Friday, January 2, 2009

Graham Masterson's guidelines for writing.

I found this treasure on the internet somewhere, and I am a rabid fan of Graham Masterson. I wanted to post them here so I can study them closer every day...Hope any aspiring writers find these helpful.

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.

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?

LESSON FOUR: Be surprising. Use metaphors and similes that nobody has ever thought of before. This requires thought, observation, and a sense of poetic rhythm and above all simpicity. Don't make the metaphor or simile so complicated that the reader is brought to a halt trying to work out what you're saying. I described a pretty but dumb girl as 'a small-town beauty queen who looked as if she had been hit in the head by half a brick.'

LESSON FIVE: Be rhythmic, and sensitive to the balance of your sentences. That's why the study of good poetry is so important. It teaches you how to rearrange a sentence so that it reads more easily and yet emphasizes the words that you want the reader to pick up on. Read some Rupert Brooke:
'In your arms was still delight,
Quiet as a street at night;
And thoughts of you, I do remember,
Were green leaves in a darkened chamber,
Were dark clouds in a moonless sky...'
Hear that brilliant repetition of 'Were'? And at the end of the poem:
'O infinite deep I never knew,
I would come back, come back to you,
Find you, as a pool unstirred,
Kneel down by you and never a word,
Lay down my head, and nothing said,
In your hands, ungarlanded;
And a long watch you would keep;
And I should sleep, and I should sleep!'
Do you see how much emotion is conveyed by those repetitions and re-statements?

LESSON SIX: Do your research and then throw it away. Unless your readership is of the Tom Clancy/Clive Cussler type, who relish reading about 3455 XY-cluster missiles, tell your story secure in the knowledge that you know where it's set and what your characters are like ... give them expertise in what they do ... but then tell the story.

LESSON SEVEN: Give your characters complete consistency. Don't twist their motivations to suit your plot. Even if it gives you a headache, try to think what they would actually do. Writing fiction is acting out a play on your own. As Ivor Cutler said in Turkish Bath Play ... 'You're going to do a play with just yourself?' 'Yes, there are 345 parts and I take all of them.'
I write with only the loosest of outlines since characters take on their own personalities and carry the story into all kinds of unexpected directions. With thrillers like Condor and Ikon I deliberately started writing several disparate plot-lines in order to set myself the challenge of tying them all up at the end. With Outrage, which I finished earlier this year (2003), I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end until the last 25 pages.

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