5. My own personal secret herbs and spices of how to write.

Posted by on May 21, 2017 in Articles | Comments Off on 5. My own personal secret herbs and spices of how to write.

Is there a secret to this writing game? Maybe. Here’s mine.

You’ve written your idea, your outline and your character essays and infused them, where possible, with empathy. You’re ready to start writing your novel. But still something niggles. Surely there’s a trick to this? How am I going to write so that people can believe in it so utterly that they will accept that the Planet Xorg really does exist, along with those liquorice grasshopper kings? I’ll tell you. Because, yes, there is a secret. Or, at least, I believe it’s a secret. And I am going to divulge it to you right here and now. Yes I am. Here we go. You ready?

Hell, you know, to be honest with you, I’m actually really super-reluctant to give this away because I think of it, rightly or wrongly, as my “thing”.

Well, it’s like this. As a human being (let’s assume, right?), you constantly quiz the world with your senses – what you see, smell, hear, touch and taste. Without the ability to smell and hear, for example, you are also in a way blind to a big chunk of the world around you. It’s the same when you write. You are creating a world that has to live in the minds of complete strangers, and if you want them to relate to it fully so that it is immersive and feels every millimeter as tangible and real as the, well, the real world, then you must employ the senses in your writing. In other words, what are your characters seeing? What do they smell? What are they feeling? What are they hearing? What do they taste?

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

– W. Somerset Maugham

This dawned on me on a research trip for my third book, A KNIFE EDGE. I was in Thailand, at the border town of Mae Sot, heading for the Freedom Bridge over the Moei River between Thailand and Myanmar. It was late afternoon and stupidly hot. My shirt was sticking to my back and the clouds were black, green and purple bruises that towered towered high overhead. A thunderstorm was imminent. I walked past some food stands, a local fair in full swing, and chicken skewers sizzled on barbecues. Peanut was in the air too, along with chili,  lemongrass, and the vaguely acrid smoke from smouldering coconut husks fuelling the barbecues. There was some political rally going on and cars full of people and festooned with flags were driving around, voices booming from oversized loud hailers strapped to the vehicle’s roofs. With no distant warning rumble, a bolt of lightning struck somewhere nearby and the thunderclap was so loud and close and sudden that it made me jump. And then it started to rain. But this was no ordinary rain. The droplets were heavy and they caught the light like polished shillings. They even seemed to jangle as they bumped into each other. The downpour turned in to a roaring fusillade but there was nowhere to take shelter and the rain was warm, so I just stood there and enjoyed it. Those pregnant shilling shattered into a fine mist when they hit the ground and clouds of steam rose into my nostrils and I tasted bitumen and mud in the back of my throat. And that’s when it hit me. Maybe the way to write convincingly was to present the world of my characters in the same way that I interrogated the world – via those five senses. Seems kind of obvious now.

Perhaps you write this way intuitively, without thinking about it. But even if you do, to be aware of it and to employ it knowingly as you write is enormously beneficial. It’s a simple matter of constantly asking your characters what they’re smelling, hearing, feeling, etc., and suffusing your narrative with the answers. The pictures you paint as a result will be so much more vivid and complete. And because we move through the real world interrogating it thus with our senses countless times a second without even being aware it, for the most part it’ll be the same with your created world. Your readers will likely tell you that you manage to create “an amazing sense of place”, praise for a writer that’s hard to beat, and wonder how you manage to achieve it. They won’t have a clue how you do it. But you will. And so will I.

A short lesson this one, but a biggie all the same. #howtowrite #writeyournovel #yourfirstnovel

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#6. 40 words on Grammar