Tuesday, 27 January 2009

'Describe the iPod'

I had a review on Youwriteon recently of Catch a Falling Star. Among other advice was the terse instruction, 'Describe the iPod.'

Presumably my critic wanted me to say something like, 'He fished the tiny audio device, not much larger than a Christmas postage stamp, from his pocket, admiring its sleek silver lines, and fitted the white earphones into his ears'. But it seemed to me that if a reader hadn't come across something as ubiquitous and universal as an iPod, then frankly he should not waste his time reading further, as he would not be getting any of the cultural references in the book and would find the whole thing mystifying.

I have to admit, though, that it's one of the trickiest things in writing; what to put in and what to leave out. I'm still working on that one.

Monday, 26 January 2009

A stiff upper lip and bladder control, please

I can't be certain who started it, but my money is on Graham Greene in The Comedians in 1966. In that novel, it's an effective means of conveying just how terrifying Papa Doc's secret police, the Tonton Macoute were.

I'm talking about the hero of a novel wetting his pants under extreme stress and fear.

The same unfortunate accident happens to Tom in the excellent book Mortal Engines, when Shrike appears. But now it seems to be a routine occurrence in every other unpublished thriller that I read on Authonomy (and I've read the start of at least one novel each day since May 2008). I can't believe it's written from personal experience. I think writers are seeing it in other people's books, and thinking, ooh, that's a gritty way of demonstrating the fix my hero is in. It's become a bit of a cliché.

So the point of this post is to urge all modern heroes to pull themselves together, get a grip, and stop being big girls' blouses. It's not attractive to have a hero behave like a toddler.

You wouldn't catch Bulldog Drummond damp around the trousers.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

No good being right if everyone thinks you're wrong... fiction at any rate.

At the start of Catch a Falling Star Caz, faced with a stranger on her roof, wishes she was a black belt in Jitsu. Several readers on Authonomy have tried to correct me - surely I mean Ju Jitsu? Haven't I got it wrong?

Actually, no; and I know a bit about it as my daughter is a green belt in Jitsu. It's one of the more usefully aggressive martial arts. When you reach a certain level, being pounced on by three muggers with knives holds no terrors for you, because you can deal with them. But I have wondered whether I should give in to general ignorance and change it.

My friend Cat had something similar in her book Echoes of the Sword's Song. Anna, her heroine, fleeing from an invading force led by Slayer Redblood (my favourite character, who thinks of his achievements, 'Not bad for the son of a whore') rushes to saddle her horse, but pauses to brush dust off his back first. I said, did it matter at such a time if he was a bit dusty?

And the answer is yes. If dust and debris is left between a horse's back and his saddle, it will make his back sore.

This sort of thing, where the writer knows more than the reader, crops up all the time on the writers' sites I frequent. And I still don't know whether it's dumbing down to change little-known facts, or a necessary accommodation to the reader.