Monday, 16 September 2013

Write tip: don't put your feet on the seat


My return to blogging here and my determination to keep two blogs going simultaneously led to me mis-scheduling one on my other blog last week. Here it is:

My writing tip this week is taken from a long-ago post, but bears (not bares) repeating. It was inspired, as my thoughts so often are, by a train journey.

Please bear in mind that this was a gorgeous evening in Scotland, so I was unsurprised to see something like this:



Or, this (please excuse the flies on the window):



Or, for those of you who appreciate the wonderful engineering of the Forth Rail Bridge, this:



Clearly, I did see those things, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to photograph them. However, it was difficult to see or focus on those views because of this:



These are the feet of a tourist who I think had been doing a lot of walking. (The clue was the blisters, which you can’t see.) The feet are not pleasant, nor are they appropriate things to put on a seat which I might one day have to sit on. They did not enhance my journey at all. They served only the pure self-indulgence of their owner. If you could have seen them as closely as I did, you would have noticed many unpleasant details about them.

Now, I have a reputation for making my many negative travelling experiences tell a story or make a point of vague relevance to my blog. This is no exception. In fact, I have four points to make, all to illustrate an important aspect of writing.
  1. Whereas that woman entirely failed to consider what those around her wanted to see, you should, when writing, think of the story you are telling. If the story does not benefit from something, leave it out. (Or in the case of feet, don’t get them out at all.)
  2. Do not be self-indulgent as a writer: that woman was thinking only of her feet and her own comfort. You do not have that luxury. You have a job to do, and that includes keeping your reader.
  3. Be appropriate. This does not mean that your book may not contain horrible / gruesome / outrageous things, or even bare feet, only that they should only be there when they should be there. That woman was perfectly entitled to remove her shoes, just not there and not then. The art of the writer is to know exactly what word or what detail to reveal and to know how and when.
  4. When you include something inappropriate or ill-considered in your writing, you detract from the surrounding beauty of your language. You wreck the view. Don’t do it.

9 comments:

Jan Jones said...

As ever, Nicola, you make extremely good points in a memorable way. I shall go back to my serial-in-progress and look for feet.

Ali said...

When I read the title of the post, I thought you were going to say you shouldn't write with your feet on your chair, which is what I'm doing at the moment (though it is my chair and I'm wearing clean socks and I wouldn't do it on public transport!).

PS I'd love a garden office like yours - how do you keep it warm?

Nicola Morgan said...

Jan, I'd love to know if you find any!

Ali, delighted to know that you are wearing clean socks, even if it is your own chair :) My garden office is lovely and warm because it's very well-insulated. I have a small electric heater for cold days and I only need to switch that on for five minutes before it's all toasty. When the sun shines through the glass, it's lovely and warm without the heater. Are you even more jealous now?!

Stroppy Author said...

I always write with my feet on the chair, too, Ali. I hope that doesn't mean I'm a bad writer who will never sell any more books. 270A

Wendy's Writing said...

Oh dear, those feet look a lot like mine. I hope this doesn't reflect badly in my writing! I am trying to finish a story and all I can think about now is feet.

Ali said...

I'm very jealous. An old shed with holes and stuffed with garden implements doesn't have the same attraction!

Ailsa Author said...

Thanks for that, Nicola. It was a very timely reminder and I've just taken a whole section out of the prequel to Shaman's Drum which was massively complicated and unnecessarily so. *executes jig*

Philip C James said...

If you had mentioned all this to the owner of the offending articles, you might have learnt some choice new items of dialogue...

Or maybe not ;-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Stroppy and Wendy, I'm sure not.

Ali, I think I'd agree with that, tbh...

Ailsa, hooray!

Philip, indeed. Luckily, I'm too much of a wimp.