deletedbits' folder in word. I may use it as inspiration for a short story or for a scene in another book. Once I would have seen writing this scene as having wasted my time. But now I know that it helped me get to know Mary so that her character came across better in her other scenes.

Comment below made by Ruth Brandt - thanks Ruth! Anita.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

How do social media and technology influence a character's life?

When I first started writing 'The Grandson' I decided to set it in 1994 which is when I lived in Italy. This was because I knew what it was like to live there then.  I didn't have access to a landline in the flat I shared because you needed to be Italian to apply for one.  The only technology around was mobile phones.  Many young Italians used them to organise their social lives. At that time in the U.K. young people didn't tend to own mobile phones as they were too expensive.  Although the internet was around then, I don't remember hearing about it until late in 1994.
I have a padded envelope full of letters from my time in Italy, many written in fountain pen which I received from my friends whilst I was living there.  Who writes letters in fountain pen now?  I save mine for thank you letters as those are the only ones I write these days.
If my main character, Jessica was living in Italy now, she'd have a mobile phone.  Her and the hero wouldn't leave notes for each other in the pigeon holes for their flats.  She wouldn't have to buy a phone card to ring her parents and get them to call her back in the bar downstairs from where she lives.  If she arranged to meet somebody and they were late or they changed their mind, they'd call or text her.  Do you remember when you arranged to meet people before mobile phones? Once me and a friend spent our lunch hour standing at different exits of Liverpool Street station before thinking the worst of each other and returning to our desks at work!
Nowadays Jessica would communicate with friends by text message, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. It's unlikely that she'd write letters. When going out she'd take photographs to post on her Facebook page.  She'd stay in touch with people because of Facebook. 
In 'The Grandson' there are two letters which are significant. One arrives at the end of Act 2.  As a result of what it says, the hero and heroine can no longer be together.  The other, sent by the hero in Act 3 is intercepted by the heroine's mother. If I set 'The Grandson' in 2011 and changed these letters into e-mails, I don't think they'd have the same impact.
I plan to set my next book in the modern day which means at least all the time I'm spending on the internet can be put down to research!