Saturday, 8 September 2012

Tricks to Nick 1: Documents in Story


This is part of a new series that I'm going to write as and when - hopefully, at least once a month from now on. The full title would be "Nifty tricks I've read in other writers' novels which I would like to use in one of my own one of these days" but it somehow lacked... catchiness. I'll be concentrating on young adult fiction and genre fiction as this is where much of my interest is at the moment. So expect to see Enid Blyton ahead of James Joyce - I'm sure that I'll find a way to get into Joyce though...

Each article will feature a short extract from a novel. These will be a few hundred words at the most to try to keep within copyright, although as inclusion is by definition a recommendation, I doubt that there'll be any trouble.* I'll then explain why I've picked out this particular snippet and the offer will be there to use the technique in your own example in the Comments section below. We'll set a nominal word limit of 300 words here for our examples and a time limit of 30 minutes - no cheating, citizens! - so that it's just a quick workout rather than a night/day labour.

So, without further ado, over to our first extract**:

Down by the Devil's Stream, Poison Kitchen was a place rarely stumbled upon by chance; you had to know it was there, and duck under an unmarked stone arch into a walled graveyard, beyond which glowed the lamp-lit windowpanes of the cafe.

Unfortunately, tourists no longer had to rely on chance to discover the place; the latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide had outed it to the world -

"The church once attached to this medieval priory burned down some three hundred years, but the monks' quarters remain, and have been converted to the strangest cafe you'll find anywhere, crowded with classical statues all sporting the owner's collection of WW1 gas masks. Legend has it that back in the Middle Ages, the cook lost his mind and murdered the whole priory with a poisoned vat of goulash, hence the cafe's ghoulish name and signature dish: goulash of course. Sit on a velvet sofa and prop your feet up on a coffin. The skulls behind the bar may or may not belong to the murdered monks..."

© 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' by Laini Taylor

I've always liked this device of using documents within a story - it seems a great way to avoid too much explicit authorial description at the same time as increasing the reader's immersion in the story world. Here, Laini Taylor uses this passage to break up a longer section of her own scene setting and provide some 'light' foreshadowing for the backpackers encountered inside. So, to the task:

TASK 1

Write a description of a place featuring an in-story document of 300 words (time limit: 30 minutes). If you want a spur to your own writing, you could roll the dice and let them decide what you write about:

Setting:

1 - 2... Historical: before 1900.
3 - 4... Contemporary: urban.
5 - 6... Futuristic or Fantasy.

Voice:

1-2... First person.
3-5... Third person.
6... Second person.

Click here for some virtual dice to help you get decided.

You can submit your own extract in the comments box below or reply on the email chain if you're one of the Arvon gang - if you use the dice, include your nominated categories for all to see. Good luck! I'll try to get some up by the end of the month...

PS Seek out a copy of 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' if you're a fantasy fan - it's a great read which my wife absolutely loved - somewhere between 'Northern Lights' and 'Twilight' but with plenty of ideas of its own...

* Of course, if you're an author or publisher who does object for any reason, just get in touch and I'll take the relevant post down.

** If you'd like to contribute to this series with tricks you've discovered in short extracts from other writers, do get in touch.

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