I mentioned that I was always filling books with stories as a child. I still have some of them (see left). They’re densely plotted, drawn with an autistic eye for detail. There’s not really much point in keeping them as they’re juvenilia (I cut up one volume recently and stuck its pages inside books from DoodledBooks.com, the company that offers books with drawings from authors inside).
This leads to the old, old question; is it possible to teach writing?
Having recently started one-to-one tuition with promising writers – only one to date, but it’s a start and I’m enjoying the break from what my PA calls Tappy-Tappy-Typing (I’m a two-finger typist) I wonder whether the answer is more complex than it first appeared. Certainly, there need to be several clear factors.
1. A deeply-felt desire to put words on paper – not to be confused with a desire to make money.
2. A commitment to a massive amount of time. This is not a hobby.
3. A willingness to talk to people, discuss and listen. Watching old TV shows is not research.
4. A strong sense of identity – ie. who you are and what you want to say.
Without those things, I can’t see anyone becoming a writer, frankly. What I do think can be learned is;
1. How to research – not as easy as it looks.
2. How to develop your style – there’s no sin in copying your heroes at first.
3. Shaping your narrative.
4. Creating something saleable.
What I note from my old filled-in exercise books is how obsessed with stories and plots they were. I did not see people as individuals, merely as pawns to be shuffled around the plot-board. It took me years to understand that characters drive plots and create themes. I’m still learning, but I think the next stages of my development will become clear this year, with the newest Bryant & May novel and my haunted house thriller ‘Nyctophobia’, which is entirely character-driven.
On second thoughts, maybe I’ll hang onto those old books. I might want to look back one day, to remind myself how rubbish I was, and how it mattered less than the desire to tell a story.