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Class notes

Casa Del Libro
Amazon UK

A simple question today from “Señor Nox”:

I’d like to ask you for the titles of the books you recommended in the podcast regarding the art of writing.

As the podcast is only available in Spanish, I think it’s interesting to list here the books that have been more thoroughly discussed so that everyone can catch up.

I’m reluctant to recommend Card lately because he has turned out a campaigning homophobe, therefore I’ll try to keep adding new titles soon so you can skip his.

I’d like to remind you that if you do your purchases on DVDGo, Casa del Libro or Amazon UK through the links provided here, a small commission will go to this Writing Workshop to help cover the site costs, which would be highly appreciated by yours truly.

Unbearable narrators

Grumpy & Grouchy
Grumpy & Grouchy

KHaL sends this question in:

I’m writing a story centered around two antagonical characters. All the narration is in first person from the perspective of each of them, and a doubt arises: one of the characters is quite pedantic, should this be reflected in the segments narrated from his point of view? In other words, even if the narration is first person, can -or should- his expression depart from his personality so that -for example in this case- the narration is not unpleasant due to the way he is? Would that be coherent even if character and narrator are the same one?

What you suggest cannot be done*. A character:

  • cannot be two characters
  • cannot have two ways of expressing himself
  • cannot soften his discourse just so that the reader likes him

Having said that, a character:

  • may want to appear tougher than he really is
  • may be disliked by other narrators, who would portray him as worse than he really is
  • may have a split personality
  • may evolve from unsufferablee to loveble through his experiences within the story
  • may try to be nice to the person to whom he is telling his story, in order to get their favour (explicit reader)
  • does not need to be likeable (see Lolita)

In other words: *What you suggest cannot be done… without a justification within the story.

Three in one

Time for reader’s questions again. Perhaps some other day we’ll continue with the “Eccentrics” series, if you like it.

Freddy Orea Lanz writes from Venezuela to ask:

I’mwriting my first novel. Everything is define, I know where I’m going to and where I want to get, but I start by narrating three initially unrelated events (whose significance becomes apparent later) that take place in different locations. I need to make these changes of location clear without the need to use commonplaces such as “Meanwhile”, “In the meantime”…

OK, let me get in a replying mood.

Now I’m ready. As usual, dear listener, the question can only be answered by the author himself, but let’s do some brainstorming.

The first idea that comes to mind is simple: you can write three independent chapters, with their header or their line break or both. Sometimes these psysical separations are the simplest of solutions.

[…] text text text about Character A in Location X.

New paragraph with text text text that ends Event 1.

[rest of the page is blank. Next page:]


Beginning of Event 2 with Character B in Location Y, and text text text […]

If the events are so brief that they do not justify a whole chapter each, the separation can be as simple as a double line break. You only need to leave a little space between the final paragraph of one scene and the first paragraph of the next scene.

[…] text text text about Character A in Location X.

New paragraph with text text text that ends Event 1.

Beginning of Event 2 with Character B in Location Y, and text text text […]

If these structural ideas don’t work for you, then we have to enter the text itself.

The rest of options that come to mind would have to deal with the content of the text itself. Ask yourself questions. Do I really need all three scenes at the beginning, or can they be told later, as the become relevant? May I connect the three scenes somehow, or the two most interesting ones, leaving the third for later? These events are the beginning of my novel, are they a good start? All three of them? When I have trapped the attention of the reader, will I lose it by switching character and location? Should I tell them in the shortest possible way, as some kind of introductory anecdotes? Could they form together a preface in three parts? Or could I come up with a narrative voice who, as in Amèlie, connects the events not through the facts themselves but through the eyes that filter them?

You may need to fully write some of these variations to find out how well they work. the final answer, my writer friend, only you can find.

Second editions

Freddy Astorga sends in a question:

After you edit and publish a book, can you make a reivsion with improvements on your story, or are second editions just minor revisions?

The idea reminds me of the “director’s cuts” we often see on DVDs and even in cinemas, which for the most part are a trick to make you pay twice for about the same thing. Moviemakers have found a range of excuses for not making “their” movie from the start: studio pressure, budget limitations, tight deadlines… Excuses that a novelist cannot rely on.

The only second -and subsequent- revised editions that we find on print are reference works, but there is a reason for this. With the evolution of the world (its techonology, its laws, etc.), the text describing them needs to be updated to reflect those changes. This reasoning does not apply to fiction either.

The author is the only person responsible for their text. Therefore, correcting the finished piece would discredit their own work. A revised version can correct edition errors (like typos, or page numbering problems) but should leave the text and its universe intact. What would be the point of saying “things did not happen exactly that way, but a little more like this”? It would say very little about our capacity as narrators. Incidentally, this highlights the importance of a good editor, who should point out the flaws in you work and make sure that the published text is, from the beginning, final.