19 May 2014

On The Sandman

Unfortunately, the fates have not deemed to give me much time. Exams are known as hard, time-consuming things for a reason, you know?

But regardless: I shall be writing about my wee little short story—the Sandman—and about how it was written, and I shall also address some complaints I’ve come across.

This is not to say that I shall be giving you any evangelical preaching about its message or writing contrived literary dissertations.

The book itself has an essay in it; and moreover, its message is pretty clear anyway.

What I want to do is just give you a little background and trivia into the whole thing. And hey, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two while we’re at it. (One can only hope...)

How D’ya Write It?

This question is usually brought up for the big books. Short stories are a little too... short.

That said, there’s more than one meaning to the question.

I wrote my short story in an exam.

Strange, isn’t it? Most people think of writers as those weird people stuck in dry, dusty rooms; surrounded by other books; and of course, writing on a typewriter (and throwing out unsuccessful draft after unsuccessful draft).

I can assure you that most—in fact, all—of my work, is done on a computer. Computers are incredibly powerful tools: you can write, cut, track your changes, stick it on a kindle or on paper... the possibilities are virtually endless—provided that you know what you’re doing.

(And no, I don’t throw out drafts. Most of my work isn’t heavily revised; I can pretty much do something in one go.)

Computers sometimes give me incredible frustration. That’s okay. I have lots of computers; and dealing with the occasional oopsie is still easier than getting horrible cramps in my hands, or having to copy hundreds of pages of text to a computer anyway...

But you’re probably wondering why I wrote my short story in an exam. Did I fail the exam? Was it really that terribly done?

I apologise for not getting on with stuff. Such is my nature: I tend to wander, going from thought to thought, from feeling to feeling; from ideas to ideas. You can write books this way, you know. Three of them, to be more precise.

Now, I wrote my short story in an exam because it was an English exam. I was supposed to write it, believe it or not. It was one of the least stressful exams I’ve ever done.

(And yes, I got full marks. Indeed, the teacher called it ‘well beyond GCSE level’, though that’s not saying much.)

Was It Hard?

Well... it was easier than writing my previous books, I’ll tell you that much. This is partly because it was shorter than my other books; and partly because I am, now, a better writer. (Or at least, I hope so.)

That said, it wasn’t easy. There were times when I had to re-write sentences, or even paragraphs. There were times when I deleted certain sentences—either they didn’t work, or were inconsistent with the character’s actions. At other times, I even went off on a totally different tangent.

Writing is like that.

But not just any writing, mind you: non-fiction stuff is usually pretty methodical—it’s more about getting your thoughts on paper. You don’t really have to think about what you’re writing, because you know it already. And while good form is important; it isn’t critical.

Creative writing is harder. Quite a lot harder, I’d say. It’s why English teachers often can’t produce a good book: they don’t have the experience, sure, but there’s a deeper reason.

First of all, creative writing necessitates that you not only write good content, but also good sentences. In fact, the sentences themselves are a work of art, and create their own, unique effect; a good book can’t be good if you don’t get your message across—and a story is that much more effective if your sentences can mirror the emotions.

Examine the following: (Yes, I know I’m not supposed to doing this.)

The demon looked at me. There was madness in its eyes. Yes: and worse, there was evil.

Pure, unmistakable, evil.

It was the infernal glare of billions of years of killing and torture; of plans plotted, and executed; of a being that had not the slightest ounce of humanity.

‘Ready to meet your worst nightmare, human?’

See how the words ‘evil’ and ‘executed’ give the whole thing a visceral power that infuses into the prose itself? Notice the repetition? The short sentences? The way the clauses slide into one another until they begin to almost carry a rhythym of their own?

(Sorry if I sound arrogant there. We writers must have some measure of self confidence: we’d never write anything otherwise.)

Anyway, the second part of my point is to do with the content itself.

Where to start? In creative writing, you are not merely codifying known information into a human-readable format; you are actively creating the information itself. You must form every little detail—every rustle of a leaf, every cry of every zephyr; each part of a world. You must create emotion: both within the characters and the reader. You must be, for a brief while, god.

That’s quite a contrast isn’t it?

So, yes, writing is hard. Writing is work.

But it’s worth it.

Even if not for any monetary gain, there is a certain personal satisfaction in knowing you’ve done it; in knowing you can do something few people can do. And hey, if you get a truckload of money doing it, even better.

Finally: The Complaints

Your book’s too short.

Yes, it is. But I had to write it in two hours—exam, remember? And personally, I think writing a two and a half thousand word story in that amount of time isn’t a mean feat.

It could have been lengthened, that’s true. But would it have been the same tale?

Your book is anti-religious/anti-Islamic/etc.

It is difficult to see how a form of art that, by definition, is designed to instil empathy for a character; how can that be construed as hateful?

It baffles me.

Your book offends my religious sensibilities.

I shall say this simply: if you know a book is going to offend you, don’t read it. And if you accidentally read it, well; don’t hold it against the author. I do not write books to appeal to everyone on the planet. That’s just impossible.

Okay, that concludes my rather long blog post. Enjoy. I’ll be having fun in my exams...

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