Questions for writers

Word spaghetti

Last week’s creative writing class took the form of a question and answer session. Trouble is, we had a lot more questions than answers. We chewed over these 10 key questions, but (perhaps inevitably) came to few conclusions. Can any of you do better?

1: How do you find readers that identify with your style of writing?

We weren’t sure about this. Is it even right to try? Shouldn’t writers find you?

2: How can I include metaphor so that it sounds authentic as opposed to artificial and cliched? Can you acquire this skill or is it something you do naturally and can’t learn?

Our metaphor experts had a good idea, which was to change your perspective. Forget about what something looks like, what does it feel like, sound like or smell like? An unexpected perspective could give you an unforgettable metaphor.

3: How important is describing scenery?

Um, depends. You need a sense of place, but not screeds of Victorian description.

4: How can I sustain a story over a longer framework?

Keep asking ‘what if…?’

5: Do you think you should read widely or only the specific genre you want to write yourself? And should you read differently as a writer?

I tried this once, diving into a pile of thrillers to try to absorb all the craft of thriller writing. After about five I was desperate for something – anything – else. Reading widely is A Good Thing, we decided. We also decided that you can try to read like a writer, trying to work out how they achieved this effect, or that twist, but it’s a lot more fun to read like a reader, then go back a second time to see how they did it.

6: I’m aware I ramble on and by trying to cut down narrative I seem to lose impact.

Ah, the art of the telling detail…

7: I struggle to write action – the bits that bring the story forward explicitly. I’m good at dropping hints and setting up threads but not at acting on them.

Yeah, we all find this hard.

8: How much resolution of the character’s journey should you offer a reader – how much should you leave up to them?

As much as you can get away with?

9: How do I write about things that are beyond my direct experience?

Research, imagination, talking to people. As someone or other said, please don’t write about your direct experience. It’s probably not that interesting.

10: How do I pull the strands of a story or novel into a satisfying but not glib or rushed ending?

Number 10 was my question. I’m up to chapter 20, which I thought would be around the end of the book. But I still have strands of story everywhere, word spaghetti splattered with tomato sauce, and no end in sight. The only answer I came up with was patience, otherwise it could get messy. Looks like it’s a 30-chapter book after all.

Image: Thanks to HatM’s photostream on Flickr, with CCL.

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