by Perry McDaid
Writing tip, eh? Well what can one say that hasn’t been said already? I suppose the most pertinent point I encountered in my studies was the concept of a sense of manners. Too many people tend towards the style of their heroes, or the classics – thinking that this will ensure that their opus is a quality work. Notice the overindulgence in words here born of being weaned on suchlike?
A “sense of manners” is where you not only give your characters personality, but provide one for your book by breaking away from the natural leaning towards what you reckon the masters would have produced. It’s where you put your stamp on the work, where you let your individuality shine through the homogeny.
Joyce’s work is regarded by some as inspired genius on a par with the likes of Stevenson, by others as lazy and self-indulgent. One thing he had down pat was a sense of manners. His books have character which last. He wrote as he saw.
As I’m writing this, I’m reflecting on advice I gave another writer in reviews and pondering on the wisdom of it. It referred to a “sense of place” where most creative writing teachers implore you to bring the environment into the story through every sense. Something which I passed on as supposed wisdom.
The thing is – what if this totally countermands the authenticity of perspective, and destroys a true “sense of manners” where the writer is surrendering their own special perspective to mob rule.
An example would be a blind author succumbing to trend, and writing like the sighted: describing things like we would see them and not as he/she perceives them. It would be a crime. We are deprived a learning opportunity and the potential for learning how the blind perceive – should we ever decide to include a blind character in any of our stories.
So the lesson is – by all means provide a true sense of place, but combine it with that sense of manners. Count the leaves of every tree, the brick in every wall, but don’t tell us the total. Show us what their presence feels like to you. That’s where “place” and “manners” meet in serendipity.
I apologise to that writer here and now. I, who thought himself a rebel, yelled 'Conform!' rather than 'Charge!'