Monday, May 3, 2010

Biorhythyms and back-stories

The last couple of days have got me thinking about the way I write. 

The thing that's really got me thinking about this is word count, that dreaded measure of how well (or otherwise) a story's going.  I seem to be flowing along quite well at the moment by that one metric, but like all statistics, within lies another story.  My usual writing day goes something like this:

0830 - pack the kids off to school, fire up the laptop, and make a cup of tea.  Open the current file, wonder about where to start today.  Check my email, then the weather, then the news.  Then my email again.

0900 - finally get down to actually working.  The first hour always feels like swimming though concrete, until at:

1000 (ish) - review what I've done so far.  This is usually pathetic.  Get depressed, eat biscuits, drink more tea.  Go away and do something else for twenty minutes.

1030 - Come back and sit down, telling myself not to worry about it, and that what I'm looking for is just over there, somewhere - and I'll find it if I keep looking.  This is usually - 75% of the time - my most productive hour of the day.  AT about 1130 my body starts telling me it's time for lunch, time to walk the dog, time to leave it alone for an hour - after which I'll come back to it with renewed vigour.

1300 - come back to it, have another great 30 minutes, and then quickly tire.

After that I usually wind up doing my writerly housekeeping - backing up files, checking email, thinking about blogging. 

What's strange is that these rhythms seem to be set in stone.  Occasionally I manage to break the cycle, but it usually involves more coffee than I'm entirely comfortable drinking in one hit, and is subsequently disrupted by my needing to piss every five minutes and / or my bouncing off the ceiling.  I'm wondering if by challenging myself in the times that I write - I might find myself producing something different to what I would have done otherwise.  What might I produce, for example, if I got up at three in the morning?  Next time I see that on the clock, I just might find out.

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Another thing I've been thinking about today is back-stories, and specifically within the thriller genre, how we introduce and develop them.  The primary duty of a thriller writer, I reckon, is to keep the pages turning, the suspense high.  That precludes long, languishing expository passages, so we've got to fill in the detail in other ways.  This poses problems.

If you're moving the action on, chances are that before sooner or later, some twist in the plot is going to depend on where your character's coming from.  Where are you going to put that in?

You could drip-drip it in.  But then, your reader finds out in chapter ten that Merv has a mustache like a walrus, when all along they've imagined him to be a clean-shaven silky boy.  If they're having to re-imagine - every time they do that, you lose them a little. 

Is there an answer?  I don't know.  Personally, I'd say that it's just "music" - you have to listen again, to your writerly inner ear, and recognise when you need a cup of tea, a walk with the dog, a struggle with a rusty bolt: whatever cures tone-deafness for you...


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