16 July, 2010

Writing Your Story

In our last lesson we talked about the beginning and the importance of capturing the reader’s interest right from the start. However, many writers are guilty of starting their stories with a great hook that captures a reader’s interest, and then everything goes south from there. I’ve heard quite a few editors say this. While a catchy first line is great, a writer must ensure the hook works for the story lest s/he fall into the category of rejected manuscripts mentioned above.

Let’s move on from the beginning, because no matter how great the beginning is, it will only take you so far. It is what come after that will hold the reader’s interest.

The objective of this post isn’t to tell anyone how to write, but to provide tools and guidance that should help writers develop their stories.

Just because we write fiction doesn’t mean is shouldn’t be stemmed in reality. If your story is set in 1980s Africa, there can’t be mobile phones or emails. In many cases, even landlines, which were available during that period, are going to be unrealistic. How many times have you watched a movie and noticed something that is so unrealistic you wonder what they were thinking? West African movies are the worst offenders. It is so easy to spot holes in plotlines of movies that didn’t benefit from good research. Editors have even keener eyes for manuscripts that didn’t benefit from research.

Every genre requires some amount of research, even if it is simply finding the perfect names for your characters or finding out what the rich and famous drink. In some genres like contemporary romance, a writer can get away with relatively little research. However, there are some others (like suspense, crime, fantasy, historicals … to name a few) that need extensive research. My favourite novel, A Man Cannot Cry by Gloria Keverne took 20 years to research!

If you want to be a serious writer, you can’t be lazy about research; there are no short cuts. 

Content and Chapter development
Every chapter must have a purpose. Do not waste the reader’s time by including scenes that add nothing to the story, no matter how beautifully written they are. If it doesn’t advance the plot, it shouldn’t be in the story. 

In music, pacing refers to the speed at which a composition is to be played. In writing it refers to the speed at this which the plot unfolds. I'd modify this to say: pacing is the speed at which the plot 'appears' to be unfolding relative to the genre. Action and suspense do best when everything seems to be moving fast. A good writer is one who can reveal just enough to keep the reader informed and yet feel like s/he is in a race against time. In romance, you and other softer genres, a writer should make certain not to drag the story. Finding the right balance is something a writer must constantly be concious of.

I dare say, we've all read books that made us pause to admire the sheer beauty of the author's words. That's the power of imagery--the ability to form mental images of things or events. Some words are more descriptive, or more visual, than others. Make use of them.

End your chapter on a promise
Hooks aren't just for the beginning of the story or chapter. A good place to leave a hook is at the end of a chapter. That's what an editor I once talked to said. The end of a chapter is usually a good place to stop pause on reading a book. As writers, we all want to know our books are 'un-put-down-able'. An end-of-chapter hook ensures that the reader goes to the next chapter instead of putting the book down.

I'm trying to keep posts short, so I'll end here. In my next post, I'll continue with more of these, as well as some Dos and DONTs. I'll be looking for examples to go with the it.


13 July, 2010

Prempeh II and the Making of Modern Asante by Mary A. Seiwaa Owusu

There are few who'll argue the fact that there isn't enough literature on West Africa. My main concern, as I've mentioned several times before, is fiction (which reminds me - my next post will be an update on the semi-finalists of the Penguin Prize for African Writing competition).

However, this post is about non-fiction. I was recently introduced to a book titled: Prempeh II and the Making of Modern Asante by Mary A. Seiwaa Owusu. I've started reading it (having finished) and right from the beginning--perhaps because I am Asante--I found it fascinating. It is insightful and educative, but more than that, it is readable. The author's writing style makes the content easy to grasp unlike many non-fiction books (particularly those with historical accounts).

The book traces the life of Asantehene Nana Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, the history of Asante from 1892 to 1970. The author examines the relationship between Asante and the British, its neighbours and the various governments of the Gold Coast and Ghana up to 1970. She also examines the relationship between the king and his subjects.

The book isn't currently available on Amazon, but I will try to find out where people living outside Ghana can get copies to buy.

If you've read the book (or do in the future) and wish to post a review, please feel free to do so right here. If you've already posted a review in your own blog or website, give us a link.