Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Meet the new blog - same as the old blog

This version of my blog is now closed. I've migrated everything over to my new combined blog and website. You can go there by clicking here. What are you waiting for?

Official Graham Edwards blog and website

Disaster attraction

Why crave apocalypse tales? Why watch Charlton and Mel grapple doom-spawned vampires and leather-clad crazies? Why pursue the ash-strewn trails of Viggo and Don (Tiger too), only to end up hunkered down in a craterish bed sitting room waiting to thumb a lift from Ralph in his horse-drawn Rolls?

If all is truly lost, why seek perverse delight in this end of all ends? Is our hope to hang out with Ish, that Last American? Do we seek an audience with the Walkin' Dude? In planning our odyssey, what route should we map across the Cursed Earth? Damnation Alley looks likely enough, but if you want to get along after the bomb be sure to watch out for Hoppy. And, however hungry you are, don't patronise the Delicatessen.

Why then the lust for liquidation? Why the delight in demise? Why count the days, all the way down to the day of days? Armageddon, Ragnarok, 2012 ... have you made your choice? Is it redemption you seek? Catharsis? Is that a bang I hear or a whimper? Do you hail the great tearing-down for mere gratification, or in the hope of seeing all rebuilt? After the end, the beginning?

Or could it be that the broken world is simply simpler than this muffled reality through which we roam eternally confused? Might it be not the grey-ash wasteland we ache for but pure black and and its companion white? Is the apocalypse, after all, dream or despair?


Sunday, 6 February 2011

Hardy and the nymphstone

Today I wrote about a storm and a strange thing called a nymphstone. The nymphstone started as a MacGuffin but already it's taking on a life - and character - of its own. More so than I'd intended really. Another reminder of how the outline's just a sketch on the back of an envelope, and the novel's more a gigantic sculpture hacked out of a glacial cliff made of solid, highly resistant and ever-so-slightly radioactive granite (see my previous post about sweaty writing).

I've also taken a moment to reflect on my decision to blog-as-I-go while writing this novel. While it might seem that novel-writing is essentially a dull and solitary experience with very little entertainment value for the outside observer, I'd like to think it might one day be elevated to a spectator sport, perhaps even achieving Olympic status. If you doubt me, I recommend you restore your faith with Monty Python's classic Thomas Hardy sketch.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Solid foundations

23,356 words

The Dragoncharm prequel is on track. I've solved the problems of chapter 3, as outlined here. And yes, that's why another 2,000 words have dropped off the count.

Next step is a light edit of chapters 4-6. Chapter 6 marks the end of the first section - or book - of the novel, which is why I'm indulging in all this reviewing. Some writers would shudder at the idea of editing so early in the game. But this is the foundation not just for this novel but the planned sequels, so I need to make sure it's not built on sand.

Of course, come the time for the second draft, I'll rewrite the whole bloody thing anyway!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Sweaty writing

Over on Aliette de Bodard's blog, Nancy Fulda's posted a nice article comparing writing to sculpture. She takes as her starting point Michelangelo's famous line: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” She goes on to talk about how, through writing and editing, it's the writer's job to carve away all the unnecessary clutter, revealing the story hidden within.

Nancy's right on the button. But there's a spookier aspect to this whole sculpture analogy: the unsettling sensation that the story has been there all along - that I'm not actually writing the thing at all, just unearthing it, like a fossil.

I had a art tutor who was always talking about the physical nature of sculpture. He liked to work on a large scale, outdoors, stripped to the waist, sculpting "with my whole body." It's hard to equate such physicality with writing, although legend has it both Hugo and Hemingway used to write naked. Me, I stay clothed and comfortable, expending only the energy it takes to make my fingers to hit the laptop keys. So why do I come out of a writing session feeling utterly - and satisfyingly - exhausted.

There's only one explanation. The act of writing transports you to another dimension. Literally. Somehwere there's this beach where all the good stories are buried. It may look like I'm sprawled on the couch idling tapping my keyboard - in fact I've abandoned my body altogether. I'm stripped to the waist, digging at the dirt, trying to winkle out the story-fossils before the tide comes in. Occasionally I manage it. Usually it's a close thing. Often I drown.

When the fossils are free though, like angels, they fly.

Monday, 31 January 2011

127 Hours

I saw 127 Hours yesterday, so thought I'd review it today. I've tried writing my reactions to the movie a dozen times, but I just keep ending up with a list of Reasons Why I Like Danny Boyle movies. So that's exactly what I'm going to give you.

1. Dynamic camera angles
2. Energetic editing, plus profoundly lyrical bits
3. A deep commitment to using the above cinematic techniques in service of the story rather than as an end in itself
4. A fearless commitment to making each film different from his last (yet still stamping each with his unmistakeable authority)
5. Astonishing performances
6. Penetrating emotion that grows out of all the above
7. Intelligence
8. Wit
9. Cool

127 Hours delivers items 1-9 on my list, and in spades. James Franco's stunning performance and Danny Boyle's boundless energy have created a film that just soars.

Also, I think that's the first time I've seen someone faint in the cinema.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The character speaks

25,283 words

Eagle-eyed lurkers will have spotted my word count's gone down. How can that be? I'll tell you: up to now I've been taking decent bites out of the novel. Yesterday the novel bit back.

It was chapter 3 that floored me. Reading back over it, I realised it's way too long: 6,000 words in total. Don't know why I didn't see it before. That's partly because there's just too much going on. I'm trying to introduce a major character, give him a little back-story, maintain the tension I've established in chapters 1 and 2, define the events that bond these two characters together after their initial meeting, foreshadow critical events yet to come ... woah!

Anyway, I wrestled with the words for most of the day, reached screaming pitch, calmed down and decided at last to break one chapter into two. I made a start, gave up, went to bed totally dissatisfied. This morning I realised the problems I'd been trying to solve were the wrong ones. The real problem's actually quite simple: I'd stopped listening to the characters.

The giveaway is the dialogue - more particularly, the attribution. Halfway through the chapter, one of the characters starts telling the other about events that happened years before. It's important exposition. It's just in the wrong place. I couldn't see that, but the character could. I know that because, all the time he's talking, he's fidgeting, impatient, itching to get out of there and get on with the task at hand. As the time, I thought I was writing tension. I wasn't. My character was yelling at me that this was not the time for a pow-wow. And I was ignoring him.

Now I can see what needs doing: strip out the chatter. Cut the crap and get on with the story. Listen to what my character wants to do and let him get on with it. I've got a scene planned for later where he talks about the old times - the kind of scene that orientates both the other characters and the reader - so I'll just save the exposition for then.

I know why I got myself in this mess. I'm working from an outline. The whole novel's plotted out chapter by chapter in a document that runs to about 7,000 words. I don't always work this way. I've chosen to with this project because it's hard to keep on track when you don't write full time (yes, I have a day job). The downside is you can easily end up with a story that's driven by plot, not character.

Think of your average Hollywood action blockbuster. You can tell it's plot-driven because the hero keeps delivering ironic quips. That's because he's reacting to the action, not driving it. Same with a novel. Me, I prefer my characters to be in charge.

The upshot of all this? I'm about to go off-outline. That's a bit like going off-road. It's bumpy and unpredictable and messy and scary as hell. Exactly why I love writing, in other words. More importantly, it means the characters have stopped doing as they're told and starting developing lives of their own. 25,000 words in, this is where the real writing begins.