Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Literary Squatters

The literary world should not be encouraging Squatters to move in before a novel has reached the final draft. Inevitably, the quality of the product will suffer as a result.  Squatters don’t care about the property as much as the owner.  They have no reason to waste time tidying up. Why bother making it spick and span? On the other hand, the owner has dedicated several years of their life to that project. It means a heck of a lot to them to maintain standards and keep the place looking good....

I’ve recently watched two articulate women talking about their novels: one was passionately keen to discuss the writing process while the other didn’t seem to give two hoots.  The latter obviously hadn’t put as much work into her book. It struck me that it might not have even been her idea.  How did I make this judgement?  Well, if her apathy was a sign of her disappointment then she’d appear to be ashamed, apologise and promise to do better next time. However, considering this novel was a runaway success you’d expect her to be proud: enthusiastically talking about the ups and downs, the late nights working through dilemmas, the puzzles she’s had to resolve, the darlings she had to kill. There’s no way she’s spent years agonising over characterisation, concepts and wording.  During the course of the interview, I gathered that she hadn’t done much in the way of research either.

In order to get a sense of what my characters are going through, I’ve become a competent method actress. I’ve been known to bury my head in a threadbare carpet, before slapping myself across the face and crying REAL tears. I not only step into my fictional worlds: I hop, skip, jump, crawl - live and die there.  I can categorically state that I’ll never have a free-falling, tight rope walking, motorcycle stuntman in any of my novels.  But if I did, I’d read a few accounts of what it’s like to perform these stunts and I’d talk to Adrenalin Junkies to put myself into their shoes.

Before The Latter had finished her interview, she was asked about the film based on her novel. A movie! How fantastic! I would be honoured, thrilled, excited. I’d want to make sure the actors are going to put as much effort into portraying my characters as I put into creating them.  However, she didn’t seem to give two hoots. I became convinced that she was exhibiting 'Literary Squatter' traits. She must have taken over someone else's novel. What a cheek! A violation!

I stopped and thought about my accusation. Maybe, nothing excites this woman, but surely, after all that success you'd think she'd be a teeny bit happy? 

It can take years to get your work published. Many of us might not even come close to reaching that goal. The perfect first-draft will almost certainly never be recognised as a work of genius. Not many people in the publishing world will see that novel’s true potential. Only the Writer knows when they’re onto a winner.  By the third draft they’ll have produced well rounded characters and relevant dialogue. At this point, anyone could take that book and turn it into a product worthy of publication. Except, it belongs to the owner - it’s their manuscript. They’ve spent all those years developing the groundwork, putting up the scaffolding, cementing every brick. This has taken them many years to complete. They’ll know their characters more than any non-fictional human being. They’ll have struggled with point of view and tense. They’ll have played around with structure and in many cases they might have infuriatingly ended up right back at square one.  It’s all worth it, because they get to put on the roof and make their property water tight. It’s their job to make the final finishing touches to the interior and landscape the front and the back.  Don’t allow anyone else to take that satisfaction away. Believe me, there are people out there who will kick you out of the way for their own gains. After all the hard work is done, these squatters will saunter down your garden path and put their key in your front door.

You’ve brought several hundred blank pieces of paper to life, not them! You’ve created those places, concepts, characters and plot. It is your job to turn this project into a commercial product. This novel belongs to you. Enjoy those final tweaks - slip in a few more red herrings and finely tune the denouement. You revise the prologue and write the perfect hook. Introduce us to a few more characters and reveal their secrets.  You dug those foundations with your bare hands. You’ve written so many drafts. You know how your characters tick. It’ll be easy for Squatters to get mixed up, confuse concepts, lose their way around a location, forget what day it is - was the sun shining or not? Don't allow them to make a fool out of themselves....

My first novel was prematurely submitted to publishers (for whatever reason), but I’ve just completed the final stage and I’m overjoyed. It’s so rewarding. I can’t wait to get to this part of the novel writing process again. That's why I’m starting another book. By the end of today, I’ll be on a roll. I’m very speedy. I won’t be handing the baton over to anyone else. It'll take many more drafts before I get to that 'fun' bit again, but I’ve got the stamina, the determination to drive this idea forward. I don’t need any interference along the way.  I have my eyes on that final line. I’m looking forward to the sprint finish – that glorious moment is ALL mine!   I have copyright. It is my intellectual property.  Squatters keep out or else we might have to seek an eviction order.....


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