Crawling from the abyss of hypocrisy: Liberate your inner literary critic

I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Mark Twain

One of the most enjoyable things about learning the discipline of writing is studying those you admire; following the authors who inspire you and whose writing you would walk on fire to be able to emulate. Reading acquires a new dimension as you study their methods, their choice of language and themes, and begin to understand why you love their work.

You might also want to talk about it. Heaping praise on Australian author Tim Winton, at least for me, is easy. I identify with his settings and characters, and I think his prose is magic.

But when may a new writer stand up and level harsh criticism at an ‘acclaimed’ work of fiction with impunity? Which credentials are required? If Mark Twain says he has no right, then who am I to say that I loathed [insert book title from Man Booker prize nominee here]? Who am I to judge? Continue reading “Crawling from the abyss of hypocrisy: Liberate your inner literary critic”

Literary agnosia and the short story

The DrawerWriters of every genre will recognise the scourge of familiarity; the sense of intimacy with your own work which is so great that it renders your powers of objectivity impotent. Does this story work? Have I chosen the right phrasing? What should I cut? The questions keep coming but no one answers.

When I’m working on a piece, particularly a short story in which every paragraph must count for something, I often lose all perspective. And returning to the page every day only seems to make the condition more acute; proximity threatens to destroy creativity, like a magnifying glass burning ants as it concentrates the sun’s rays. The pressure to produce and finish stories leads to unsatisfactory conclusions or improbable characters, and I think that sometimes I’m writing simply because I feel I have to and not because I want to… or can, for that matter.

So what do we do? Continue reading “Literary agnosia and the short story”

Writer’s block… Oh, it’s real

Writer’s block, A.K.A the bogey man

He lurks behind a milk curtain, morse-coding reprimands and insults with my own cursor. Six dots and a jarring ‘Oh!’ (The exclamation mark is implied).

“It’s you again,” he says. “Did you know that your last idea for a plot was terrible? It was worse than terrible. It gave me migraines in my stapes, and I don’t even have stapes. Where are you taking that wretched creature? That ‘character’, as you name him? Preferably somewhere to die. Because that’s where he’s headed if you start typing – right into the grave. He’ll be pushing up digital daisies before bedtime and you’ll be ten thousand words in the red. Just like I told you.” Continue reading “Writer’s block… Oh, it’s real”

Why rejection letters are the new Xanax

14-rules-of-storytellingI was hay making through the chaff in my inbox recently when I stumbled across a curt email from [enter not-so-prominent journal name here] informing me that my piece entitled [enter short story title] had unfortunately been rejected.

I can’t remember my precise reaction – it may have involved scratching my behind, or sucking out the remaining juice from the Tetley bag stranded at the bottom of the teapot – but it went along the lines of, ‘whatever’. Continue reading “Why rejection letters are the new Xanax”

Pixar’s 22 tips for telling a ripping story

There’s a cart-load of advice out there for would-be storysmiths; everything from websites explaining how to go about self-publishing, right down to books that cover the finer points of stringing together an intelligible sentence.

But the most important and fundamental skill of fiction writing, the marrow if you will, is effective story writing. IT’S THE STORY STOOPID! And, at least in my case, it’s the most challenging.

Fortunately, once in a while you come across advice that is so so incisive that you feel inspired (and somewhat relieved) just reading through them.  You think, “Hey, you’ve just summed up in one paragraph what that other book couldn’t do in twelve chapters.” Although they’ve now been out there a good while, the collected tweets of Emma Coats, former storyboard artist at Pixar, is such advice. It’s all the wisdom she has accumulated working on major animated films and it’s essential reading for fiction writers of all persuasions… yes, even short story writers. Continue reading “Pixar’s 22 tips for telling a ripping story”