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 This web page is part of a hosted copy of the WoodWorks eZine at Elfwood.  (#601)
The eZine is no longer updated, nor does it have it's own domain left... This also means that it's no use to contact the WoodWorks editors, etc, etc...
 
From Idea to Story, Part III
By Che Monro

Melith was spinning fleece into yarn when Dreaw returned to the village. Her little hand spindle spun in mid-air, its colorful wings merely a blur of wood and paint as they spun and spun endlessly and hypnotically, drawing the fleece onto the twist, knitting it seamlessly together and winding it down onto the spindle. The little winged spindle seemed to hum as it drew the yarn to itself, spinning, spinning, spinning in midair.

She looked up to see her brother's unhappy expression, her hands still feeding fleece onto the spindle unconsciously. "Dreaw," she called, "What are you doing back from training so early? Is something wrong?"




What can I say about the process of writing? Nothing that hasn't been said before, and better, a hundred times in the past. Maybe writing is like spinning, drawing up disconnected fleeces and fibers into a strong yarn or story line, that can be used to knit or darn together a work of art or craft.

As writers go, I am a craftsman, not an artist. I make my stories soundly and sturdily according to some simple rules of process and storytelling. I make a decent product, but you don't tend to look at one of my stories and simply die from awe or wonder. Rather, my stories are meant to be functional and entertaining. Yes, they show you visions of the world and how you can live in it, but no, they should not change your life unless your life very much wants to be changed. That disclaimer made, I will tell you what I can about the craft of writing.

I believe that writing is based on skill and talent. If you are good with words, if you enjoy reading and you have something to say, then you can probably write a decent story. More than anything, a writer must have a need to write, a desire to tell his or her story and make people listen. If you have this, then setbacks and obstacles will not hold you back forever.

When I write, I like to surround myself with my inspirations. If I'm writing about a picture, then I put that picture in front of me while I'm writing so that I can look at it and receive new ideas as I work. If I'm writing from a quote, then I put that quote at the top of the text where I can go back to it as many times as necessary. Often quotes need to be removed later because they get in the way, but while you are writing, try to surround yourself with as much inspiration as possible.

Here's a quote that has inspired me lately, and which will probably have a subtle influence on this story:

'While I have the floor, here's a question that's been bothering me for some time. Why do so few writers of heroic or epic fantasy ever deal with the fundamental quandary of their novels . . . that so many of them take place in cultures that are rigid, hierarchical, stratified, and in essence oppressive? What is so appealing about feudalism, that so many free citizens of an educated commonwealth like ours love reading about and picturing life under hereditary lords?

Why should the deposed prince or princess in every clichéd tale always be chosen to lead the uprising against the Dark Lord? Why not elect a new leader by merit, instead of clinging to the inbred scions of a failed royal line? Why not ask the pompous, patronizing wizard for something useful, such as flush toilets, movable type, and electricity for every home in the kingdom? Given half a chance, the sons and daughters of peasants would rather not grow up to be servants. It seems bizarre for modern folk to pine for a way of life our ancestors rightfully fought desperately to escape. Only Aldous Huxley ever wrote a scenario for social stratification that was completely, if chillingly, self consistent and stable. You get no sense of oppression, no rebellion, in a society where people truly *are* born for their tasks, as in Brave New World.'
-- David Brin, Afterword to Glory Season.

This is an additional inspiration to the others I've talked about for this story, but since I'm more or less trying to write a socialist, feminist yarn in the tradition of Sherri S. Tepper or Ursula LeGuin, this quote helps set the tone. I want to talk about real people: low, working people, not hereditary lords and ladies.

So, you know about your world and your characters, you have thought about the story you want to tell, you are surrounded by your inspirations and you -want- to write. You've reached the stage which every writer dreads, where you must sit down and stare at the blank page or computer screen and write on it and fill it with words. How to begin?

Beginnings are difficult; there is no doubt about that.

The simplest advice to someone starting a story is to write. It doesn't really matter what you write, so write the first thing that comes into your head. Write your character's name over and over, write what you think they would say, write about the weather or what they can see from their bedroom window.

For me the process of writing is largely unconscious. It happens, and I don't really know how or why. Writers have traditionally invoked supernatural powers when trying to explain the source of their writing, Gods and Muses. Perhaps it's an area where there is still some mystery left in our lives.

Once you have some words down on the page the process becomes much easier. If something does not fit you can always remove it later, but be wary - Don't start to edit until you've finished the story, be it a short story or a novel. If you start to edit and change a work in progress, then there is every chance you will never finish it, you'll just keep changing and changing it and never write the final line. Beware.

I wish I had more time to talk about style. Style is the soul of composition. It's the color palette of the author. I could give you so much advice about style, but ultimately you must find your own individual way of expressing yourself. The style that works for me probably won't work for you. I will say this for the benefit of novices: KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid. Many people write prose which is opaque and hard to read, often deliberately so. It's a treasured few authors who can make themselves and their style clear and pure and simple as crystal, even when writing about a difficult ideas.

Here is a useful link to a seminal text about style and composition. Perhaps it will be of some interest. Strunk, William: Elements of Style.

Another book I heartily recommend is Joan Aiken's The Way to Write for Children. Joan Aiken's writing is always funny, thought provoking and wonderful, and she give authors - not just children's authors - some useful advice here.

And there I must leave you for this month. The craft of writing is a vast subject, and I can't hope to cover all of it in this series, but next month I will return to a particular nightmare that I've touched on before. Next month I will talk about Writer's Block, and perhaps I will marshal my thoughts to talk a little more about style.



Che Monro is a 32 year old man from Australia. He's a writer, illustrator and literary critic. Some of his stories can be found at his Wyvern's Library site. His homepage is to be found at http://www.chemonro.com. Ché writes book reviews and articles for Woodworks.
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