Musings on the Art of Writing

As a child, I discovered fantastic worlds created in books. When I began writing about the worlds of my own imagination, I realized how hard authors work to set their characters free to live for our enjoyment. This blog will explore that weird and wonderful process.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Eagle

Last night, Glen and I saw the movie, The Eagle. Glen is a fan of anything Roman and I had read the book the movie was based on. Like most things in my life, there is a background story to this.

Forty-five years ago, I was in Grade 9 in Laurentian High School in Ottawa, Ontario. I'd moved to the city the year before and was 'the new kid' in Grade 8. When we went to high school, our class merged with others and we were split up among 5 classrooms. My original circle of friends shrank.

Over the Christmas holidays, our English teacher assigned Rosemary Sutcliffe's book, The Eagle of the Ninth. Before I could begin reading the book, my grandfather died while swimming in Florida. The upheaval of this and the holiday that is Christmas meant my homework was forgotten. My father helped his stepmother organize the funeral while my sisters and I spent time in the 'smoking' room of the funeral parlour. I told stories to amuse them as there was no TV or books. To this day, I love the feel and look of comfy brown leather sofas. Grandpa's funeral was held after New Years so I was a week later returning to school.

The day I came back, I learned we were to have a quiz on The Eagle of the Ninth. I thought I'd throw up or cry or both. Never did it occur to me I had a valid excuse for not writing the test. Instead of falling apart, I went to work.

Before school began, I grilled my three close friends on what the book was about and who were the main characters. I aced the test! I was the only one to get 100% but I felt I had cheated. I quickly read the book then the class began an in-depth study of this classic children's historical novel.

How did I know the questions to ask my friends to glean the knowledge I needed? I'm not really sure and I've puzzled about it for years. Perhaps it was because I was such an avid reader.

In Grade 7, our teachers introduced me to the Scholastic Book Club. I became a bibliophile and ordered whenever I could, reading everything from Dickens to Bronté to Verne. I also discovered astronomy and mythology which is probably why I find it easy to move between the ideas of science and fantasy. In Grade 8, I discovered Farley Mowat and read all his books. I also began the classic 'Coloured' fairy tale series by Andrew Lang. I haunted both the school and public libraries, unafraid to tackle anything that interested me whether it was deemed adult, teen, or child.

I believe reading good stories gave me a sense of how a novel works. I knew a story's elements instinctively from reading other authors. In telling my sisters fairy tales, I learned how to introduce characters (a poor girl with a wicked stepmother), how to make life hard for them (toiling all day cleaning and cooking), how to give them goals (wishing to attend the prince's ball) and giving them tools to achieve this (a fairy godmother). I also knew the story should be darkest before it ends (midnight strikes and our girl loses a shoe) and then a satisfying ending (she marries the prince).

Note: I didn't write 'happy' ending as books often do not end happily but all lose ends should be tied up so when a reader puts the book down, they can sigh and say 'That was a good book'. All their questions about the character and plot have been answered.

The point of this post is to be a good writer, one must also be a good reader. When someone says every plot has been written, they aren't far wrong because most stories follow the same pattern. Knowing this pattern helped me pass my Grade 9 test and allows me to write without an outline. Not that I don't plan a story but I always let it unfold and tidy up my wanderings with strict editing.

No comments:

Post a Comment