Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Write what you know - or write what you like?

One of the received wisdoms that new writers are handed as sage advice is 'Write what you know.' Which is yet another of the seemingly impossible things you are supposed to do, along with figuring out where to put the commas and wrestling a story arc. And it's all very fine, if you have an exciting day job, or home life. But if you are just an ordinary Jill, or Joe? That's hard. But when you think about it, how many of those stories you like to read start with the protagonist at a point of change, very often moving away from the ordinary to something new and scary?

I finally came to the conclusion that, like a lot of advice, you had to moderate it to suit. If you start thinking in terms of what you like, love, are interested in, are prepared to find out about i.e. research, and we all know about writers and research ...

If you are curious, then you can go on the journey with your protagonist. And of course the Internet is a boon - which is one of the reasons you should never look at a writer's browsing history, if they write crime. There's a hint in that too - write what you know - but I don't think that any of my crime writer friends are serial killers in real life. I hope not!!! But they can tap into imagination and emotion. We've probably all had times when we have felt we wanted to murder someone.  Thankfully it usually lasts only a few seconds, but in those seconds it's there. And your imagination does the rest. And all the other human emotions too - love, envy, home-sickness, regret, jealousy, contentment ...

I've reached the conclusion that the mantra needs to be 'Write something that interests you - preferably something that excites you.' And this may not be something from everyday life. As an historian, I should probably be writing historicals, but that's never been what really attracted me.

Except ... I have a new idea, and disconcertingly it is playing into lots of things that I actually know - or think I do. It's not in any danger of being written any time soon, or even ever, but it's always fun to day dream.   

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Which comes first - the cover or the title?

Cover reveals are an important event in the life of a book - the first time it gets to appear on the world's stage. A cover sums up the contents of the book, so it's quite exciting. But I have been wondering lately about the relationship between cover and title. On a paperback book the way it looks on the shelf is probably more important, but with e-books? I know that a cover is meant to look good as a thumb nail - but a thumb nail is a very small area. Can you really make out too much detail, except for the colours? 

And such a lot of covers look rather like each other. Thrillers with a indistinct but colourful background and the title in large letters, often with a strap line as well, or even more than one. The title - words, being the thing that stands out. And all those historicals with an interchangable, partly dressed heroine in a succession of pretty, colourful gowns. It really can be difficult telling one from another.  And the cookery and self help books with the picture of the chef or the guru. And the thrillers that are all about some sort of quest, that have a vaguely historical looking scene, often with the back view of a figure in it. Sometime running. And sagas with a group of girls or a group of children or one child, looking woebegone in period costume. And the drawing of a cottage on a village green for romantic comedy. And snow scenes at Christmas and beach scenes for holiday reading. And we won't mention all those guys who have managed to lose their shirt somewhere along the way. All those covers do their job - they immediately tell you what the genre is - but it seems to me that lately it's the title that makes the difference.  Which is rather gratifying, because a title is words, and books are about words. 

But,of course, the author often doesn't get to choose the title ...