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Monthly Archives: October 2015

I am the first person to admit that I overuse dreams in my novels. I don’t know why – I suppose I think in terms of a story, they make more sense than random bits of exposition or overly obvious and dramatic symbolism. I’m of the school of thought which is it’s only symbolic to your character if, y’know, it means something to them, and if something means something to you, you’ll think about it a lot, right?

Anyway. The point to this is that exposition, and meaningful symbolism, can be super tricky, and it sometimes feels easy to throw in a flashback or just have a character explain something. The problem here is that often, these parts of your story feel bolted on. They aren’t streamlined or decorative – they’re scaffolding with green netting on. And your reader can see it really clearly. It’s the same rule as ‘your characters shouldn’t look in a mirror and describe what they see’ (although I am guilty of this, and I’m trying to argue it out in a particular series as a thread through the books? Ugh, it doesn’t even sound convincing to myself). In fact, every author has done this at some point. You’ll have something really crucial* to say, and no way to say it except for info dump.

*Note I say, really crucial. It’s important for you to be able to determine what is interesting and what is necessary. If you’ve done your worldbuilding and characterisation right, sometimes you’ll know something awesome that you think everyone must know, when in reality, it’s just pretty filler.

I like to utilise dreams and flashback for this. It’s one of the benefits, I’m finding, of first person. It’s far more natural for someone talking in first person to go off on a tangent and explain something than it is for a third person omniscient narrator to just start describing how the sewage system works in the depths of Mars. You can, of course, use dreams and flashback in third person, but it always seems clunky and awkward. Remember, your reader is way more intelligent than you give them credit for, and they can see through badly crafted plot devices. Your exposition needs to feel natural and fluid, in the same way that an action scene does, and it needs all of your skill to work. Don’t assume that just because it’s a flashback or a dream, it doesn’t need nice description. In the same vein, don’t just simile all over it like vomit. It has to sound like part of your story.

I’m currently working with a character who has severe mental health issues, probably something like PTSD. He has voices and flashbacks often of awful things that have happened to him. In terms of his character, it makes sense that he sometimes dreams of terrible memories, or thinks fondly on those that have meaning for him. It’s really nice, weaving these together in tangent with his story and building an atmosphere with these. If you’re playing with flashbacks and dreams, it’s really important that they aren’t sledgehammer/nut and that they help to add something to the plot. Garrick’s memories often jump in when he’s stressed, or anxious. His voices give a terrible insight into how messed up he is. His dreams focus on things he loves, like autumn, and foxes. It helps to give that wistful, nostalgic, fragmented feeling that I feel when I think of Garrick, and which has built him from boy to man.

I find flashback works best if a character has spoken about it to another, or right at the start of a chapter, otherwise, it feels too… bleh. Dreams need to have some sort of thread, rather than being a step-by-step ‘now, reader, this is SIGNIFICANT’, like real dreams are.

But remember, if you stray too long from the main plot, your reader gets lost. Use these things sparingly.

Here’s the second lot of thoughts I’ve recently had about editing, and they centre around the concept of re-reading and accepting your old work.

It’s very easy to hate everything you previously wrote. Myself, I started writing as a child. I know for a fact that many things have happened to me since the age of twelve that are not just about conventional education – I have had experiences and I have read more and I have different ideas and stories. My skill has improved, like any skill you spend years perfecting. My style has changed, slightly (which is always kind of odd – you always think your style sticks, but I’m a much more serious writer of late than I used to be).

The reason why people hate on past work is because all you end up seeing is mistakes. When you re-read, especially something you’re familiar with, it’s easy to scan over the nice bits and obssess on the errors. My old work is littered with tautologies and adverbs that are completely redundant, and I can’t get over some of the naive plots I created. Often, this is where a lot of writers fail. They get so caught up about all of the things that are bad about their work – and forget that there’s potential in there.

Any writing is like a rough gemstone. No diamond comes out perfectly crafted. A master has to hone and chisel it to make it perfect.

These are things you should learn when you re-read.

  1. You’re determined! You finished writing the thing! Good job on seeing it through!
  2. Find one thing you’ve done really well in that story. Are your characters funny? If you laughed out loud, you did well! Comedy is hard. Look at you being funny and all!
  3. Did you cry? Oh man. You’re cold. But hey! You can make people feel emotions! That’s a skill!
  4. Your character’s only barrier this chapter may have been a sandwich, but you know that conflict creates stories! Sandwiches are a start!
  5. Hey, look at that dialogue. Dialogue is a pain. But there’s a section that works really well!
  6. Hmm. You put a lot of backstory in there. At least you focused on making a well-rounded world and characters! Some people find that really horrible.
  7. Yeah, you really hate that bit. You’re better at this now. You can fix this!

Basically, re-reading should be an exercise in congratulating yourself. Lots of people never finish novels, or short stories. If you finished, that’s an achievement. Everything else is polish.