I know I’m not telling anyone anything new when I say that the writing of any work of fiction, whether novel or short story, requires both knowledge and creativity, not to mention a lot of hard work.
In the words of American writer, Dennis R. Miller:
“Writing a novel is like traveling the universe on foot.”
And from Samuel Johnson:
“What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure.”
And this quote about writing from David Eddings, who, sadly, died in 2009, always makes me smile:
We all gain a considerable amount of knowledge during our journeys through life, but for writing about places, situations, characters and time periods beyond our own little boxes, there’s always the good old Internet! Failing that, there are scores of books for sale out there on every subject imaginable – many in cheap bookstores, charity shops, second hand bookstores or car boot or garage sales. And in my experience, most librarians are more than willing to point us in the right direction. In short, there’s really no excuse to shirk the research, whatever the genre being written.
But for some genres more than others – and I’m talking about fiction here, not non-fiction, for which research must be a mammoth task – thorough research is vital: historical fiction, naturally, being uppermost on my mind, with crime and law enforcement close on its heels (all that forensic stuff!). Anything involving medical issues is another one.
Creativity in novel writing is also vital. Without it, the story would be flat and lifeless and characters very dull. In the words of Jack Kerouac WD:
“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
In other words, writing should appeal to the senses, and we should remember to ‘show, don’t tell’.
I’ve included a short scene from my book, Shadow of the Raven, here. It comes fairly close to the beginning of the story, and is intended as an introduction to young Eadwulf’s father, King Beorhtwulf of Mercia, and his brother Burgred, Eadwulf’s uncle. Eadwulf is one of the book’s two protagonists – Alfred of Wessex being the other. As the harsh winter in the year 851 begins to melt into spring, the scene also serves to present the first hint that life in Mercia is about change.
With his huntsmen and attendant thegns, King Beorhtwulf rode back from the forest, his two great wolfhounds loping along beside him. It had been a good hunt, confirmed by the quarry slung over the backs of the pack horses. Cooks flapped in appreciation as the huge deer and smaller game were laid outside the wattle-walled building that served as kitchen and bakehouse.
Beorhtwulf surveyed the carcass of the felled deer, an old stag with massive, branching antlers. The slow old beast had made easy prey. ‘It hardly seems fair, does it brother?’
‘What doesn’t seem fair?’ Burgred squinted at Beorhtwulf as unaccustomed sunshine brightened the sky. The air had lost its penetrating bite and he fingered the brooch fastening his black cloak.
‘To end a long life like this…’ Beorhtwulf shrugged his broad shoulders, touching the toe of his boot to the lifeless form. ‘He looks a noble creature; probably sired many calves in his time. To end up spitted over our hearth seems to deprive him of all dignity in death.’
‘Your sentimentality is misguided brother. The beast would surely be gratified to know he afforded many people much pleasure and kept our bellies full. And he was old… would soon have fallen to the forest floor where his carcass would have slowly rotted away, or been eaten by woodland scavengers. Does that sound very dignified to you? Besides, what use would scavengers have for those antlers, when our craftsmen can turn them into such useful things? You know how Morwenna loves her antler combs and bits of jewellery. I’m partial to antler knife handles myself, and the men would be lost without their gaming dice.’
Beorhtwulf grinned at his younger brother, half a head shorter than himself, his red-brown hair less fiery than his own bright red. ‘Point taken, Burgred. The meat will be more useful to us than foxes and the like. Let’s hope today marks the onset of a warm spring,’ he murmured, a note of optimism in his voice. ‘Our people grow restless to sow the corn and move the stock out to pasture.’
But Beorhtwulf was a worried man. The onset of spring would bring a far greater threat to Mercia than the snows, and at tomorrow’s meeting of the Witan there were urgent matters to discuss. With a heavy sigh he whistled for his hounds and strode towards the reed-thatched hall to share the morning meal with his wife and son.
‘I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.’ (E. B. White)