Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A generous author

Authors rarely seem FRANK in their advice to other writers -- maybe because those who are sometimes lose their mystique. Trollop, for example, admitted in his autobiography that he had trained himself to write one of his pages every 15 minutes (he did all his writing before he left for his job at the Post Office!) and critics have looked down on him ever since -- for that and other admissions. So maybe it makes sense that most authors talk a lot more about inspiration and characters just appearing etc.

Nevertheless I love to read writers' autobiographies, for many reasons: the differences between their lives and their books,  the experiences they've had, the descriptions of their writing processes. But I don't expect to get advice I can use or even, really, believe what most say about writing.....so Diana Wynne Jones's Reflections -- not an autobiography, but a collection of essays and talks and interviews -- was a real treat.

What she said about writing felt true -- and she was so generous with her advice, said lots that really helped! Some but not nearly all:

She thinks about her books for a long time before she writes them, but doesn't plan them out. Usually when she begins she knows only the beginning, the end, and something in the middle -- until she can see this scene in vivid detail, she doesn't start writing. Part of the fun of writing is learning how the characters got from the beginning to the middle.

She knows ALL her characters -- even the minor ones -- really well before she starts. She says that if you do, you'll rarely get stuck: when you need a character to be somewhere doing something you will remember that someone else, say, owns a grocery store and...You don't tell the reader NEARLY everything you know -- she, for example, knows exactly what all her characters look like, but rarely describes them: if you know, she says, their looks will come through to the reader.

She writes her first drafts in what she describes as a "white heat" -- just pours them out. Then in the second draft she gets very analytical and critical.

This was especially helpful to me -- I often get bogged down in being critical, and it really hampers the flow of ideas. The more the two processes can be separated, the better.

She advises  modeling villians on people we know; there is no need to worry that they will recognize themselves, she says, because few people think of themselves as bad...unfortunately I was unable to do this -- none of the people I wanted to use were quite right for the things they had to do -- but it's a good idea.

1 comment:

jennifer anderson said...

they can't give away all their secrets!