Monday, May 28, 2007

71,392 Words

As I near the end of my book and aspire to commercial publication, the inevitable subject of reviews comes to mind. I read that Harper Lee, on finishing To Kill a Mockingbird (her first and only completed novel) dreamt only of 'a swift and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers'. Lionel Shriver, in contrast, got into such a bitter email exchange with one Washington Post reviewer his comments about her 6th(?) book that she dreads his ever being let loose on another because now it's personal. If they're going to pan it I would certainly prefer a short, sharp 'we hated it' but on the other hand, a more detailed critique would surely be useful feedback as I intend to make my living out of this and expect to get better with practice. I hope I can learn to take the lashes that really smart without being tempted to hit back or simply to give in.
Realistically speaking, if my book's no good, it simply won't get published or it'll get published but no one will bother reviewing it. But if I could dream of the perfect review, if I could whisper the words into their sleeping ears and have them wake up believing they were genuine, what are the words I would snip from the newspaper and treasure? artful, suspenseful, shocking, tragic, a metaphor, a subtle depiction of..., loneliness, grief, identity, loss, family, sisterhood, outsider, jealousy, murky, scheming, finely drawn, a patchwork, a slideshow, a series of vignettes, gestalt - the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Which words do I most dread? What are the weaknesses I am trying my best to stamp out? repetitiveness, clumsy dialogue, full of holes, lost strands of plot, pointless, predictable, boring, weak.

I've used a lot of poetry extracts and quotations from other novels in my book (well, about ten in all) and I wonder whether the author is supposed to go about getting permission to include these or whether the agent or publisher has that responsibility? I wonder if either of the aforementioned would be put off taking on a manuscript because of that extra work? I've divided my book into five sections: prologue, parts one to three and epilogue. I've chosen a poem to begin each section and there are also some parts of the book where the more bookish characters, partilcularly when diarising, quote phrases from books or poems that express what they feel. I'd hate to lose or compromise those bits of my book.

Avidly I devour articles by authors, interviews with authors, anything I can get my hands on. Some of their advice grates, a lot seems wise at the time of reading but is quickly forgotten and a few things, just a few, stay with me. I can't remember who said each of these things but these are the pieces of advice I have found the most valuable.
(some of them I haven't explained very well, some comprise a single buzz-word that I keep in my head but they all mean something important to me, they are like my writing-mantra)

  • Show, don't tell
  • Suspense can only be achieved by keeping another possibility alive until the last possible moment
  • The semiotic vs. the symbolic (the emotional narrative vs. links to real-world objects)
  • Intertextuality
  • The number 3 - a storytelling staple since the beginning
  • Truths, themes and plot points
  • 'Postmodern tricksiness' - I once read a book described as such by a reviewer and it really appealled to me
  • When I think I know where a character is heading and am in danger of plodding, continually to ask myself 'But what if...?'
  • Different ways of indicating the passage of time
  • Always speak your dialogue out loud when re-reading - imagine it's a TV programme or a film


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