Friday, 16 October 2009

What not to do

Writers must write something that makes readers want to turn the page.

Therefore, plot must be number one in the list of priorities. So if we start with a thorny problem and a sympathetic character, we should be on the right track. The plot must thicken (like a good sauce?), the hero must be hindered in every possible way but triumphs in a surprising way that once you know it, seems inevitable.

Almost every How To Write Book I've ever read says such things. They say it in different ways, but say it they do. So you'd think that by now I wouldn't be writing about a hero, and then bring in his mother, father and three sisters and her cat and have them discuss their lives to date.

I wouldn't drivel on endlessly and get to page 120 without so much as a hint of what the storyline will be once I get around to it.

I won't be writing a prologue where my hero stares at a flower, gazes through of a rain-drop covered window, walks through the long grass and contemplates why his life is not running as it should.

Indeed no. I should know what the chase is, as they say, and cut to it at once. No pages explaining what I want to tell, why the hero is as he is on page one or what terrible history happened to make him the way he is.

So, consider the opening lines of my wip:
Matho Spirston stood at the door of the tiny cottage athwart the hill at Halton and surveyed the countryside with pleasure. Small and poor though the cottage might be, it was a start. He folded his arms, leaned idly against the door jamb in the late sunshine and gazed south. The roof of Aydon Castle, where he had spent so much of his life, was visible above the tree tops beyond the meadows. Further south, the hills of Durham rose like a humped blue quilt across the horizon and somewhere in between, the river Tyne ran unseen west to east through the valley.
This was his territory, where he had reigned as undisputed leader of the gang of children who fought and played together among the scattered farms, cotts and cabins that composed the Aydon Township, and where his father had put him into service with Sir Reynold Carnaby, Lord of Aydon, five years before.
But things had changed since then, and would change further. Both his father and Sir Reynold were dead, one in the Rising of ’37 and his patron last month after a long illness. Then three weeks ago Alina and Lionel Carnaby had stood with Matho at his mother’s graveside.
A warm feeling filled him at the thought of the two elder Carnabys. They were still his friends. On their uncle’s death, most of his holdings went to their father, Cuthbert Carnaby and Lionel now had lordly duties of his own. If Lionel said the cottage belonged to Matho, then no man would question it. It was the least the family could do after he’d helped Harry rescue Alina from the clutches of the reiver Johnny Hogg.
She was married to Harry now. Matho shifted, settled his shoulder comfortably against the wood. One way and another it had been a grand summer, full of life and adventure and all because Harry Wharton turned up in the locality.
Now the dust had settled, the humdrum days threatened to return and Matho sensed boredom creeping into his life. Already he found himself glancing at the horizon several times a day, vaguely hoping for something more exciting than drilling the local farm lads into guard duty around Aydon Castle.
As if he had conjured something out of the air, a small figure rode across the field towards him. Matho squinted against the sun, but no insignia betrayed the identity of the rider. Still, as the distance lessened between them, Matho recognized the familiar set of the wide shoulders and long limbs. A grin stole across his face at the sight of a daft cap with its jaunty ostrich feather curling back in the breeze. He shook his head. Harry was always the lad who liked his fancy clothes.
Matho straightened and strolled forward.

Oh, Lord. I can see the red pen glowing, leaping up and down on my desk. There is work to be done. What would you change, if you were me?

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