Hoo boy. I know it’s been too long since I wrote anything. That’s the trouble with families: visitors from overseas (so much fun) and others interstate. Anyway, enough of my excuses; I’m back now, so here goes.
Recently I started to read a book—nothing unusual there. However, I quickly decided that I have more to do with my life than waste it on books in which I can’t relate to a) the basic premise, or b) the phony characters. It seems the writer had taken characters from contemporary times and endowed many of them with Victorian morals and views; it simply didn’t ring true. I set it aside and picked up another book. Now—just one page in—it has me hooked.
Contrast the above with a fantasy written by someone I know. Here’s the rub: I can relate to those fey/fairy/faerie/mystical characters of two hundred—or more—years of age far more easily than I can to those in the first book set in modern times.
So which author is the better? For me that’s a no-brainer.
What is it that separates the clever writer from the ho-hum? It’s the basic idea, the nub of the thing, it’s heart and soul. That’s what has to be correct. And it all takes time—lots of it.
The development of character in the broadest sense: the authenticity of the characters, place (even if it is somewhere like, say, Middle Earth) and time. The powers of description, the building of tension, the withholding of important snippets of information—although they may be hinted at, tantalisingly—the red herrings, and the hooks. Oh the hooks! How to start a chapter with a bang, how to finish with an explosion.
It is an art; one at which I am a novice, yet a keen student. I sometimes wonder if authors who churn out books are bored with their lot. I hope not.
The editing (although it’s dear to my heart of course) is what follows. Talking of editing, sometimes it appears difficult for editors to maintain consistency. Take, for example, something as basic as tree varieties. Some vernacular (or common) names I saw recently were printed with a capital and some with lowercase. For the record, lowercase is fine when using vernacular names: gum, wattle, oak, etc, unless there’s a proper name involved. If, however, you want to use the botanical name there is a convention to follow: Eucalyptus grandis (flooded or rose gum) attracts a capital for the genus and lowercase for the ‘grandis‘ bit. It should be written in italics. Should you be inclined you can check it out in reputable publications; that’s not my aim here.
If an editor wants to maintain consistency then a style sheet—a list of discrete rules for a particular document (though an editor may, of course, use the same style for many documents) should be developed, made use of and forwarded to the author for reference and approval. And then adhered to. It’s an editor’s role to point out inconsistencies and if there is a style sheet to refer to, life is easier for everyone.