Thursday, 19 October 2017

Writing - Sage advice

I am not normally a supporter of lists that will help writers to achieve success but when such an accomplished author as Philip Pullman pens such a list it is probably going to be useful.

Image result for philip pullman
Philip Pullman (1946 - )

It is also Pullman's birthday this week. So what does he think makes an author better?

1. Let characters show themselves

It's a mysterious process. Of course, part of me must be making them up. But it doesn't feel like making up - it feels like discovery. 
I don't want to get all mystical about it, but it does feel like discovery rather than invention.
It's a curious business and I'm not at all sure about it, but I don't want to be sure about it really. I like being in a state of doubt. 

2. There are always more stories

After I'd finished His Dark Materials, I had a sense there were more stories there. Lyra's story that I tell in His Dark Materials, that's come to an end, that's finished.
But there are always other stories. At the end of His Dark Materials, Lyra is only 12 years old, and she's going to grow up and she's going to be an adult.
Things are going to happen to her and she's going to make things happen.
And I was curious about that. At the edge of my vision, so to speak, out of the corner of my eye, I could see other characters which I became interested in. 

3. It's normal not to be confident - but don't listen to music

I never think it (my writing) is good. The most I think is, "Well, that will do".
When I'm writing, I'm more conscious of the sound, actually, than the meaning. I know what the rhythm of the sentence is going to be before I know what the words are going to be in it.
That's a very important factor in the way I write. That's why I can't write with music playing. 

4. Tone is more important than structure

I sort of know where things are going - but I don't know the way to get there.
As for not structuring - well, I do. But structure comes later. Structure is sometimes seen as being a fundamental thing. It isn't.
Structure is a superficial thing. What is fundamental in a book is tone, the tone of voice, and to change that is to change every single sentence.
But you can change the structure at the last minute. You can say: "I'll start in the middle", or whatever. The structure is there, but it comes later. 

5. Choose a favourite pen

I use a ballpoint pen and paper, initially. I do that because I know it works - and I've got a lucky pen. It's a Mont Blanc ballpoint. I use it because it's a perfect weight and a perfect size.
And it works. I've written several books with it. I couldn't do without it now. If I lost it, I don't know what I'd do.
So I do that first. Then every chapter or two I put on the computer, because that's the best editing tool ever invented.

6. Write for yourself

When you're writing, you have to please yourself because there's no-one else there initially.
But the book doesn't fully exist until it's been read. The reader is a very important part of the transaction - and people have to read things they want to read.
I'm writing for me - I write for all the "me's" that have been.
From the first me I can remember, the me who first got interested in stories and loved listening to them; to the me who was here at Oxford 50 years ago; to the me who was a school teacher, telling stories to the class. 

Image result for philip pullman the book of dust

The first book in a new new trilogy, The Book of Dust, was published at midnight. Volume 1 is called La Belle Sauvage. While Lyra, from His Dark Materials, is one of the key characters, the action takes place when she is six months old. She is being sheltered by nuns but then 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead steps in to protect her on his canoe, La Belle Sauvage. 

If this new work is half as good as the last it will be excellent.

God Bless