Character and dialogue and Stephen King

I've been reading Stephen King (one of the best selling crime writers in the world) in his book On Writing and his thoughts on character and dialogue.  He has some strong opinions.  He does not believe you should describe people's clothes or appearance too much.  Rather you should leave it to the imagination of the reader, a few broad brushstrokes - not every spot and pimple. He gives examples and I can see his point clearly.  He creates a scene - a dark bar, throws in a few people - you don't want the story held up by long descriptions of those characters - they are there to paint the scene, create the atmosphere, perhaps they'll be part of the plot, perhaps not, we don't know yet.

So as I'm sitting here in my local café, drinking my green tea I thought I'd try a bit of character description about a few people passing the window or sitting at the bus stop.  You can tell me if the character appears lifelike or not. It's been snowing on this April day, so everyone is wrapped up to the eyeballs - it should be Spring, the blossoms are on the trees and we're all sick to death of our winter clothes. 

Quite a few people are passing up and down the pavement and it's actually quite difficult to describe them without a situation to put them into. Which is exactly what Stephen King was saying - when he writes a new book, he starts with a situation and a couple of characters in that situation.  He says then he's like an archaeologist with a small trowel, digging and releasing bits of the story and he often has no idea how it's going to end.  The characters and how they handle the situations develop a life of their own and he says that often the ending surprises him, he didn't see it coming. So for all those how-to-write books or those who like to plan everything in advance - chew on that!  STEPHEN KING DOES NOT PLAN HOW HIS BOOKS TURN OUT.  HE DOES NOT SIT DOWN AND WRITE OUT A FRAMEWORK AND A PLOT before he starts writing a book.  Writing a book is not about planning and following a prepared design or formula.

There's a woman leaning against the outside glass next to me, she has limp blonde hair, the corners of her mouth are drawn down, she's wearing (you see I DO want to describe her clothes) bright pink and black patterned leggings and a thick long grey woven coat.  She has two bags of shopping and  is smoking a thin rolled cigarette. She has the look of someone who's got a lot to think about.

Now if you were a novel writer where would you place her in your story?  And although I see Stephen King's point about leaving much of the description to the reader's imagination, maybe it's an author gender difference but I like some clothes description.  Those bright black and pink leggings were a bit of a statement weren't they?  They say, this woman is not shy and retiring, she's got the confidence to wear striking patterns and colours. And leaning against the café window having a fag - that's a statement too - I'm tired and I don't care what you think, I've had a difficult day.  And when I get home I'm going to pour myself a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and throw a steak under the grill and damn the lot of you.

Actually can you see what's happening here - Stephen King's right, my little silver trowel is already beginning to dig around and to weave a story around the woman in her pink and black leggings.  I was just thinking, what situation shall I put her in - but that's the wrong way round for Stephen King - he starts with the situation, then the characters.  Still the woman is beginning to inhabit my mental landscape, there is a story forming around her.

A short story I wrote before, came about when I was given a postcard at a writer's workshop - it was a photo of a young girl in a winter coat with a large star of David attached to the front of the coat.  A Jewish kid from the ghetto before World War II.  A whole 5000 word story emerged from seeing her on that postcard. She and her story came alive in my mind, it wanted to get out, it had to be told.

The thing is, although Stephen King's words echo in my head and he's certainly got me reflecting, he's writing about his own writing processes (which is useful to hear about), but we all have different ways to create on that blank page in front of us.  From what I've read in his book so far I think Mr King would probably agree with me.  He's not writing a rule book for writers, rather he's musing about his own (and other writers he follows) writing processes and trying to delve into how it all works.  And I thank him for that. Now about that woman in the black and pink leggings ... who's she going home to?  Where's my silver trowel?

An invitation to a book signing in N8 and Prevarication .... how to wallow in it...

An Invitation

On Saturday 23rd April 2016 -

a talk and book signing.

at Hornsey /Crouch End Library at 3 pm. 

Missed my book launch ? Come to this event

Prevarication and why you should wallow in it ...

If there's one thing I'm good at above all else  ...I'm also good at justifying why I prevaricate. My mind is dead sneaky at ducking and diving to avoid starting (or finishing) ANY project, particularly any WRITING project until I'm at the razor wire edge of the deadline.  The thing to remember is that quite often while you're doing all the displacement, prevarication your brain (well mine anyway)is working over-time, processing, cooking, developing, perfecting what it's about to create.

So if you're at home,  do whatever you need to do - I know I absolutely HAVE to wipe the kitchen surfaces before I can sit down and write.  When it comes to - OK I have to stop doing all this stuff, - I take myself off to the library, the cafe wherever, where there's no cleaning, cooking, sorting, tidying to distract me. . 

Of course even when you're out, prevarication can get in the way all the time too.  Take the British Library. Yesterday.  First as the place is rammed with students preparing for exams etc on the outer bits, all the desks taken up, I decide to go to the reading rooms - lots of room there.  Down to the basement, take everything out of rucksack and put in clear plastic bag, then find a locker to put stuff in, then find a pound coin, then go back up to the third floor reading rooms. Half an hour. Then deal with texts, emails, Facebook - half an hour.  Work through list for 2 hours.  Tick, tick, tick. going through the to do list.  Getting there. 

Take a break for a snack and a drink.  Have to go outside the reading room and in the corridors for that. Get back in and its 4:45 pm. I'll work until 7 pm. Good. The girl next to me says-  you know the reading room's shutting at 5 pm? (No...) Yes the library is open until 8 pm, but not in here..  So much for that plan.[ Later found out it's only one of the reading rooms that shuts early.]

Back to the list.  So 5 hours work is reduced to 3 in total.  That's a good day.

Some days I can spend all day prevaricating.  Some people think that when/if they stop the 9-5, finally retire whatever, they'll have all this free time for writing. Yeh. I wish. The days fly past.  Something that you think will take a day takes a week.  Something that should take an hour, takes up a day.  You don't have to rush in the morning, you take longer to get going, watch the news, Heir Hunters, Home Improvement, check Facebook, shower, make a late breakfast.  Suddenly, it's midday and you won't get out to the library until 2 pm.

You see prevarication runs you, well ok me then.  The world is full of stuff to do, distractions. And I’m more than willing to follow their leads. But I still maintain it’s all part of my creative process. I must get past the prevarication sometime....

How many books have YOU finished and published after all?

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Feedback from my memoir course - a testimonial

I feel a lot more hopeful and inspired after reading about your journey ......I found your course really helpful for starting to grapple with these questions (eg. how to write about living people without breaking the social secret code) and actually going forward in some way. I hope it will be possible to join another group with you in future, if you do decide to do one...And I'll let you know how I get on with the memoir. SC

New memoir course starts today April 7th at 6:30 pm Blend Cafe, Green Lanes, N4

When the ocean surges ...

When the ocean surges,
don't let me just hear it.
Let it splash inside my chest!                                

I returned to London after two days away, right in the eye of Storm Katie(on the night of Easter Sunday) on the West Sussex downs, near Shoreham.  The howling and shrieking  storm was so wild where we were, on the top of a hill,  that at c. 2:30 a.m. a strip of amalgamated metal about 8 foot long and 3 foot wide was ripped from the roof right above our heads.  As I had no idea that is what had happened(until the following morning) and as it now quietened down, I immediately fell fast asleep in spite of continuous winds, driving rain, and slept soundly until 8 a.m.

Someone asked me if it was scary, that storm.  The answer is no not really, it was exciting and quite dramatic.  I was quite safe, staying in a warm hostel, no leakages occurred in spite of the missing roof panel.  Not like the awful damage the flooding caused recently to people's homes.  It was brought home to me by a poor woman probably my age ish, being interviewed by some news channel about the damage to her home as she was being evacuated.  The ground floor of her house, with all her cosy things in it was under 2 foot of water - dirty, smelly water at that.  Suddenly her face crumpled and she started to cry. and all at once it turned from a piece of news broadcasting, that one views dispassionately, to real life and the effect on a real person and the suffering caused by a terrible storm. That poor woman's plight brought tears to my eyes.

Later I drove  with a girl called Edna, down to the beach.  I was brought up in Swansea and have always been happiest where I have regular access to the sea.  I love the sea on a wild day - great breakers smashing on the rocks and spray rising high into the air - the drama of it.  Edna went off walking on the beach and I sat close to the water on a rock, safely above the incoming surges and watched the breakers rolling in and then sucking out - a long drawn out gravelly sound, repeated over and over, a soothing rhythmic sound, like a chant.

Rumi's ocean metaphor stands for being a full-on participant in life, not just an observer.  I hope that at the end of my life (whenever that may be), looking back I will feel able to say that I  'let it splash in my chest'.

You want to Write Memoir?  New Course starts April 7th 2016.  6;30 pm. North London
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