Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rules of Writing - Graham Masterton - Biggest Aha Moments in Writing

Graham Masterton is a very busy man and a terrific writer. Luckily for us, he has offered up his entire selection of short articles, which he dubs 'Rules of Writing.' Here are a few of those articles, just to wet your appetite:

THE MIRROR METHOD: One of the best tips is to have a mirror on your desk next to your PC. When a character is about to say or do anything, try to duplicate their expression in the mirror. You may find that they do not actually have to say anything ... you simply have to describe how they look. I learned this from Ward Kimball who used to draw Donald Duck cartoons at Disney.

EDITING: Every morning when I start work I read what I've written yesterday and correct it and refine it. Even a change of one word can make an enormous difference to the impact of a scene.

The fine-tuning is all part of the fun. You just have to read what you've written and decide if it flows, if it contributes to the development of the plot and the characters and the general atmosphere ... and wherever it doesn't, alter it. For instance, Harry Erskine has just sat down in a white leather armchair behind a pillar in the lobby of a swish Miami hotel (the Delano) to talk to Amelia on his cell. But I didn't like white leather, I preferred light green leather because it is more unusual and distinctive and lends character to the scene. Cut pillar because we don't really need it. A cocktail waitress in a white designer uniform with gilt buttons comes up while he's talking and asks him if he wants anything from the bar. Cut cocktail because it's redundant. Cut designer because it's obvious in that kind of hotel. Argue about the necessity of gilt buttons (may cut these later, but like the toy-soldier uniform effect). Harry asks for a beer because he's a cheapskate. But then that's too cheap even for him, and he's trying to impress. He asks for a Nagayama Sunset even though it's $18 a hit. But he doesn't want to appear too serious about it, so he asks for a Nagayama Sunset 'but go easy on the nagayamas.'

Think constantly about what helps the story and what hinders it. At all costs avoid interrupting the reader's flow - so don't use unnecessarily obscure words or awkward sentence constructions. But you are allowed to relax with your language. 'She walked around looking as if everything she experienced was like, what?' expression.

IDIOM: Idiom is always one of the greatest challenges when one is writing about characters who live in a different country from one's own. I tend to set my novels in the United States because international audiences are familiar and comfortable with US settings, having seen them so often in movies and TV ... and of course the potential readership is much bigger than, say, the Isle of Wight. Of course there are thousands of different idioms throughout the US. The word 'berm' for instance, for the grassy strip seperating the two carriageways of a highway. In some parts of Philadelphia they don't water their lawns, they 'spritz' them. In Cincinnati they call soda 'pop' ... the same as in Britain. They also call pork 'city chicken.' In some southern states, couches are still called sofas. When I was writing A Terrible Beauty, set in Cork, Ireland, I had my friends at the local pub read all the dialogue to make sure I hadn't made any egregious errors.

LESSON ONE: Don't write, talk, and use your natural voice, as if you were telling the story out loud to a group of friends. If there is a knack to writing it is to tell a story without consciously 'writing' about it. So many amateur writers have a good tale to tell, but are too concerned about making an impression on the page. Forget the fancy similes and the impressive metaphors, just tell it like it is. But do learn your grammar, syntax, spelling, etc, otherwise your amateur status will really show. Just like a motor mechanic's amateur status would show if he or she didn't know how to fix an alternator.

Graham also offers a number of lessons, the first three of which I have posted below.

LESSON TWO: Don't describe, be there. Create a virtual world inside your head with weather, wind, noises, background music, smells and tastes. Forget about your PC ... let it melt and walk through it.

LESSON THREE: Never use cliches (except in dialogue where a character might reasonably be expected to talk in cliches). I recently read a new horror novel by quite a respected writer (well, bits of it, anyway) and he described total darkness by saying 'not even my hand in front of my face ... only darkness in its inky totality.' I mean, please. That's like saying night 'was like a coal-cellar ... only night in its nighty nightness.' Later he says 'a mental alarm bell jangled faintly deep inside my head.' Where else does a mental alarm bell ring except inside your head?

The short lessons and articles posted above are only a few of the articles and advice Graham offers for free, but I did not want to post them all (though Graham offered them all - just the kind of man he is). If you would like to read more, check out his web site here. You won't be sorry.

Graham Masterton is mainly recognized for his horror novels but he has also been a prolific writer of thrillers, disaster novels and historical epics, as well as one of the world’s most influential series of sex instruction books. He became a newspaper reporter at the age of 17 and was appointed editor of Penthouse magazine at only 24. His first horror novel The Manitou was filmed with Tony Curtis playing the lead. Walkers was recently optioned by Jules Stewart for Libertine Films. Last year Graham turned his hand to crime novels and White Bones , set in Ireland, was a Kindle phenomenon, selling over 100,000 copies in a month. This has been followed by Broken Angels. Graham’s horror novels were introduced to Poland in 1989 by his late wife Wiescka and he is now one of the country’s most celebrated authors, winning numerous awards. He is now working on new horror and crime novels, as well as giving lectures on sexual relationships.

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