Monday, August 6, 2007


Last night my children set up a little shop selling ‘hot tea’ and ‘ice cream’. The tea and cones were all blocks of wood, but they ate and drank each one, and when they gave them to me and my wife we ate them as well and handed them back to be turned into cakes.
It’s the first time we’ve eaten wooden blocks, but the little fantasy was the most enchanting moment of the day. It drew us all in, and it made me think of writing, and how all writing works by creating a world within which we can imagine.
Fantasy is often described as a bad thing, as if it somehow implies escapism; and ‘fantasy’ as a genre is often mocked as a hide-out for those who are unable to relate intelligently to the world we live in. I disagree with this, storytelling is one of the oldest human art forms, where as they were once spoken over the embers, now they are read or written, or filmed or broadcast. All storytelling involves entering a fantasy, the ‘suspension of disbelief’ that is talked about in theatre circles.
I say all this because I think the child’s ability to imagine is something we should all cling to, like a lifejacket.
This is all a roundabout way of talking about last week’s entry, which ended with the idea of taking my character’s hand as you would a child, and walking with them into the world.
That image stayed with me all through last week, when I sat and scratched my head and stared at the screen, and thought what next? – I reminded myself that my job was to sit down and take the character’s hands and walk with them through their stories. It puts the characters at the centre of the story, which is where I believe they have to be. Plot, someone wrote somewhere, is just the footsteps of characters in the snow.

I had a good week writing last week, but naturally enough I worry about all the work I did: too much action, enough varying of pace, is the story accurately showing what would happen, are the characters remaining true to themselves?
I spent most of my time moving the last chapter earlier into the book. The reason I did this was because it was my first kissing scene, and I was fascinated to find out what would happen next, and it’s a great tip to remember that when I get interested, then my reader will too.
But storylines are difficult things to balance. You adjust one item and it’s like moving a crate across a raft, which immediately is thrown off balance, and it’s a long task to go back to try and rebalance the storyline again.
I think this is the whole novel-writing process: loading your raft and then reorganising it until it sits well enough that you can push it out from the shore and watch it drift away into the distnace and leave it for readers to judge for themselves.

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