I am now offering a critique and manuscript assessment service. For further details, please e mail me at

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Writing tip - you don't need to write it all down...

People who don't write - ie, sane and sensible members of the community who don't go around with their pants on their head - assume that writing is an easy task.  You sit down in front of a computer and write words, don't you?  And, when you've written enough words, you stop writing and someone publishes those words.  I mean, what else could possibly be involved?  And, by extension, anyone with a spare half hour and access to a working biro can do it.  In fact, the big surprise is that every single member of the population hasn't written at least half a dozen best sellers - the only possible reason that they haven't must be that they just haven't got round to it yet.  Well, you know what it's like, busy busy, work and the house and then there's the Omnibus edition of the Archers and that bacon won't grill itself, you know.

Absolutely the only reason that Mr Snodgrass's 'The Adventure of My Cat' hasn't featured in the Times Literary Supplement yet

So, as I am just getting started on my new novel, I thought I may give you an insider's perspective on the writing process.  Well, I say an insider, I actually mean someone who's doing it but might break off at any moment to eat Smarties, wander round the garden or lie with her head under the pillow moaning gently.

So.  I know I want to start with a certain scene.  I start writing it, get seventy words in and then decide that none of those seventy words are any use, because they are all lovely and descriptive and everything, lots of 'what the ground looks like from a falcon's perspective', but they are absolutely useless from the point of the story.  It's all very well knowing what things look like if you're a bird, and there are falcons in the story, but is the story told from a falcon's perspective? Is it hell.  So, bye bye seventy words and hello to some words, also from the falcon's perspective but this time describing its view of the central core of three characters and the general setting for the story.

This pic is of Netherton Park, near Dudley. Not where my story is set, but you get the ..err..picture.

Sometimes, I think, as writers we get a bit carried away with our 'mental image' of something. We are so in love with it that we want our readers to 'see' it as clearly as we do in our heads, upon which we are so  carefully balancing our pants.  And sometimes we forget that it really doesn't matter.  We can mention a large country house, belonging to a made-up version of the National Trust, and readers know what that looks like.  They don't need to know that it's Elizabethan, built of Ham stone, contains the equivalent of fourteen acres of wooden floor and that the kitchens were redesigned in the nineteenth century.  We just need to tell them it's a big old house. They've got imaginations, let them do some of the heavy lifting, visualisation-wise.

It looks like this. In case your imagination is having a day off or something

Must go now. It's time for the Archers' Omnibus...


Terri Nixon said...

Another class blog, love it. I'm not big on description either, but sometimes I write it anyway, then dive straight back in with my trusty, and much-used, backspace button. Sad to see the word count flickering backwards, but great when someone reads it and says: "I'm so glad you don't do all that flowery descriptive stuff." And now, thanks to you, I must have bacon. Cheerio.

Jane Lovering said...

A bit of description is a good thing, but I think a light hand is what's needed. Like with pepper. Enjoy your bacon!

Chris Stovell said...

I wonder if all the folks who're going to write a novel would still do it if they knew barely brings home the bacon, let alone grills it? Lovely blog, full of wit and wisdomosity - as usual. x

Jane Lovering said...

Thanks, Chris! Yes, if they all knew it was less Mustique and more Morcombe, they might think twice about spending that year sealed alone in a room... *twitches*