How To Make A Writer

About to begin a new project and trying to decide which method will give the best chance of writing success. I’m a pantser by nature but, over the last year of so, I’ve been trying to incorporate an element of planning into my work. I’ve now gotten to the stage of always having an outline plan before starting to write. It’s helpful when I get lost in plot detail, or when I’ve forgotten which character said what to whom.

Most writers these days seem to follow: ‘ Write What You Love’, not what you know. I know about cooking, being a Mommy, renovating old houses, media and travel. These are themes which often appear in my writing. But what I ‘love’ is a tricksier question.

I love danger, suspense, conflict, deceit, betrayal, all the elements contained in a good thriller. I also love the good woman winning in the final few pages, or the good guy: I cheer on both heroes and heroines. I also love a bitter-sweet ending, one where the good protagonist wins through against adversity, but has to pay a helluva price to do so. I’m not against a bit of romance, but, for me, it shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all. These are the kind of story ingredients which stay with me and work their magic within my subconscious when writing new work.

What about you? What do you think makes a writer? Maybe you’re into memoir? It’s having a renaissance right now, everyone I know in writing circles seems to be currently working on memoir or family sagas. I’m guessing age is a factor here, Rom-Com and Steamy Sex belong to younger years. Once the kids are old enough to entertain themselves, without major risk, the notion of taking a stroll through Grandma’s photo album seems to appeal. I’m not there, yet. There’s still enough going on in the here-and-now to grab my attention and interest.

I’m practising, at the moment, little pieces of flash and short stories to get my writing muscles ready for the big task ahead. Notebooks are half-filled with scraps of this and that, character profiles are half-done, the setting is yet to be decided on. The only think I’m sure of is the theme and hopefully, that won’t change.

But you’ll know, as a writer, you can never say never. Not ever.

Some Characters – Tolstoy versus Turgenev

I’be been reading a book by Richard Cohen, entitled How to Write like Tolstoy. Now, I don’t especially want to write like anybody, I want to write like me and set my own example for others to follow. But when I noticed that the book was endorsed by twice Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel, I thought there might be something in it. If you have read Wolf Hall, you’ll get my drift.

The book follows the usual How To rules with chapters on beginnings, characters, point of view, etc.. The chapter on characters I found particularly enlightening and amusing. It seems that there was a rivalry between two masters of literature – Tolstoy and Turgenev – about the creation of characters. Turgenev allegedly didn’t speak to Tolstoy for several years because he thought Tolstoy was better than him at creating characters.

How brilliant is that? Here are these two incredible writers, creators of Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) and Fathers and Sons (Turgenev), who were so competitive and jealous that they behaved like schoolboys over who excelled in character creation. Tolstoy (allegedly) showed off and Turgenev (allegedly) couldn’t stand his contemporary’s superior ability at characterisation.

Cohen refers to a story, it may be apocryphal, about the two men playing together on a seesaw, forcing each other to soar higher and higher, until… well, he doesn’t actually finish the story. But the point is clear. How childish, how relatable, how much this story will be understood by every fiction writer. How totally human.

Fiction writing is all about character. Create an unforgettable character, you’ve cracked it. Think Madame Bovary, Humbert Humbert and Lolita, Dr Zhivago, or, departing the Russian Masters for a moment, Scarlett O’Hara, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Gollum. These are characters who will live in your imagination as strongly as members of your own family.

Have a look at How to Write Like Tolstoy: there are some little gems you might find useful in your own writing.