Keeping it Real

Clovelly Beach

This time I vow to include only stuff about writing. I kept, in the past, getting carried away about other trivial matters, such as moving house, sea changes and all that. Stick to the plot, Anne, I keep on telling myself. So I might go back over my old stuff and pull out anything to do with the subject at hand: all the struggles of the writerly journey, the dead ends, the false paths, and so on…

An editor at a recent workshop stressed the importance of “keeping it real”, when writing fiction.  I think that that is, at least partly, why I started off on the writing journey with memoir, then fictionalised or creative memoir, and now, at last, graduating to fiction. I felt that non-fiction equated with “realness”, and that I would fall into the prey of artificiality, that my writing would come across as unbelievable (the corollary of the French word ‘vraisemblable’) if  I depended solely on the imagination in writing a novel. I have now come to the realisation that this is not entirely true, since you need to employ fictional or creative techniques in writing non-fiction, too, if you want it to be good or accessible to the reader. So the trick is to keep it real while at the same time employing the literary devices, such as narrative techniques, characterisation, dialogue and imagery.

It is usually obvious to a reader when a writer of fiction is going “over the top” in terms of language, plot or descriptions.  Of course, sometimes this is warranted by the genre or the type of writing, however in general it is best to conjure up the appearance of reality by choice of words. Relying on sensationalism is usually not a good idea. Nor is the overkill of too many adjectives and adverbs.  Our editor friend explained the situation by saying that richness in content is OK, but not wordiness in style. For example, a very painful experience in someone’s life does not become more powerful through the use of many adjectives. It is better to choose one apt or original one, rather than to lay them on thick like jam. So the need to cut and tighten are often paramount when it comes to a writer’s first manuscript. And sometimes it will be a whole paragraph, or a whole scene, that are causing the flab or are wasteful.

Editors and publishers are also looking for honesty and originality. So write about what you know.  If you are uncomfortable, or “haven’t faced up to your demons” it may be better to not go there yet, as you can’t pull back once you have started on a particular pathway.

The session ended on a positive note with the call to list what you know, as you don’t always know what you know.

Many of the ideas here are gleaned from the presentation given to our group by Catherine Hammond, a freelance editor with valuable experience in the publishing area, whose input is always appreciated.

The photos of Sydney Harbour (above) are only slightly air-brushed using Photoshop, which I am trialling at the moment.  If I made too many changes, it would result in something verging on artificial, like the hyperbolical texts referred to above.  I see my creative writing and photography going hand-in-hand, as I enjoy the challenge of improving in both.

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