Saturday, 27 October 2012

If Your Life Was a Novel......

According to the theory of destiny our lives are already mapped out in front of us before we even draw our first breath. People who believe in fate often say that "everything happens for a reason" and that life is about learning lessons and evolving spiritually. When you look at it this way, you could also say that each life has certain themes that are central to it, and which are intrinsic to character development.

 If all of this is true the question has to be asked: Who wrote the story? The obvious answers are God or the higher self. The next question is what type of story is your life? Is it mainly farce, tragedy, comedy, drama, or a mixture of all of these? Is it well-written and coherent with great dialogue and an interesting mix of characters? Or does it meander all over the place with no coherent plot and unlikeable characters? We're all still WIPs, but can you see any particular themes emerging in your existence? What would a reviewer say if they read your life story up to this stage? Would they be enthralled and want to continue, or would they be bored and uninspired?

Why not write your own review of your own unfinished life story to give you an idea if it is on the right track and if you like the direction it's heading in? Obviously you can't go back and rewrite any of it (if only!) but it's never too late to make changes that will lead to a happy ending (ie. a fulfilled and satisfying life.)

Here's my blurb from my own review of Francene Carroll: A Life In Progress

In many ways a conventional story, Francene Carroll does have enough surprising twists and turns to keep it interesting. The overall plot is confused and at times I really wonder where the story is going, but there are also hints of potential yet to be fulfilled. This is what compells me to keep reading even when the main character frustrates and infuriates me with her self-pity, indecision and lack of self-esteem. I really hope she manages to overcome her demons and follow her dreams.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Are You a Plotter, Pantser or Plantser?

Are you the type of writer who likes to have everything planned out in great detail before you set pen to paper and begin writing your novel or story? Do you create detailed character profiles and plot diagrams for every twist and turn well before you have composed the first sentence? Do you already know in advance what your themes are and how your characters will develop over the course of the book? If you answered yes to these questions then you, my friend, are a planner.

On the other hand if you start writing with no clear idea of where your story is going, who your characters are or even what the story it is about then you fall into the category of pantser. You thrive on uncertainty and see writing as a journey which is as exciting for you as it is for the reader. You delight in coming up with connections and ideas on the run and you give your unconscious a lot of leeway to create.
These are the two extremes of the writing world, but my guess is that most writers probably fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, making them plantsers. I'm definitely in the plantser category because I begin with a basic outline for each chapter and an overall idea I want to express, but I don't fill in the details till I actually start writing. Once I begin writing the story and characters change a great deal from my original plan. I believe in giving the unconscious room to play and for me the most satisfying part of writing is seeing connections I hadn't even realised were there, and the plot twists I didn't consider when planning, but which suddenly seem ideal. In a sense, writing is a lot like reading, and if your story doesn't entertain and thrill you as you're composing it, then chances are it won't thrill anyone else either.

I love the term plantser because it really captures the organic process of writing. Just like a plant a story has to begin with a seed planted in the fertile soil of the imagination, and as it begins to grow the roots develop to hold the story together and keep it anchored. Above the soil is the story itself, growing and blossoming in beautiful and often unexpected ways.

Everyone has their own approach to their craft and you have to go with what works for you, but I believe plantsers manage to avoid the pitfalls that come with being a planner or a panser. Planners risk overthinking things and losing spontaneity. Pantsers on the other hand often find that they start out with great enthusiasm but then come to a grinding halt because they don't know how to finish the story. Their characters can come across as superficial because they haven't spent enough time thinking about the motivations and how they will develop. I know this from experience because I have taken a pantser approach with my current WIP and I've found it far more difficult than my previous books. It's not approach I'll be taking again in a hurry.

I've discovered I'm a plantser through and through because this approach combines the best of both worlds. It provides a solid grounding to build on while also allowing the imagination to run free and do its magic. Who could ask for more than this?

What type of writer are you?

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Sound & Fury of Australian Politics

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
  William Shakespeare, Macbeth

I wonder what Shakespeare would make of the current state of politics? As a keen observor of humanity and its foibles he probably wouldn't be surprised at the greed, self-interest and hypocrisy that now dominate the political landscape, but I do believe even he would be shocked at just how juvenile and ridiculous political debate has become.

Scenes in Australian parliament this week demonstrate this point. Discussion has now been reduced to slanging matches over the misogyny of the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott. Recognising that Abbott has a major problem appealing to women voters, Labor has gone all-out with their campaign to portray him as a male-chauvinist pig with attitudes right out of the stone-age.

I have absolutely no doubt there's more than a grain of truth in these accusations, and misogyny is alive in both parliament and wider society. Julia Gillard has been subjected to crude personal attacks and name-calling that male politicians have never had to endure and I  must admitt did get some satisfaction watching her make Abbott squirm.  However, I also believe that this focus on gender and sexism is abeing used by both parties to distract attention from the real issues about the economy and the fact that neither of them can put forward a platform that people will actually support. Rather than acknowledge this, they have to focus on these issues, and that's why parliament has degenerated into childish insults and point-scoring. This article sums it up better than I can.

Those who lauded Gillard for standing up to the bullies have totally missed the point. This article portrays her speech as a "triumph of feminism." Is it also a triumph of feminism to force single parent families onto the dole when the last child turns eight, effectively cutting the income of the most disadvanged families in society, the majority of which are headed by women? There was nothing remotely spontaneous or 'real' about her speech. Every move is carefully orchestrated to hit Abbott in his weak spot with voters and to distract attention away from her support for Peter Slipper, and other important questions. The whole debate is calculated. Gillard is an extremely ruthless politician who will say or do anything to survive, and to see her as some kind of "every woman" finally standing up for herself is ridiculous.

It's not just parliament that has degenerated markedly over the past few years. The media plays a huge role in blowing controversies way out of proportion, and causing people to focus on what is basically a whole lot of hot air while the country goes to hell in a handbasket. I can't believe the number of news reports I've read recently where they quote from Twitter and Facebook. Journalists have taken to scanning through social media sites to find the most offensive comments which they then use to stir up a hornet's nest. I really do despair at the state of the media, politics and society in general, and it can't be denied that all three are in a state of decay.