Thursday, 15 January 2015

Learning to Read.

A few weeks ago on Facebook, I declared that 2015 would be a year of writing for me. In short, this meant that I wanted to finally find my muse and get some work done on my half a dozen works-in-progress that are sitting, rotting on my hard drive. And truth be told, I'm still living the fantasy where I think I'm going to get a ton done this year, even though I've yet to write a solid five hundred words. 

But just because I haven't managed to write anything substantial this year does not mean that I'm not getting work done. 

It's January fifteen, and I've got three books read. Each one of them has taught me something - lessons that I had previously learned but lost sight of. 

On Self-Publishing
The first thing I read was a novel self-published by a customer of mine, which I am not going to name. Said customer came into my workplace with his book proudly displayed on his shirt, we got to talking about it, and I promised that I would read it. Now that I have, it has reminded me of an article that I read at some point while I was a teenager. An article about why self-publishing could be a bad idea. 

For the life of me, I can't remember where I read this article or who wrote it, but what I do remember is this: it declared that self-publishing your work could come back to bite you in the ass, especially if you want to be traditionally published. Because if publishing houses are rejecting your manuscript, they will usually have a good reason for it. 

This book had some very good things going for it - characters with detailed backgrounds, a world the author has obviously though out quite well. From the summary alone it became apparent that the novel was a dystopian, but it would appeal more to fans of Brave New World as opposed to The Hunger Games. Regardless, this point had me excited, because I love dystopian fiction. 

But despite all of the good points, I soon grew weary and wished I didn't have an if you start it, you must finish it attitude. There is a long list of complaints that I could make about this novel - from the pages being littered with grammatical errors to the story taking way too long to get to the point - but I want to focus on the topic at hand. And that is, why self-publishing can be a bad idea.

I feel like if this author ever wanted to go down the traditional route, having this eBook to his name is going to be a hindrance.

I know a ton of people who have done self-publishing the right way - by editing and re-editing their novels, by hiring an editor and/or having several people look over their work. To me, reading that novel was like going back and reading something I wrote ten years ago - and it made me glad that I never self-published anything, because I wouldn't have hired an editor either. 

But reading the novel has also reminded me that editors are important, and that novels need to be edited again and again. And that's a lesson I need to remember.

On Character Voice
This afternoon I finished reading Jenny Valentish's debut, Cherry Bomb. It's a novel I've been excited to read ever since I read the blurb in Kmart one Saturday, and the novel definitely lived up to my expectations. And then it went beyond. 

Before I get into my main point, I think it's also worth mentioning that Valentish's writing style reminded me that there is no one, set way to write. My words don't have to be pretty and lyrical; they don't have to be foreign. I find the latter has always been a problem for me. Writing Harry Potter fan fiction may have meant writing Australian English, but I was trying hard to sound British. Writing band fiction centred around American bands has meant I often switch "Mum" for "Mom", which I find useful if I have American characters, but not so great when I'm trying to write an Australian. 

I loved her writing style - harsh and Australian as it was - and it inspired me. 

That being said, her writing style leads to my next point. The voice of her protagonist, Nina Dall, is probably the strongest that I have ever read. Ever. And it made me painfully aware of how all of my characters tend to sound the same. Even when I switch between stories - my protagonists always seem to be the same person with a different name. Likewise with the people in their lives. 

This book was a lesson in characterisation for me, and how I need to focus on giving my characters more personality. Or rather, how I need to let them take over and let their personalities shine through. 

On Themes and Morals
After I finished Cherry Bomb, I turned my attention to the only published Harry Potter work that I hadn't read: The Tales of Beedle the Bard. For those who don't know, this was essentially a book of five short fairytales. And we all know what fairytales are for, right? They have morals. They teach us lessons. 

For me, it was about recognising the themes. Themes have been a big thing for me lately, ever since I realised that plotting them out beforehand actually helps with my work. This is what I did for Lost, and it's still my favourite thing ever. So I guess this is a little experiment for me to see if it helps with my writing.

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