• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

On Writing: Finding the Moments by Karen Miller

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know I have a fondness for televised drama. Most particularly I love watching it on dvd – not only because you’re not constantly interrupted by ads, but because often you get really nifty extras like writer/director commentaries. And these can provide the most fantastic insights into the writing process.
You might think that writing straight narrative for a novel, and a script for performance/filming, don’t have anything in common … but you’d be mistaken. Certainly there are major differences, but the aspects they do share are pretty crucial to successful storytelling no matter the chosen medium.
Recently I got the 5th season of NCIS on dvd. And one particular episode of that season, Requiem, deals with an important element of backstory for one Jethro Leroy Gibbs: namely, the murder of his young daughter. That event is in the past, but he’s forced to confront it in the present when a friend of his dead daughter comes to him for help.
The commentary on this episode is provided by star Mark Harmon and executive producer Shane Brennan – an Aussie, as it happens! And there was one comment by Brennan that really stood out for me. Actually, it leapt out and smacked me across the face – in a good way.
Brennan says that when you ask someone to tell you what happened in a book or a movie or a TV show, they won’t usually tell you the plot … they’ll tell you the moments. In other words, what they recall is specific incidents in the story that have made a profound impact on them. And, he says, as a writer that is what he strives to do: he strives to find the moments, the memorable sequences, the emotionally impactful incidents in a story and write towards them. In other words, to construct the entire narrative so that those important moments drive the story and the characters and provide the emotional impact that you’re looking for.
When I heard him say that, a chandelier’s worth of light bulbs went off in my head.
Almost without exception, the things I remember most about a book or a film or a TV drama that I love are those moments: Doctor Who, season 3, ‘42’, where the Doctor admits to Martha that he’s scared; Stargate SG-1, season 2, ‘A Matter of Time’, when Jack finally confronts Frank Cromwell and shows us he’s more than a few smart-arse comebacks; ‘Pawn in Frankincense’ by Dorothy Dunnett, when Francis chooses which child will die in a human chess game … I could fill pages with my favourite moments in drama.
See, Shane Brennan’s comment crystalised something crucial to my understanding of my own writing processes: that when I’m working on a new story, if I don’t have at least some of those moments in my head, if I haven’t found some of them before I begin writing, then I can’t begin writing. That until I’ve found them, I’m just not emotionally engaged in the story, and if I’m not emotionally engaged then I’m not ready.
Because it seems to me that if it’s those moments that engage me as a member of a story’s audience, then those are the things I should be focusing on as a story’s creator. Especially since the first draft is me telling myself the story (in the words of the wonderful Terry Pratchett) – which means it’s vital that I keep myself entertained. That I write with emotional passion, that I plunge my heart and soul into the story. Because if I’m not feeling anything, how can I expect a reader to feel anything?
There is, of course, a hitch with this approach. It’s bloody exhausting. If you’re writing drama, and if you’re writing to the moments, then you are most likely putting your characters through the wringer. That means you’re also putting yourself through the wringer, because for a reader to feel, a writer must also feel and capture those feelings on the page, in words.
Which would explain why writing a tough scene can make you feel as though you’ve been chewed up and spat out.
Apart from creating a memorable emotional experience for the reader, the other thing that writing to the moments does is give your narrative pace and drive. If you know where you’re heading, story-wise, your writing has purpose and energy. Now that’s not to say you have to know every moment of the whole story. If you’re my kind of writer, a loose outliner and discover-the-story-as-you-go type, it’s not possible to know every moment. Part of your process will be the discovery of those moments as you discover the details of the story and its characters.
But I believe you do need to know a few to get the ball rolling. Me, I always know the end moment before I start writing – I know where I’m heading. And I usually know a couple of significant ones along the way. Sometimes the story idea will come to me as an isolated scene – the first two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books, for example, started with the moment of Gar presiding over Asher’s execution. Once I had that in my head, I had to then work backwards to find out how we’d reached that defining event, and then forwards to find out how the story ended.
But it all started with a moment. And as the story unfolded within me, I found more and more moments to write towards – significant emotional beats and events that kept me engaged with the story, and gave me somewhere to head for in the narrative.
So, without realising it, I’ve already been doing what Shane Brennan was talking about. Which is lucky for me! But the thing is, now I understand what I’m doing. And now I understand that when a story is bogged down, when I’m stuck, or when I can’t get started … the chances are good that I’ve not being paying sufficient attention to the moments. The minute I rectify that mistake, the story flow returns and so do the words.
But here’s another thing: moments are very personal. What you as an audience member – and by extension, a writer – will respond to emotionally isn’t necessarily the same as what I’ll respond to, or your friends will respond to. Of course, if a writer manages to capture something universally affecting then a great many people will respond the same way and lo! A hit is born.
Trouble is, it’s hard – if not impossible – to predict which stories will resonate with a large audience. I mean, how many agents and editors didn’t get Harry Potter? And yet those books resonate on a scale that’s almost unimaginable. But Rowling wasn’t thinking about that, she was telling a story that resonated with her. And that’s the key.
As writers, we can’t control how our work is received. All we can do is write the most honest, the most emotionally resonant story of which we are capable – a story that engages us – and keep our fingers crossed that what engages us will engage a lot of other people as well. That’s it. That’s our job. The rest is a crap shoot.
But if we take Shane Brennan’s advice, and always keep the moments in our mind, always look for the moments to illuminate as we tell our stories, then I truly believe we won’t stray too far from the track.

Karen Miller will be at Conflux this Friday and over the long weekend. So hie thee down to Canberra if you can. Karen’s latest book, Hammer of God, is available in all good bookshops, as is her latest book written as K E Mills, The Accidental Sorcerer. But wait, there’s more! You can read this post in Karen’s blog as well as catching on what she’s been up to – visit http://www.karenmiller.net/.

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One Response

  1. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… thanks a lot for this usefull info. Cheers! 🙂

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