Cultural references again. Positive stereotypes in your writing

12 05 2014

I talked in a previous blog about the difficulty of finding an innocuous name for your heroine without the baggage of being named for someone famous, someone your readers associate with traits uncommon to your character. Depending on the age and demographic of your readers, Julian could be seen as Clary or Fellowes, Tom could be Cruise or Stoppard, Maria could be playing tennis or singing.
Instead of seeking to avoid falling foul of unwanted associations you do have the option to embrace them instead. Find a big personality, someone everyone knows with unmistakeable mannerisms – then take it to extremes in your writing. Give your character the name Biggins and everyone in the UK has a picture in their head which you can build on. Use Eastwood and you will struggle to distance yourself globally from the hard man of film. So do it! Build a tale around an Eastwood who is struggling against the stereotype but cannot help but slip into character when at parties, to meet girls. The accountant who acts a film star?
If I want a quiet northern girl to blossom in my story perhaps she should be a Miss Horrocks? Victoria W is always telling jokes in her job and seeking a way to perform for a living?
Of course, the difficulty with this is that you may be in danger of being sued if the person you are obviously parodying to extremes is not 1) dead or 2) willing to play along with your libellous words. So, using positive stereotypes may be one only for the braver writer. Perhaps the rest of us should stick with making people up –made from bits and pieces of scores of others, but made up all the same.
If one is a gay comedian or another is a short, religious action hero then it is just a coincidence and any reader wishing to overlay a real person on the loose descriptions I write is welcome to do so. It’s all in their heads anyway!

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Crossing the genre Rubicon

21 09 2013

I write chick-lit and am proud of it! But some people have issues with being typecast into a genre. He only writes westerns, she’s a feminist author, see when his next historic romance is out, M&B weepie etc etc.

Some people get so annoyed with being ‘trapped’ they seek to escape. There are a number of ways of doing this and we can see in the real world that it really works – if you have the skill and talent to get away with it.
• Iain Banks / Iain M Banks – fiction / science fiction
• JK Rowling / Robert Galbraith – fantasy / crime
• Stephen King / Richard Bachman – horror / oh, er, horror

How do they do it though? I am steeped in my genre. I love the ability to hide hard hitting reality under banal conversation and trap readers seeking a sex & shopping moment inside a complex detective story under a chick-lit cover. Chick-lit-dicks satisfy nearly all my needs as a writer because I work at it and make the genre my own.

Crossing into a fantasy world or horror would be a wide river indeed. I would spend my time fearing I was paddling in the Styx rather than the Rubicon. Would all my readers leave me to pay the lonely ferryman as critics pan the attempt to cash in with second-rate output? Or would it be safer to use the pseudonym until it was proved I knew what I was about and could float your boat (perhaps taking the analogy too far?)

Ask a secondary question. Do genres really exist with boundaries we dare not cross?
B*ll*cks to that! I’ll write what I want





Sequel – how many is too many?

30 08 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about sequels. How many can you have? How many stories about the same hero can you write. I think Clive Cussler has over 30 about Dirk Pitt. How about Captain Johns and Biggles, Conan Doyle and Sherlock, Blyton and her five or seven adventurers. Sometimes you have no choice but to write more and more and more.  Doyle tried to kill off Holmes but wasn’t allowed. Wodehouse occasionally bored of Jeeves but had to keep popping back for more.

Some would say I am more semantically discussing series rather than sequels but the dividing line is blurred. Following a single life through multiple adventures seems to me to be a series of sequels but should a sequel follow concurrently to be a sequel rather than a series? Does it ultimately matter? Let us assume for now that it doesn’t. Sequel = series.

So how many is too many? Should the author choose or the readers? The rise of fan fiction would indicate that for some readers there can never be enough. The hero resonates so much in their own lives that they want to take them to new places, given them new experiences. Do I, as an author, own my character, own my heroines? I think I do. Unless I say to the world that their lives are their own for others to develop then I think that I do. Mrs Vintner belongs to me and I do with Penny B what I wish. Or, strong women as they are, I do with them as they wish!

There is no limit on the tales to tell about a hero, a band of brothers, a dynasty, a country. Each links to the other and builds to create a world which your reader wants to live. If you, as a writer, do get bored of it and need a new direction then you can do no worse than to let your creation go. But before you give them into the hands of all and sundry who daily contribute to the slushpiles of creation why not consider the ghost writer, the co-writer – you can’t stop having ideas about the people you created so why not let someone you trust write their lives for you.

Don’t kill off your Holmes, outsource him!





Is too much detail drowning your readers?

24 08 2013

How much imagination do you have? How much should I, as a writer, assume you have? Can you see your way through an allusion to an Egyptian deity or are you stumped by a simple simile or metaphor?

I ask because I am intrigued. I read an action book the other day. Non-stop rollercoaster ride of guns, explosions, capture and miraculous escape, mysteries quickly solved and a handsome, strong, lucky and brilliant hero (with obligatory wise-cracking sidekick). I turned my imagination off and just read and read and read and it was great.

Then I opened the book at random and read a page or two critically. Do I need to know the exact engine specification of the Bentley Continental or just that it is big and black? Does it help me visualise the action? Do I need to exact model of the gun, the specification of the telescopic sight or a comment on the range and capabilities? It was a sniper rifle handled by an expert marksman – they wouldn’t choose a toy cap gun would they?

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. I don’t tend to give too much detail – just enough, I think, to let readers make their own pictures in their minds. Which is the right way to do it? Are my books too hard to read and put people off or are his too easy to read and … put people off?

Each to their own. Each genre has its own requirements. I didn’t think the nameless action book was a literary masterpiece but I did think it was a cracking read.

But I will only read it once!





Try it before you write it?

12 08 2013

Do you need to try something before you write about it? Ask Arthur C Clarke.

A flippant answer but pertinent. Did Mr C go into space, did he meet aliens, did he redraft the laws of physics. No. But should he therefore not have written about it?

We are fiction writers. It’s made up. Of course there will be elements of truth  in all our stories – human’s breathe, walk, live in houses, have sex. A plan will transport you between cities, countries or continents. But I have faith that Egypt is in North Africa even though I’ve never been there. If I had a guide book to hand and access to t’interweb I could probably write you a rollicking chase through the souks of Alexandria. But I’ve not experienced either the chase or the souk.

Did Mrs James have to try all 50-shades before she wrote about them? Does Dan Brown read latin or just have a phase book? Did A A Milne really have a hunny-loving bear telling him his thoughts?

There are areas, even in fiction, where experience is beneficial. A knowledge of anatomy is useful when writing a murder scene. Understanding of police procedure helps set up a detective story. Your first book will probably have more of your knowledge than any subsequent because you will write what you know before you really get into making everything else.

Do you need to try it before you write it? No. But you should know it. Don’t piss off your readers by putting Birmingham at the end of the M23 motorway – unless of course you’ve made a world where it really is!

Why not just make up the fact that you’ve tried it!





Chick-lit-dicks

8 08 2013

It has long been known that chick-lit is not the easy way in to being an author. Admittedly there are some shockingly bad examples which have somehow escaped the slush pile – often in response to a publisher’s need to have something out there “on-trend”. Self-publishing is also home to a number of books that would benefit from a spell-check, an editor’s green pen or a lit match.

However, chick-lit at its best is good. Better than good. It is structured yet creative, offering the reader an escape without forcing them to think too hard or reach for a dictionary. Feeding enough data to spark the imagination without being patronising, and they don’t have to have to lead the reader by the nose to the next set-piece. It’s not all muscles and passionate embraces.

I love the concept of detective stories in the chick-lit arena. Chick-lit-dicks I call my heroines. It is a bit tongue in cheek but it is what they are. Chick-lit detectives, private dicks, brains for hire, crimes to solve, helping people who need it. And if they find the necessary romance along the way? Well, it comes on their own terms and not just because some pecks get flexed or they fall for the “Why Miss B, you’re beautiful under those glasses” line.

Chick-lit, like any genre, needs regular reinvention. It’s not all sex and shopping. My heroines do indulge in both but they also make a difference to the people they meet. Not just chick-lit with a heart, chick-lit with dicks!