Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reviewing the Truth

Dear Dead Beat,

I am a recently newly published writer. That bit I like. However, I got some reviews that were very disappointing. What do you do in situations like that?

Not So Tough.

Dear Not So Tough,

What do I do in situations like that? Dead Beat will have you know he has never had a disappointing review in his life. He's perfect, goddamn it, don't you know? The cheek.

Okay, okay, so bad reviews are par for the course (old golfer that Dead Beat is). But here, take some advice from William Faulkner, a well known practitioner of writing that invited bad reviews. And lest you think I am dissing Faulkner, nothing could be further from the truth. The reviewers didn't know what to do with him. More of that anon.

Speak to us William: “The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have the time to read reviews.”

The thing is, the review is only as good as the reviewer, and there are some pretty poor reviewers out there. If you trust the reviewer, then by all means learn something from it - improve your craft. If they are not worthy of your trust, water off a duck's back.

But hey, do not... Dead Beat says, do not... confuse anger with lack of trust.

In any case, listen to the old man - get to your desk. You don't have time to read reviews.

As for Faulkner, he was too far in the future for any 'reviewer' to grasp.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Peter Carey Interview, Pt. 3

Dear Dead Beat,
I find it easy to create a story but hard to find a voice to tell it. Have you any suggestions?

Dear Voiceless,
my own voice is going just now, so I thought I'd hand you over to the master of voices - Peter Carey.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Write About What You Know You Don't Know

Dear Dead Beat,

I am not sure how to say this, but I want fictionalize something from my life that I think would make an interesting story. Do you have any tips on how to approach something like this?

Dear Unsure,

For someone uncertain how to say something, you sure did say it with certainty (the mark of a good writer, Dead Beat supposes).

Write about something we know, we are constantly told. Although Grace Paley said it better in Trinity College Dublin all those years ago, "write about what you know you don't know."

Fictionalising something from our life is in itself not a bad thing. The danger is that we stick too close to the 'real' events. "Well that's what happened," my students of writing insist. Their fellow students nod their heads in agreement. They've won, I've lost.
"Thing is," I tell them, "this is fiction. We are not interested in what actually happened in terms of the events. We are interested in the 'truth' of what happened. And that is never dependent on facts."

Remember, the moment you put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, nothing is 'real' anymore. People become characters, dialogue becomes heightened, actions prompt reactions. So to answer the question above, my main advice is to take the real events as aspiration for whatever story then unfolds. The details do not matter. The real truth of the experience is what we are after. Create characters, allow them to determine where the action should go. Then as writer, come back and put some manners on them in the rewrite, but always, always, travel into those unfamiliar areas and discover something you did not previously know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Dog Rotted On the Road and Other Great Beginnings

Dear Dead Beat,

I am rewriting a novel I wrote and am confused about my beginning. Any thoughts on how to begin a novel?"

Serial Rewriter.

Dear Serial Rewriter,

Dead Beat has a thought on everything and often something more. Begin your novel with a capital letter.

Okay, okay. Begin with a hook. I don't care if you are writing entertainment or that other literary thingy, but you better get your reader onto the second line. Taking this a step further: if one line must lead to another, then one paragraph must lead to another, and so on. Hooks, hooks, hooks.

"It was a bright sunny morning" becomes "it was not a bright sunny morning." "The dog trotted down the road" becomes "the dog rotted on the road."

Figure out what your beginning is trying to say, then make it say it loud and clear, upfront and in the very first sentence.

Best opening to a piece of fiction ever? Richard Ford, Rock Springs, short story called Great Falls: "This is not a happy story. I warn you."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

E-mail Queries

Dear Dead Beat,

It seems that more literary agents are willing to accept e-mail queries. Do you have any advice how to go about writing them?

Computer Shy.

Dear Computer Shy,

Yes e-mail is becoming more acceptable in the publishing world. However not all agents or editors do accept them, so be careful. Read their guidelines. Only e-mail them if they say this is okay.

Once you know that e-mail is fine, there are a number of things to think about. Basically the procedure is the same one you would follow if applying by regular mail: A query letter, synopsis and extract if required (read their guidelines).

The real danger with e-mail is that we have got used to a form of communication that is often colloquial, sloppy, and written in shorthand. Too casual. Frequently it has not been proofread - that's why we have e-mail isn't it? We've no time to spare, zip zip, the world is spinning at an almighty rate, gotta keep up.

Unfortunately most agents would like you to sit back, take your time, consider style and presentation, oh yeah and be articulate, be focused, organised ... all those things writing depends on dammit.

Credo: Instant messages require instant responses. Reconsider your beliefs. Do not be impatient. Agents are a busy lot and often get more than one e-mail a day!

Treat the text of your e-mail like a traditional query. However it seems that it can be shorter - something to do with the size of the screen versus holding a sheet of paper in the hand.

You can include links if they are relevant - i.e. a link to your website etc. but only if it is relevant.

A few other thoughts - Include the word "Query" in your subject line, make sure your e-mail address, signature etc. is personal and professional, make sure you have the editor's own address

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dead Beat A.K.A. Casey Jones

Dead Beat has been riding the rails - all the way over to New Brunswick where he has taken up residence. So he has been on mute for a while, but he's back in a manner of speaking. Seeing as how he grew up on a healthy dose of Casey Jones, he's been having a good time however.

Now that his internet is up and running I guess he can start riding the cyber rails for a while instead.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Characterisation and Plot

Dear Dead Beat,

I read your comments on characterisation with interest.Here's another question - Sometimes, especially toward the middle of a story, I find myself stopping, almost afraid to continue. I wonder why this is.

Typically, my story has started out strongly, I am really into the character, what he/she thinks, loves, likes, does, believes. I usually know how the story is going to end, it's just so hard to find the way to move my characters to that endpoint.

I wonder, is it possible for a writer to care too much about a character or characters,and therefore, allow his/her writing to become paralyzed? Do you have any theories about this? I'm writing short stories, as I have no novel ideas yet, or at least, nothing that could be spun into a novel-length treatment. I love short stories and I would like to succeed at it, but this problem has me stumped...

Gratefully yours,
stuck-in-the-middle(apologies to Stealer's Wheel)

Dear Stuck-in-the Middle,

You should know by now that Dead Beat has a theory about everything.

Is it possible for a writer to care too much about a character or characters? I guess it could be. I often hear this being said - especially in writing workshop situations. However, I sometimes think this is a misinterpretation of what is happening within the writing process. Plot is not as simple as it seems. When it becomes hard to move characters towards the end point it usually means that the plot has not emerged fully - the sequence of events driving the narrative from start to finish has faltered somewhere - i.e. the events are not entirely present, or the wrong events have presented themselves.

It may be that the attraction towards the characters has distracted the writer from the plot aspect of the story - that too much emphasis has been placed on character development. In this case the writer needs to acknowledge that enough work has been done on characterisation for now and that more work needs to be done on developing the narrative - on working out the plot.

Remember good old Chandler - when the plot flags, bring out a man with a gun.
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