Last week I reviewed the novel Flesh. Today I'm honored to lend Joystory to its author Khanh Ha for a discussion about the techniques of fiction writing.
by Khanh Ha
It takes an extraordinary skill for a writer to write in a voice other than his own, considering his race, his ethnic background, his years spent in the said environment that serves as the locale of his novel.
Writers like Chang-rae Lee, Ha Jin write strictly from their upbringing background through their protagonists. So the Korean voice, the Chinese voice from their works ring true. I take my hat to Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) who put himself (a white male) in the place of a Japanese female as a geisha and, kudos to him, succeeded where many others have failed. But it took him 12 years to write such a novel, having gone through three major rewrites to change the POV, third to first.
2. What makes a novel interesting?
It’s the scenes. Each scene must have drama. Or it must set up drama. But more importantly, you have to be excited about the scenes you write. If you don’t feel excited about them, do you expect your readers to get excited when they read them?
Scenes that don’t have much drama are filled with trivialities, tepid dialogue, which neither show much about characterization nor advance the plot. Consequently, they don’t sustain the story line. What is the most frequently cited reason by agents and editors for their rejection of a manuscript? The pace or intensity flags in several places. In other words, the novel fails to hold interest.
Whenever you start struggling with a scene, it’s a good indicator of a potential problem. The next thing you do is try to get through such a scene. Then, unavoidably it will be there like a blank sheet in your manuscript. Many novelists tend to write certain scenes for the sake of keeping the novel alive rather than giving the novel the vitality that sparks it. They hope readers would read everything they wrote. Many novelists spend so much time and efforts in researching the materials for their novels, and consequently they fall victim to these materials. When too much of researched information appears in a novel, it’s non-fiction taking over fiction. The novel bogs down. The readers start skipping pages. A skilled novelist, on the other hand, uses his researched materials discriminatingly. He only uses tidbits of such information in places where they belong. He uses them where they can enhance his characterization, the pacing of his story line, the mood of his chosen scenes.
Next time when you don’t feel like getting up in the morning to face a lukewarm scene, ask yourself: does it really belong?
3. Revising your novel.
You finished a chapter.
Now go back and fine-tune it—add, delete—what needs to go in, be taken out. Repair the characters. Do it when your mind is still fresh with the scenes and the characters of that chapter. However, you must be unbiased (which is hard toward what you’ve just written), detached (which is harder from what you’ve just built), so you can see your own creative flaws.
Or it will be hellish after the novel has been written to go back to fix the flaws either on your own courage, or at an editor’s request.
4. On characterization and hard scene.
Unlike an actor who plays just his role, an author plays all his characters’ roles, like a man who plays chess against himself.
You can imagine characters. Yet until you write them out, you haven’t known them. Put them in motion. Let them interact with one another. Let them live in some environment. It’s then that you begin to explore your characters’ depths. If you ask me what’s the hardest part in writing a novel, I’ll tell you: characterization. That’s what separates a literary novel from a potboiler. Characters shape a story line, not the other way around. You can’t think up a plot and shoehorn your characters into it. If you do, you are writing a potboiler. In fact, well-developed characters create a more convincing story line, even shaping it or altering it against your original vision. Think about that!
Writing is just like any normal part of our daily life. It ebbs and flows. The worst thing to a writer isn’t writer’s block but illness, prolonged, unbearable illness that can really affect his writing. Other than that, as Hemingway once said, there will be days when you have to drill rock and then blast it out with charges. When that happens, just take a break, do something else and let your battery be recharged.
There are no hard scenes to write. Really. Those so-called difficult scenes are what writers make them out to be with their paranoia. So before they can write such scenes, their anxiety has already killed their creativity to write them.
Khanh Ha the author of Flesh was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. He is at work on a new novel.
Visit the author at: http://www.authorkhanhha.com
See my review of Khanh Ha's novel Flesh
Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts: