Tagged with "novels"
Plot or Free Flow?
Category: Writing
Tags: writing plotting short stories novels

Something Iíve been giving some thought to recently is whether you should plot out your writing Ė whether it be short stories or novels Ė or whether you should just start and see where you end up.

When I first started writing, I had plenty of ideas. I would start and then get stuck and eventually abort. I still have files and files of half (or quarter) written stories. To help myself with this I set myself the challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I canít say that I wrote 365 finished pieces, but I certainly got much better at being able to reach an end. Iíve heard some people say that even if you donít know how the story is going to go, you should at least have an ending in mind; something youíre working towards.

For flash fiction itís probably not even possible to plot out your story. But how about for longer pieces? Barbara Dynes in Masterclasses in Creative Writing says ď[t]he amount of obstacles and complications you add to your initial idea depends on the length and tone of your story.Ē (p.11) This is her suggestion for a 2,000 word story: Problem, Obstacle 1, Obstacle 2, Obstacle 3, Crisis, Climax (pg.11). Iíve tried plotting out stories like this, but donít find they flow particularly well when I write them. This may just be because 2,000 words is not a good length for me, or maybe itís because plotting doesnít work for me.

Iíve recently finished the first draft of my first novel. I didnít plot anything. I knew the beginning and I had a rough idea of the ending and I wrote a couple of pages per day until it was finished. It will take a lot of editing, but is that any different to a plotterís first draft? The 90-day novel, written by Alan Watt, is based around there being a story structure for the novel, which ďcan be applied to any story, from the most Ďtraditionally structuredí to the most esoteric piece of writingĒ (pg. 285).

I know every writer needs to find his or her own way, but my question is: have you changed the way you write in the time that youíve been writing? How? And why?

Bring Back the Art of Letter Writing
Category: Writing
Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers letter writing epistolary novels

As a literary device, letters are a gift for authors. But the noble art of letter writing seems to have gone into freefall. I think this is a shame, but Iím the first to admit that I donít write more than the tersest of emails these days.

Time to write

Until the invention of the telegram, people communicated in writing. Iím astonished at the amount of time they could devote to penning letters.

In the 18th century, the Earl of Chesterfield wrote more than 400 letters to his illegitimate son over a 30-year period. They were published as Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1774). The letters were never actually intended for publication, but came to be considered a manual on the ways of the world. Chesterfield was a politician, essayist and patron of the arts, but he still found the time to compose these elegant missives.

Novel device

Letters have been popular with authors for centuries as a literary form, especially during the 18th century. Aphra Behn, Samuel Richardson, and a number of French writers, including Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) wrote epistolary novels.

They fell out of favour in the early 19th century, but were back by the end. Modern writers, such as Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk about Kevin), have used letters to powerful effect, especially to convey the point of view of an unreliable witness. They are also a way of increasing dramatic tension where a character is unaware of relevant things going on.


A set of real-life letters inspired my own novel, The House at Zaronza. A Corsican village schoolmaster wrote them in the 1890s to a young woman, whose bourgeois parents would have strongly disapproved of their liaison. The lovers communicated via a secret letter drop. A hundred years later, his letters were found walled up in the attic of her house, which is now a B&B.

Despite being a busy person, the schoolmaster wrote more than simple notes fixing their assignations. They are passionate love letters, elegantly phrased and carefully constructed.

100 years hence?

Todayís instant communication media donít lend themselves to this kind of prose. In emails and text messages you can dispense with pronouns and direct/indirect articles and even complete words in the interests of speed.

So how would my lovers, Maria and RaphaŽl, have communicated today? By SMS, I suppose. Assuming their mobile phones stood the test of time, would ĎCU @ 4í followed by a smiley really stir the imagination of a novelist in 100 yearsí time? Call me an old fogey, but it wouldnít do it for me.

Do you still write letters in the traditional way?

How many Drafts does it take?
Category: Writing
Tags: novels short stories drafts editing

How many drafts does it take?

Margaret Drabble says ĎIf I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.í A quote I cut out and taped to my laptop. She has a good point but obviously her writing reaches publishable level faster than mine. That comes from experience Ė and/or talent. So how many drafts should we write before we send things out? Can too much editing kill our prose? Or, like me, are you tempted to go on and on?

If I decide to resubmit a short-listed short story, first Iíll give it at least one more edit. I always hope that each new story I write will need less rewrites/editing. Iím dreaming of course. The more I learn the higher the standard I want to achieve. Hence, more and more drafts, until Iíve lost count. †

Itís not easy to research how many drafts successful short story writers actually write. I did try. Some admit to only three or less, although Ernest Hemingway purportedly changed the last sentence of one of his stories 147 times. I may have something in common with him then, as I change my own beginnings and endings ad infinitum.

Obviously, redrafting a novel is a massive task in comparison to reworking short stories. Famous novelists have different ways of approaching this. For example, Stephen King manages on three or four drafts. Anita Brookner only writes one draft as she is constantly editing all the way through. Tracy Chevalier once said she writes six drafts in longhand before her novel even makes it onto a computer. Letís hope, after all that work, it is finished. Returning to Hemingway, he is known to have changed the ending of ĎA Farewell to Armsí 47 times.

Writerís Digest suggest five edits and have an interesting online article on how to go about it here. There are many other similar articles on line, easily found with search engines.

For me, posting a piece of writing on this site is invaluable and doubtless saves me extra drafts Ė therefore, loads of precious time. Fellow membersí critiques, given from an objective viewpoint, make my next draft much more workable. How many drafts did I write of this blog? The answer is simple: not enough!

I tend to edit a short story until I canít bear the sight of it, then take a break for a week Ė if the deadline obliges, and itís well out of sight Ė and force myself to go through it one last time. By then Iíve definitely lost count and canít wait to see the back of it, so press Ďsendí, ready or not.

Now if youíll excuse me, Iíll just go and rewrite the end of my latest story for the tenth time. Only 137 more versions to go then!

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The House at Zaronza
tagged: writers, abroad, vanessa, couchman, historical, and fiction
Love is All You Need: Ten tales of love from The Sophie King Prize
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Out of Control
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The Duke's Shadow
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Foreign & Far Away
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Losing Control
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Conversations with S. Teri O'Type
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Break Out
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Deadly Pursuit
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The Calling
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Big Book of New Short Horror
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Tiger of Talmare
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