A Little Piece About Writing
I’m working on the final part of my trilogy-memoir ‘Word Monkey’ today, and therefore thinking about writing. A surprising amount of popular fiction is lazily, not to say badly, written.
Want to write a quick bestseller? Try putting it in first person/present tense and you can get around the need for eloquence or better still, any research. Write only about your emotions and you’ll never need to look up boring old facts.
I don’t especially enjoy first person narratives unless they have a very good reason for being written that way. It’s true that they’re much easier to write but they’re restricting. A recent exception to the rule would be ‘The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach’ by Jas Treadwell, which uses the first person to parody an 18th century literary style.
The third person, AKA the God overview (especially when adopted by Dickens) allows you to dip in and out of the lives of others. I used it extensively years ago in a book called ‘Calabash’, even going so far as to fly over a town deciding whom to look in on. The third person narrative allows for greater eloquence, descriptive passages, shifting time frames, close-up scenes and ones viewed from a distance; it’s also much more filmic.
I had toyed with writing a Bryant & May novel from Arthur Bryant’s perspective, but felt it would be too limiting, although perhaps it could be split between first and third person. I’ve read books with shifting perspectives (I seem to remember there was one with over thirty different viewpoints) and don’t know how authors expect their readers to remember every overlap.
Writing a novel takes months or maybe years, and asking someone to absorb a long-evolving tale seems unreasonable to me. Even TV series have recaps.
Thanks to my Kindle I’m reading three books at once and consequently muddling their characters together. E-readers have their limits, and many of the authors whose work I’ve most enjoyed are not available electronically.
Many years ago I’d loved David Pownall’s ‘The Raining Tree War’ and ‘The African Horse’, and can perfectly recall set pieces from them (and the language – sex is referred to as hlanganana!) but they’re out of print now and all but lost. Whereas the equally bizarre but more narrowly focussed, not to mention violent and scatalogical, Tom Sharpe novels are all available in multiple formats.
Writers in the later parts of their lives often produce their best work, but editors are reluctant to invest in them. Where’s the market? they’ll ask. Right here, I say. You could use Pownall’s later books to replace some of the rubbish I’m offered every time I open Amazon.