Friday, 6 February 2009

In Praise of Ms Valentine

I am always on the lookout for interesting blogs by other writers, and I found this one by a lady called Nixy Valentine. Well, in actual fact she found me by leaving a comment on my post.

Quite appropriate for February I thought too. Her blog is an aesthetic masterpiece of red, black and white and is chock full of fascinating, and practical advice for writers who want to get on the publishing bandwagon.

It still amazes me how generous writers are in their wilingness to share their experiences and advice for the benefit of others, where other professions guard their trade secrets with pathological jealousy. There is plenty of good stuff on Ms Valentine's so is definitely worth a look with such gems as:

Be aware of the emotional ride you want to your readers to take. Without ups and downs, a story is stagnant. So be aware, and be prepared to go on a ride along with them. As the saying goes, “No surprise for the writer means no surprise for the reader.“ I’d venture to say that “No heartache/disappointment/thrill/love/obsession/passion” would fit in there just as well.

That paragraph alone got me thinking, mainly to see if I was doing what I was supposed to. I believe I am, but as another part of the article says,
'...many writers won’t delve into their worst thoughts or give those thoughts to their heroes and heroines.' How right she is. A clever lady is Ms Valentine. But how do I move beyond that one when writing is in many ways an escape from life, not a desire to delve into its worst aspects? Or the worst aspects of mine anyway.

Any clues how any of my writing buddies deal with that one?


Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

Oh, thank you for letting us know about this great site! I can't wait to peruse through the genius!

Carol A. Spradling said...

Hi Anita,
This is a very interesting topic. I find it is very important for the writer to hurt their characters. Many times, there are hidden agendas as to why a character acts in the manner he/she does. As the writer, we allow the reader a chance to see inside the character. This creates a closeness to the character that might have never developed otherwise.

Ginger Simpson said...

I test my heroines because I write with strength I may not always have. Where I personally may fail in life, my characters face adversity and survive, learn and grow. I think readers like to see challenges beyond normal expectations. It gives them hope, that no matter the mountain before them, it can be climbed.

Jane Beckenham said...

Hi Anita, these are very valid points, but we as writers must remember we're not writing about OUR lives, but about the life of ficitonal characters but should anything and everything we can to make those real. Life isn't a fairytale, where everything runs smoothly. I once read that when you're creating your hero or heroine, ask them what is the worst thing that could ever happen to them, and then make it happen, make them have to deal with it, react to it, and if they're lucky and you're in a nice mood, fight through it and win.

Happy writing
Jane Beckenham

Nixy Valentine said...

Thank you, Anita, for the kind words! What a lovely surprise!

These are great responses, especially the concept of hurting our characters. I find this especially hard to do. I'm so darned attached to most of them, but you're must be done.

Now I have some things to think about too.

Lisa Yarde said...

Anita, real life is rarely without its challenges and painful moments - why should our fictional characters have it any easier? Hard times test us and can make or break a person. Even though fiction offers an escape, to help readers identify with our characters, sometimes we need to put our heroes and heroines through the worst. A character who hasn't gone his or her defining moments is pretty dull and uninteresting to me. Fortunately most of the historical figures I write about led tragic lives. The fun part is getting into their heads, their motivations for how they handled / mishandled each problem. That's the part that history rarely tells us about.

Thanks for the link to Ms. Valentine's blog.


Anita Davison said...

Some very good points there to mull over and work on, thank you Amy, Carol, Ginger, Jane, Nixy and Lisa. Although I have to admit to being a coward - if the book blurb says the heroine is pulled through devastating loss, betrayal, pain, financial disaster etc, I tend to put it back on the shelf. I'm living it, I don't have to readabout it too! Unless it's historical fiction, then I can bear it a bit more.

Jen Black said...

Yes, I like to think my characters suffer. But they suffer in ways I won't ever have to since people don't wield swords and shields in this day and age. But a broken heart is suffering and fairly universal, don't you think? We've all been through it, unless we have terribly lucky lives.

Carolin said...

Whenever I think that what I intend to put a character through is too nasty, I look at the news, listen to a woman from Kongo or Albania describe what happened to her, or look at a photo of a girl in Afghanistan scarred by acid thrown in her face, or read Zimbardo's latest study (The Lucifer Effect) on what humans are capable of - nowadays just as much as back in history, and I don't have a problem anymore. It's there, it needs to be told, people need to be reminded of what we're willing to do to each other. If it's hard to write, I pour me a glass of wine or bourbon, put on Dvorak's Requiem and get going.

Actually, considering the time period I'm writing about right now, I find it hardest to deal with describing the killing of animals, esp. horses in battle. I'm a critter lover, and it's hard to even imagine the carnage on a battlefield. The horses, mules, and other support critters didn't ask to be there, after all.

Once read "Death in the Afternoon" of Hemingway, and the thing I hated most about it was his callous, contemptuous way of treating the spectators who flinched at the horses being gored by bulls. He described it in a near gleeful, detailed manner. But I never liked the man anyway, neither his attitude nor his writing style.

But there it is - I think characters need to reflect their times and go through whatever is needed to take them to whatever end they come to, whether I've personally experienced it or like it or not. With historical figures, some of it is a given, as Lisa says; it happened, after all. When there are holes in the history, it allows me to come up with plausible scenarios to fill those holes.

Anita Davison said...

I am so with you there Carolin, Men go into war knowing what it's about, but the animals have no choice and no reason to have to face that and it's horrible how they suffer. The fact that all the WWI horses who carried their masters into batle and survived and were then sold for food to save on the expense of shipping them home makes me ashamed. How could they be so callous and unfeeling?

Lisa Yarde said...

I feel the same way. I was watching Braveheart, and for all its poetic license, it's still a good film in my opinion. I wasn't bothered by too many of the brutal killings but for some reason, the scene with the impaled cavalry horses really bothered me.