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Emma Darwin
I write novels and short fiction and I live in South East London.
Recent Activity
It's a hardy perennial: what makes a book-length act of storytelling count as historical fiction? You'd be surprised at how many different answers there are. Whether a book is historical fiction also depends on whether you're asking as the writer, the reader or the seller of it. So I can't... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at This Itch of Writing
Saturday 29th March was the anniversary of the Battle of Towton: the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. As you may know, my novel A Secret Alchemy is woven from three strands, two of the fifteenth century and one of our own time, so here is a scrap of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2014 at This Itch of Writing
You're welcome, Anne. There are NO principles to apply too rigidly, of course...
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Hi Bob - I take your point, in that we all Tell stuff when we speak all the time. Though of course how we Tell it does depend on who we are, and as you say, anything that's said is Showy of who that character is. The sense I meant, when I said that dialogue is pure show was that because dialogue is given directly on the page, it's essentially action, which the text is transmitting. It just happens to be speech action, if you like, which you're Showing at this point. The bit where you write ' He murmured, "I hate you," ' is essentially the same kind of narrative as the bit where you write: ' He struggled over the gate and crashed into the puddle on the far side. ' Both of them are different from the Telling where you might say: ' He expressed his hatred gently. ' or ' He tried to get away but failed miserably. ' Does that make sense?
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Eli, I think everything needs a bit of Telling on occasions, if only to cover the ground. Otherwise you'd have to do everything in a novel in real time, which would be hopelessly restrictive. Also, when you're writing SF/F, or indeed historical fiction, or anything which happens in a setting which by definition isn't familiar to the reader, you're going to have to make some things clear: you can't assume stuff that you can if you're writing a book in a contemporary world like that of your readers'. And often, a straightforward bit of Telling is so much more effective than elaborately trying to Show...
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Erik, from the bit you've quoted, I think you were correct: these are all events which have already happened, in the past, and so you use past tense to tell that story. Achieved. Visited and sat down, had coffee, discussed ... Writing it in present tense would be wrong: Achieve. Visit and sit down, have coffee, discuss ...
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I think it was John Updike who said that having a writer as your MC was "an aesthetic crime" - I don't know if he was serious and/or having a dig at Philip Roth, say... It's tempting, isn't it - and not just from our own writerly solipsism. It makes our job both easier and more interesting to have an MC who will by definition be observant and articulate and thoughtful... (well, I'd like to think that a writer would be). And, of course, it solves the problem of a first-person narrator, which is the question of WHY this person chooses to tell their story, and then where they're standing, relative to the story they're telling. (If anyone doesn't know what I'm on about, see my Seventeen Questions To Ask Your Novel, in the toolkit). Plus, if you're like me, you just love the layered-ness of having a narrative which plays with the fact of it been a created thing, IYSWIM. We've rather lost the sense of the storyteller, lately, and having a writer as an MC is perhaps a legitimising trick for a generation which is uneasy with external narrators. One possibility is to think about WHY you keep having writers as MCs (and there's a long and honourable history of it - my first thought was Graham Greene's The End of the Affair), and see if there are other ways round it. I haven't done it yet - although A Secret Alchemy is about historical fiction (as well as being partly historical fiction) but in a slightly displaced way: as my agent put it, "Not about writing a book, but about the birth of a novelist"...
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Maria, I haven't seen enough of hte Killing to have spotted that, but it makes lots of sense. It's a real challenge to keep the unfortunatelies both mounting and relevant. We all know the kind of run-of-the-mill story where stray Bad Stuff keeps happening, rather than each one being a surprise but once it's happened clearly being a natural and inevitable product of the overall situation. And the music - interesting variant on the EastEnders' principle...
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I like "writing with teeth" - sometimes it's me who feels like the predator, stalking my characters till they've reached safety, and then pouncing again...
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One of the things I often have to explain when I'm teaching academic writing is that it's important to define any terms you're working with, because if you don't make it clear how you're using them, then the first time anyone says, "But what about...?", the chain of persuasion, which... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2014 at This Itch of Writing
You're welcome, Sophie!
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Well, it's lovely to see you here now!
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2014 on Welcome to my blog at This Itch of Writing
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Haven't seen the new one, but I thought the original was just brilliant. And yes, the turn from Fortunately to Unfortunately is what makes a plot a plot, and actually what makes a story a story, because they shape the journey the character and reader take.
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Dee, you're welcome. Lovely to see you here! And yes, it can actually be fun...
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Yes, I agree. I think "crisis" can - and probably should" be something which has a profound effect on the overall story, and it can be difficult to see how that would apply to each act, each scene; it feels too final. Whereas it's easy to see how - say - in the Jane Bennet example, you can just go on setting them up... Specially useful, perhaps, for the writers who don't really plan much ahead, so they certainly can't think in terms from the beginning of what the crisis might be at the end of the book. Whereas F-UnF can just get you onto the next page... Good luck with the novel!
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Edith, you're welcome. I'm sometimes a bit wary of simple mantras because they too easily become laws ("Sometimes you need Showing, sometimes you need Telling" too easily becomes Show Don't Tell, for instance). But I agree - I found myself, doing this synopsis, thinking simply, "Okay, we need an Unfortunately", and with my imagination focussed like that, up it came!
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You're welcome, Moira. Glad it's useful!
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Lovely to see you here, Suzie. Hope you enjoy the exploring!
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Yes, it's so easy to make that sort of thing happen (or, rather, to fail to make it not happen). And hard to see that you have; there seems to be plenty going on, so why does someone say that things aren't dramatic enough? Only the bastard is usually right! And sometimes the writer's own overview of things is a drawback: we can solve their problems (or make them not get into them in the first place) too easily.
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I've been plotting a novel recently, and one of the things I've done to help myself see if my story really was embodied in my plot (click here for the difference between plot and story), was to write a long, blueprint-like synopsis. And about three-quarters of the sentences in it... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2014 at This Itch of Writing
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Mind you, mostly I don't give a toss about split infinitives - because they never get in the way of the meaning. The things I fuss about do.
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Paul, I'm not sure I agree that the meaning is clear. I did put ones which are obviously wrong, to make the point clear, but some of them could actually happen (the Team Officials one) even if it's unlikely. And I could construct plenty plenty which are ambiguous. Inded, this one: "As a former Mayor of London, I thought it would be great to interview Ken Livingstone." for instance, is ambiguous if you don't know we only actually have one former mayor of London - Ken L. (if you do, it's nonsense) If you'll forgive the London-centric point, it was this: "As a former Lord Mayor of London, I thought it would be interesting to interview Sir David Lewis", it would be wholly ambiguous, because there have been 12 Lord Mayors in the 21st Century alone, (and one a year back to 1350 or something!) so which Lord Mayor is interview this chap Lewis? I think the thing is that even if the ambiguity is too slight for a reader to trip up on the meaning or think "tut, tut, dangling modifier", (or, in the case of the one with the Queen, hoot with laughter and derision) it still blurs the meaning, and so weakens the effect on the reader.
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Yes - sentences build towards the end, effectively. But that assumes that the reader stays with you for that long. Maybe that's another reason for the mis-conception that short sentences are immediate, come to think of it. Writers who can't handle long sentences well - can't build them - duck out of trying. But actually, of course, the stop-start of short sentences is often much less tension-inducing that a long sentence which has time to build to a real climax.
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You're welcome, Carol. Hope it helps!
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Yes, unresponsive things, radios!
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