Making each word count

I’m often late to the party and this weekend I finally joined the abundance of writers who have enjoyed the wisdom and wit of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. To be honest, through my own experience and reading to date, I can’t say it was a revelation as such, but it’s always good to hear these things again and I particularly enjoyed his opinion that ‘plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.’ A man after my own heart is all I will say on that one!

I also whizzed through a certain Archie Greene book (see last week’s post) by DD Everest and the two together made for useful reading. Having had the opportunity to speak in person with Mr Everest last week at the On Home Ground Festival in Magherafelt, we chatted about book length (yes, I’m still pondering word counts!), and of course, Archie Greene was cut quite dramatically before it made it to print.

Archie Greene and the Magician's SecretReading Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret this week, I have to confess I was absorbing more than the story (which, by the way, is exceptionally good), as I was taking careful note of how DD Everest described everything. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, which gives the reader some assistance on that front, but when it comes to describing the book’s main character, i.e. Archie, it’s brief and to the point: ‘He was small and wiry with mousey-brown hair. What Horace noticed about him, though, was the colour of his eyes. One was emerald green, like the deepest lake, and the other was a silvered grey, the colour of weathered oak.’ 

It may seem obvious, but I like describing things in prose and let’s just say, my main character got more than this when I committed her to paper. Quite a bit more, but not, I thought, too much. In hindsight, I think perhaps it was too much. With my character, we get what she’s wearing, her hair colour, features and build and, well, it may be a bit OTT. Personally, I wanted to describe her clothes, because I wanted to show her quirkiness, but I’m theoretically writing for a mixed sex audience and… well, boys probably wouldn’t be overly bothered if she was wearing a blue skirt or jeans. To the action!

In ‘On Writing’, King says: ‘The key to good description begins with clear writing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.’

I think my descriptions are clear, but some may still be destined for the cutting room floor… The old adage of ‘never tell us a thing if you can show us’ (also King here) is sometimes easy to forget when you get caught up in the throes of creativity. Perhaps my character’s quirkiness has already been made obvious through her actions (which I think it probably has) and so, all this extra description is just dead wood (however nice I might consider it to be!). ‘Kill your darlings…’

It’s just one of many things which popped out at me as I read both books, one after other. I’ve finally picked up my own manuscript again, having left it for many months, so I’m approaching it now without the baggage of before and my red pen is ready for action.

Anyway, I digress. My intent was to post a review of old Archie’s adventures and suffice it to say… if you like the sound of terrible tomes, motion potions, talking books and magical beasts, then this is the book for you. There’s a heck of a lot more than that besides, but I don’t like spoilers…

DD Everest

DD Everest

There are always going to be comparisons made with children’s fantasy writers that they’re ‘the next JK Rowling’, which is unfair, but wholly unavoidable, although I don’t believe this is Everest’s intent at all. Like myself, he’s just always wanted to write a book about magic and adventure and to create a wonderful world where anything is possible, which I believe he has done incredibly well. No matter what we write, our inspiration will always be flavoured by the books we’ve read and Archie stands up by himself as far as I’m concerned. He’s worth a read for sure.

With short, punchy chapters, Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret is one of those page-turners, which is perhaps even more important with children’s books. It has you hooked from the outset and things just keep happening – which sounds pretty obvious, but what I mean is – there are no stale moments when you feel like skipping over something – every word counts here and the writer’s craft, I feel, is exceptionally good. The book also achieves what I believe to be a key element – it side-steps gadgets to maintain a timeless feel. You could have read this 50 years ago or be reading it 50 years from now – the appeal is universal.

As I said, I don’t like spoilers, so I don’t want to spill too much about the content. I simply recommend that if you like fantasy fiction (kids or adults!), write for children or, to be honest – just enjoy a good read – then Archie is worth a look. Believe me, it won’t take up much of your time – you’ll whizz through it as quickly as if you’d downed one of those motion potions.

Now – fruit shot, or choc-tail…?

 

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