Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back to basics

One of the reasons why I give up with some books or films is that it's become clear that the plot has been completely defenestrated in favor of some gadgetry or other device. Now, I'm not necessarily talking about sci-fi films and laser guns or teleporters here; the same applies just as well to a romance where the star-struck lovers are forced apart and the author's got bogged down with details about the location.

This is a follow-up to a blog piece that I wrote a few weeks back called 'Less is More' so I don't want to cover the same ground with this one.

What I'm saying here is that it's good discipline every now and again to go back to the basics of writing and scribble a short story where it's just two or three characters and one location. Limit yourself to 1,000 to 2,000 words and keep away from technology of just about any sort.

I remember reading much the same thing in a photography book years ago. Everyone was buying the (then) new telephoto zooms, macros and wide-angle lenses which had become relatively affordable. Not only that, it was hard to find a single shot in a glossy magazine that hadn't been through at least one filter of some sort. The article that caught my eye told of how its writer (a famous photographer) had, contrary to his normal habit of carting around a full kitbag of lenses, gone out on a shoot armed with just a standard lens and no gimmickry. The pictures that he'd taken were stunning.

Why? The answer's because he had to concentrate extra hard on composition; on the subject, its relationship with its surroundings, and the message he wanted to convey.

Writing a story is no different to taking photos. You're trying to recreate a vision, an interaction between your characters in a setting of your choice. If you get carried away with all the bells and whistles, it's so easy to lose sight of where your writing’s going. By sticking to just a simple story and no possibility for getting tied up with any of the thousand-and-one possible distractions, your writing will improve immensely.

What sort of short story you choose is entirely up to you. Personally, I'm a sucker for twist-in-the-tail stories (and, yes, I know some people write 'tale' but my twists are in the 'tail' hence my preferred spelling of the word,) however any simple story that has a clear beginning and ending will do. Not only should you restrict yourself as to characterization and word count, you should also try to write the story at a single sitting. By concentrating on the bare essentials, you will find that it clears your head and allows you to see past the clutter that most stories or films suffer from.

In film terms, it would mean doing it all on a tight budget, in other words no big name actors, no fancy sets and no CGI. What's left? Just the story and that's what you should be focusing on.

Why not invent a new word for the process? How about 'Unhollywoodization'?

Clive West is the author of a collection of short stories featuring a selection of rogues, as well as a full-length novel called 'The Road' about corporate greed and its real effect on the little people like us.

Clive is also co-owner of Any Subject Books and you can see more about them on their website or on Facebook.

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