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Ishmael A Soledad
Author
Author
Nov 16, 2022
In Authors Forum
The other week I managed to finish two things; the first "final" draft of my current wip, and a second reading of Roger Kneebone's 'Expert'. Which started me thinking - as an author, what does it take to be an expert? (Warning, spoiler alert - I still don't know). There's an old piece of lore out there that says to become really good at anything, you need to do it 10,000 times; it's a trope reinforced by sportspersons of all stripes, and I think of Michael Jordan specifically who said (something like) that for every winning shot he made, there were ten fails and a hundred practice throws underneath. All well and good for sports, but for writing? I can't see myself (or anyone) writing 10,000 books, and some of the successful and best written were first time efforts (think 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and 'Gone With The Wind' - and I won't mention Harry Potter, I promise). So perhaps it's no hard and fast rule for authors, no exact limit but more an affirmation that to succeed you have to try and, presumably, fail. A few times. Or a few hundred. Or thousand. Ouch. Then there's Kneebone's viewpoint. For him, the 10,000 times is only the start. He posits that gaining technical proficiency only makes you a good Apprentice; that is, someone who can do a task up to standards, with the aid of others to guide and correct, and where the emphasis is on yourself, and building your skills. For him, the next step is the Journeyman; taking responsibility for your own work, developing skills and your own take or 'voice' on your trade while changing emphasis towards your audience / customer's needs, not your own. Kneebone adds a final stage, which he calls Master, where you pass on knowledge and skills, help others develop, and take the craft in new directions. So what does that mean for an author, if anything? I think most of us look to the Journeyman point as the end goal, to be proficient, market-relevant, and having an identifiable voice; and I think that, with time and effort it's achievable. But does Kneebone's take on what it is to be an expert, the 'Master', apply to authors? If so, there's only ever been a handful of them out there (and yes, I'm being harsh); there are plenty of teachers, technicians and mouths prepared to tell you what to do, but Masters? True experts? Is it even a goal to be aspired to? I'm not sure. So, what does it take to be an expert author? Does the concept of 'Master' mean anything as an author, or are we a breed apart and this does not apply to us? What do you think?
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Ishmael A Soledad
Author
Author
Sep 02, 2022
In Authors Forum
My current work in progress has two rather evil characters (among others) as chief protagonists; one is a nascent psychopath. As the novel is written entirely from a first-person perspective, this is a problem; what goes on in the mind of a psychopath? Movies (think Silence of the Lambs etc) have an advantage over novels in this regard. Everything happens on screen, it is all action and motion, and very rarely any 'internalized thoughts' or overlay. So the psychopath on screen is what she or he is, and that's easily understood. However, if you want to get into their heads with the written word it is tricky. Non-psychopaths tend to have active thought lives, a bit of to and fro in their minds, argument, observation, the inner self talk we all have (and at times hate). This leads to wonderful (from the writing perspective) self-doubt, confusion, guilt, emotion and conflict. For the psychopath this is not the case. Their inner thought life is, as Dr Robert Hare puts it, "banal, sophomoric, and devoid of the detail that enriches the lives of normal adults". There's none of the inner turmoil that makes a character engaging or interesting. They end up as two-dimensional characters, lacking emotional depth and nuance because, quite simply, that is what they are. Tackling a psychopath in the third-person is (I think) a better solution; show them in action, use the other characters for internal conflict, then you have something. And I think (barring Atticus Lish) this is the way most authors approach it. Me, well, I have to be different, don't I? (or as my high school English teacher said, 'A royal pain in the arse'). So for me, writing in first-person, my character ends up as "nascent psychopath lites"; a long way towards a true psychopath but falling short enough to make his inner self interesting.
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Ishmael A Soledad
Author
Author
Jul 13, 2022
In Authors Forum
In another life (no, not reincarnation, but the one left in the cupboard that pays the bills) I face the same dramas every other working person does. In particular, that nasty, pervasive, nefarious task of juggling chainsaws. "Juggling WHAT?" I hear you ask. Chainsaws. A chainsaw is, as horror and wood-chop fans will tell you, quite a dangerous piece of equipment. Take your eyes off it for a second, put a hand in the wrong place, and you can do yourself serious, instant, damage. Even when it's turned off it can injure quite easily; sharp chain teeth, heavy weight, (and for y'all in SoCal) full of carcinogenic liquids. Only an idiot would juggle chainsaws, and only a complete idiot would do it with the chainsaws running. But guess what? We all do it. At work you've got competing demands, any one of which can do your job serious damage if you neglect them. If you can do ten things in a day, it's a dead cert you have at least twelve competing demands, and twelve loud voices screaming at you to do them, AND DO THEM NOW!!!! More demands than you can handle? You're juggling chainsaws. At work you can see the chainsaws, know what damage they could do. And make some choices. The boss. The disgruntled customer. The pissed-off colleague. The nearly overdue report. Let's be honest about it; at work we're willing to let a chainsaw or two fall if we have to, just to make sure the others don't drop on our heads. The boss can't wait, she pays my bills. The customer can't wait, he pays my boss's bills. The report, no one reads them anyway, so why bother. And my colleague? He's an idiot, forget him. As an author it's harder. As an author some chainsaws are invisible. Fine, your publisher and social media are visible, but what about your family? Or the little things that chew into your writing time "just this once" that keep happening? Or that USB backup drive you've promised to get yourself for the past two years? Or the pain in your back you get from sitting down for those "rare, extended" writing sessions? See what I mean? They're just there, out of sight, where you can't put a hand on them; but they can do you big damage if they go awry. And even when we see them, even when we know, we don't choose, we tend to think we can keep all of the chainsaws in the air all of the time. It seems to be the author's millstone. It's impossible, but we get sidetracked, pulled away into thinking everything MUST be done, that everything matters as much as every other thing; and that we're invincible. Remember Meatloaf's song "Everything louder than everything else"? Utter bullsh, as we say down here. If you only get eight hours a week away from your job, family, and all the other things we all have to do, is spending four hours a week on Twitter as important as four hours a week writing? Which one will do you more damage if you let it go? Get back to what is at the core of you as an author, and as a person. You have to choose your chainsaws: which ones to juggle, which ones to let fall and do a little damage, which ones to just throw away and never pick up again.
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Ishmael A Soledad
Author
Author
Jul 13, 2022
In Authors Forum
Years ago I was on a visit to Wales with my wife, traveling by train. I struck up a conversation with the conductor (yes, that many years ago) and the three of us chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. He was a very Welsh Welshman, with an accent you could cut with a knife and talkative to boot. After he left us, my wife said "Did you understand a word he said? I didn't". Some years afterwards we were south of Yellowstone National Park, found a small place for lunch, and I tried to order a bagel. Tried, because the girl at the counter could not understand what I was asking for. Low fat, no butter, trim the ham please was all I was asking for, and in English. Nearly went away hungry but, thankfully, my wife intervened. "How'd you do it?" I asked her. "Simple. Translated from English to American." she said. Which has what to do with your character voicing? Giving characters an individual, recognizable voice is important. It adds realism, gets your readers immersed, and it lends credibility to your writing. Your novel is set in the deep South USA cotton fields of the 1800's? The workers don't sound like Oxford dons. It's tempting to go overboard, add too much twist and twang, special dialect or accent, misspell words to read as they're spoken, or fill your characters dialogue with only 'local color'. In the end your characters could end up like my Welsh conductor, or the American bagel girl. Absolutely authentic, perfect fit to the character; and absolutely impossible for your readers to understand. In my bookshelf I have Iain M. Banks' 1994 science fiction novel 'Feersum Endjinn'. It's a great read, apparently, but in all the years I've had it I have only finished it twice; and then it's been a chore, not a pleasure. Why? Because the main character, Bascute, has a voice that is so twisted, so divergent, so far away from standard English I have to study the words to understand their meaning. The result is that I can't actually read the novel, or enjoy it, the way the author intended. And, worse yet, I've tended away from Mr Banks' works. I'm probably the poorer for it. If your characters can't be understood by your readers, you've lost the whole point of your writing. Don't drown your characters' voices; a light touch goes a long way. Give them a little flavor, a light dusting; don't drown them in salt.
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Ishmael A Soledad

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