Month: March 2010

Thoughts from a Writing Historical Fiction Course

Posted March 21, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Writing / 0 Comments

I just got back from a course on writing Historical Fiction and I got more out of it that I ever expected. Just basic ideas and thoughts are swimming in my head; I thought I will write through what was talked about with some ideas of writing exercises.

Warming Up Before Writing

This is something I’ve never really done but I can see that doing some exercises to get you into the flow of writing would help. Also if you do exercises that will relate to your story then it will defiantly benefit you later. Although the craft of writing is in the rewrite all these exercises are really to help you write your first draft.

Warm Up Exercises

  • Write a descriptive paragraph of a characters favourite food from their childhood
  • Write a descriptive paragraph of a characters favourite song from their childhood

There are more things you can write about as well, for any experience, like owning a pet or driving a car. This is to help you understand the character a bit better and get the creative juices flowing. If you struggle try writing from your own perspective first.

Characters

Well written stories have well written characters. These Characters need to be complex creatures with fears, desires and struggles. Though you may not write about all these things, it’s important to know everything about the character so you know how they will talk, think and feel in certain situations.

Character Building Exercise

Find a picture of person that maybe a character in your book then work out the following

  • Characters Full Name
  • Age
  • Job
  • What they want most in the world
  • What do they fear most in the world

Editing

Self editing is often extremely hard and you often miss a lot of mistakes. So here is a list of ideas to help with editing and things to look for when you edit.

  • Try putting the story away for a few weeks or a month and not look at it, then come back to it
  • When something doesn’t sound right
    • Delete It
    • Make it on the page and come back to it later
    • Re-write it
    • Try reading out aloud
  • Print out your work
  • This way you can see if it too descriptive (too blocky)
  • Not descriptive enough (too much unused space)
  • Look for consistencies
  • If it feels like you are explaining not telling a story (you most likely are)
  • Be willing to delete lovely writing if it has no relevance to the story
  • Be wary of too many agentives or adverbs.
  • If a section isn’t working
  • Try writing from a different perspective
  • Step out of your work, but stay in character (eg. Write the characters journal or a series of letters to people or even put the character in another situation)
  • Don’t be nervous about trashing the whole story and starting again

Research

All books will require some research; it is the foundation of every story.
With any story not just Historical Fiction tries to be accurate with the story; there are plenty of resources out there for this.

  • Textbooks (Not just current ones but textbooks written in those days)
  • Oral History or Even of Diaries (will give you an idea of slang and informal language)
  • Official Records / Newspapers (will give you an idea of the formal language)
  • Academics (There is normally a Thesis on any subject)
  • Historical Societies (normally have good records and good antidotes about life in a particular time)
  • The Internet (Good reference point with a lot of information but not always a reliable source)
  • Field Work (Get a sense of the scenery, how things feel, smell, etc)

Remember it’s the little details that often matter the most in a story. Try to cover a range of sources and don’t be afraid to include little snippets of real text into your story (as long as you check copyrights and reference it). There is a fine line to overloading your story with facts, so don’t be intrusive with the facts.

Research Exercise

Split a page into two columns; the left side write down all the facts you will need to add (eg. What was the weather like, what did people where, etc) and on the other side write some imagery to go with these facts (eg. If the weather was cold and windy, write something like “the wind was like icy knives stabbing at my skin”)

Timelines & Maps

It’s important to make sure your work is consistent, so sometimes its a good idea to make a timeline of relevant world events and then match them up with your characters timeline to make sure they are consistent. You don’t want to make a reference to something that wasn’t around that era (eg. If you character took a train make sure there were trains in the area in that time)
Also make mud maps of the house, the area and surrounding. This way you will know distances, water crossings, old buildings, etc. You don’t want to fall into a trap of mentioning something and then forgetting about it later on. (eg. If someone took 2 days by horse to get somewhere you don’t want another person arriving in only a day.)
If you are writing about a real place, maybe look at Google maps or Google earth, find some maps from that era, just so you understand the surroundings and what’s happening.

Points to Remember

  • Don’t make your novel sound like a series of facts
  • Make the characters feel like real flawed people
  • Hook into the terminology and language used back then (maybe don’t write in old English because people won’t understand it, but use phrases or worlds that remind people it’s set in old English times)
  • Use era appropriate words (eg. Don’t call it a train if it was referred to as a Locomotive back then)
  • Be aware of slang or cursing (check to see what was used back then)
  • Don’t try to tell the reader life was harder or easier back then, just that it was different
  • Leave your own perceptions out of your work
  • Remember the day to day lives of your character
  • Research names commonly used in that era
  • Understand your character and the landscape
  • Just Write – you can rewrite and edit later; just try to get all the thoughts on paper before you lose them. Polishing your work can come at anytime.

Trying to Understand Existentialism

Posted March 14, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Culture, Philosophy / 0 Comments

The Myth of Sisyphus

“The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Albert Camus

Existentialism is an interesting philosophical concept; if God doesn’t exist then life has no point. So if life has no point, we can basically do what ever we want, make our own life worth living.

Existentialist thinkers focus on the question of concrete human existence and the conditions of this existence rather than hypothesizing a human essence, stressing that the human essence is determined through life choices. However, even though the concrete individual existence must have priority in existentialism, certain conditions are commonly held to be “endemic” to human existence.

It is in relation to the concept of the devastating awareness of meaninglessness that Albert Camus claimed that “there is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide” in his The Myth of Sisyphus. Although “prescriptions” against the possibly deleterious consequences of these kinds of encounters vary, from Kierkegaard’s religious “stage” to Camus’ insistence on persevering in spite of absurdity, the concern with helping people avoid living their lives in ways that put them in the perpetual danger of having everything meaningful break down is common to most existentialist philosophers. The possibility of having everything meaningful break down poses a threat of quietism, which is inherently against the existentialist philosophy.

Existentialist thinking makes me wonder about things like;

  • Angst
  • Authenticity or even inauthenticity
  • Despair
  • Facticity
  • Freedom
  • Reason

Where do these fit into the world of Existentialism?


Killing An Arab

Posted March 7, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Philosophy / 0 Comments

The debut single from UK Goth greats; The Cure was Killing An Arab. Robert Smith calls the song a “short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in L’Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus”. The song tells the story of the scene on the beach where the protagonist Meursault shots the Arab attacker. The Stranger (also known as The Outsider) covers philosophical concepts like) absurdism, atheism, determinism, existentialism, nihilism, and stoicism.

One interesting concept in this book and the main reason I want to read it, is the fact that Meursault chooses not to lie. In the afterword Camus stats;

[Meursault] refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler.

The best example of people lying would be the typical conversations

“How have you been?”

“Fine”

The response “Fine” is hardly ever true and is just avoiding the real issues you are going through. But in the same conversation; how many people ask “How have you been?” and not really cared one way or another, just using it as a conversation starter.


Blogging Vs. Writing

Posted March 7, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Writing / 0 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my writing and my blog. The question I’ve been asking myself is;

Does my blogging affect my writing?

It’s true that I haven’t been writing much since I’ve started this blog. I think it really isn’t a bad thing, I believe that I’m beginning to discover more and more things that I need to know. I’ve discovered more about myself and writing while blogging than I thought imaginable. Previously I would write without any preparation; I never worked with character profiles, research, story boards, etc. But now I’ve started to work smarter.

Research is the main lesson learnt for me, so much so I’ve signed up for an interesting writing course; Writing Historical Fiction. Basically it’s all about recreating times, events and places in history accurately and evocatively. Outlining the resources available and methods for researching the details of every-day lives. This workshop will give you a broader knowledge of resources from which to access historical fact, and methodologies for translating that fact into compelling prose.

So I don’t feel guilty that I’m not writing, I feel like I’m learn basic and fundamental tools that will improve my style. I think I’ve learnt more about myself and my writing style in this blog than in just trying to write.

One big advantage is the great community on WordPress.com, I’ve started to find some great minds to bounce ideas off, as well as push me along the way. I know my writing will improve; my editing (hopefully) will improve too. But all in all I’m enjoying learning and sharing what I’ve learnt more than anything else.


The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

Posted March 2, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 0 Comments

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. SalingerTitle: The Catcher In The Rye (Goodreads)
Author: J.D. Salinger
Published: Penguin, 1951
Pages: 241
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

On one hand The Catcher In The Rye was an impressive insight of teenage life. I identified with many of those feelings when I was in high school. I remember feeling alone, annoyed all the time and never feeling like doing anything. In this aspect J. D. Salinger was a master at capturing the feelings of my youth. But on the other hand, Holden Caulfield is the most annoying character I’ve ever read; I’ve wanted to punch him in the face so many times. He just infuriated me and I struggled to read this book because of that fact. On the upside there is a scene where Holden is having a conversation with an old school teacher, Mr. Antolini. The teacher told him that one day, he will discover what he is meant to do with his life, and on that day he will wish he paid attention in school. This is probably the most identifiable scene in the book; I know the feeling of wishing I paid attention and discovering a passion later in life.

Despite all the Controversy I really want to know why this book is always assigned to students in school. A book about teenage angst and dropping out of school; is that something you want students to learn about? High School Teacher who was involved in the controversy in America Shelley Keller-Gage stated; “[They] are being just like Holden . . . They are trying to be catchers in the rye.”


The Layers of Hell

Posted March 2, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Culture / 0 Comments

I was playing a game on Xbox called Dante’s Inferno, when I got to the 8th layer of hell….hang on a second I was under the impression there was only seven layers. So after a bit of research, I realised that I was wrong, there really are nine layers of hell (according to the epic poem Inferno by Dante).

This led me to ask a few people ‘how many layers of hell are there.’ Consistently I got the answer seven. So why do people think there are only seven layers and not nine like in Dante’s Inferno?

The only explanation that seemed plausible is the fact that there are seven deadly sins, one layer for each sin.

If you know of any other reasons please let me know.