Where am I?
Over the years I have often read in books about writing: ‘Write what you know.’ Sound advice, something I’ve done on frequent occasions.
Drawing on your own life experiences can be a very powerful tool to enhance one’s writing. Sharing the familiar can ensure the integrity of your writing. It is, in a way, being true to yourself.
Drawing on what you know is an important consideration when writing a novel, for it will often determine the setting of your story. I usually set my stories and novels in Australia, and specifically South Australia. This is the part of the world I know best. It is the setting with which I feel most comfortable because I know it so well.
The importance of setting
What if you decide to write a story set in another country? Or another period of time? Or on another planet?
That was the dilemma facing me when I started out writing my current WIP, a novel for children set in Nepal. Sure, I had some knowledge of the country, but visiting as a tourist for four weeks is a far cry from being born and living all your life there. It can be even quite divorced from the impressions and experiences of someone who has lived and worked in that country for some years.
As a result of my problem, it was crucial that I either abandon the project or set to and do some thorough research. The concept of a young boy caught in the midst of a civil war would not go away. Stories have a habit of doing that. Layered upon that idea was the friendship he develops with an Australian expatriot boy whose father is working in Nepal.
I have no idea what it is like to live in another country. I have had to draw deep on being resourceful. I am rapidly devouring a series of books written by expatriate Australians, Canadians and Americans (among others) who have lived a significant portion of their lives in Nepal, and especially rural parts of the country. This has been a revelation to me, and I am fearful that the research will take over and prove more enjoyable than the writing of the novel.
It’s something I must guard against.
It’s a fascinating journey on which I’ve embarked.
I am writing a novel.
I need to clarify that statement: I have been thinking about writing a novel. The time for thinking is over. I urgently need to start some serious planning and writing. The pressure is really on, because I have to present the first chapter – or a part of a chapter – at a seminar next week.
Let me back-track a little. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am half way through my Master of Arts in Creative Writing course. So far I’ve been very successful, completing all the assignments and gaining distinctions (or higher) for every one of them. It was hard work, but the writing has been very satisfying. My skills have developed way beyond what I had hoped for, and I’ve produced many pleasing pieces of writing.
I have one unit of study to complete. It’s called Editing and Publishing for Writers, a very practical course aimed at both editing one’s writing and preparing work for publication. The balance of my studies this year will focus on my thesis paper. This will be a 40,000 word novel.
What should I write about?
This is a question that has plagued writers ever since the first stylus was picked up to scratch on a clay tablet in ancient Sumaria. I wasn’t there at the time, so I’m not sure what they wrote about. In varying degrees of perplexity, many writers have always struggled to come up story ideas.
It makes it so much easier if you know the plot line before you start writing. You know – beginning, middle and ending – that sort of thing. Not to forget twists and turns, problems to overcome, births, deaths, marriages, murders and the inevitable taxes.
It also helps to know your characters. Boy or girl, adults, animals, creatures, monsters or aliens: they’ve all been used before and will presumably be used many times more for many years to come.
Finally, it is essential that you are quite clear in your head where and when the story is set. Will it be in a city or a rural setting? Will it be a place near you or far away, perhaps in another country or even another world? Will the story be set in the present time, the distant past or even the future?
Decisions, decisions, decisions
The writer has to make so many decisions when starting to write a short story or novel. These choices are essential in the planning stages and they need to be reviewed constantly while the work is in progress. That is what I will be doing during the coming months.
I will get by with little help from my readers:
This blog will become a journey through the writing of my novel. I plan to write frequently about the process and the decisions I make. I invite reader’s comments as we go; in fact, you can all help me in the process. I will need all the help I can get.