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  • Roo I MacLeod

What Makes Writing Good?

Writers Blog 04082016

My worst fears have been realized …

I exaggerate of course because this has been a good month. No alcohol. A whole damn month without a

drop. So Obviously that means a severe drop in calories entering my system, which has to transfer as adipose tissue depletion. But no, no so fucking no. I just got to accept that blob just below my diaphragm likes hanging about and just ignore it, eh?

Now the Question was about writing and what makes it good. And let’s understand we are talking with an author who has a distinct lack of sales and shekels in his pocket. But it is a question I ask myself and have had reason to share with my mother. She likes to write and we send each other pieces of work. She lives in Australia, God’s Own Country, she does, and I have adopted Old Blighty as my home. My mother was an English, History and Indonesian teach most of her life so I expect good quality feedback. But all I get is a Gold Star and a bloody Koala Stamp. To be fair I respect the Koala Stamp.

Now she sends me her work and I don’t have the Koala stamp, as I’m keen to assimilate with the natives here in Old Blighty, but feedback I have in buckets. And here’s what I said about the novel she is working on;

The one line synopsis: A boy has committed suicide, because his father is a bully and the neighbors get upset because they didn’t do anything to stop the bullying or the suicide.

There is no Protagonist. In the stories I read I want a character I can follow into the flames of hell to save the day and know I will walk out, charred but alive. That’s a must for me. I want to love, or respect or just dig what my hero is suffering. For sure the hero might muck up, take the wrong turn and stumble and fall. But the protagonist will get up, keep trying and will succeed. And you got to be able to slap your forehead in frustration at the choices, but ultimately rejoice at the growth and the victory.

The antagonist needs to be the same, big and bold, the motives understandable, but his/her dissing of my hero means the bad person has to go. The antagonist isn’t all bad, but he’s on the wrong side and he must fail.

And the other thing I tell me mum is about the need for a hook, a complication, a moment where resolve clicks in, a further complication before the hero gets it right. That status quo at the beginning must be the opposite at the end. That the opening sentence This is black, must read This is white at the end.

You see she’s writing about a suicide, where the main character dies in the first chapter, but what follows is a novel of family and neighbors questioning why they didn’t do something. A hook for sure, but no one to focus on, no one grows or changes or triumphs. As her main character is dead its difficult for him to be the protagonist or antagonist. He’s dead because his father was a bully, beat him, beat his mother, beat his sister and was sending him away so he could start on his little sister. Yes a good antagonist, but that's all she has.

I didn’t get much response from those comments except ‘thank you darling. That must’ve taken you an age. No Koala stamp?’ But the problems didn't finish there because my mother has a habit of voices floating in the void. You can't picture the speaker or the setting. So I suggested she tie the characters down in the world. Give the reader something to get their teeth into. A mannerism, either physical or vocal will help bring characters to life, eh? And take some pride in the setting. If there in a kitchen I want to smell the coffee or taste what's cooking. There might be a dripping tab or the hum of fridge.

That’s what I told my mum. She hasn’t got back to me.

What do you think? What have I missed? Or am I off kilter and that’s why I struggle with the craft, eh?

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