Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Journeyman Mistakes: How to Write for KL Noir: White

It's halfway to the deadline, and I have received some submissions already for KL Noir: White - an anthology of noir stories set in KL. I'm editing it, for a meagre fee that I hope will be enough to keep me out of prison as I am being summoned to court by the Health Ministry for smoking one stick of cigarette outside a shopping mall in Melaka.

Yes, your editor is a criminal. Isn't that cool?

A few pieces will make its way in the book. Some needs some work and others will be a no.

There are no real tips for writing. Not really. And I don't believe writing can be taught. You either can, or cannot. Some, over the years, would develop an affinity for it, or like me, we learn to fake it, to fashion a facsimile of talent and style supported by a half-decent vocabulary and understanding of how phrases turn.

That is all. That is the secret to writing. You read what you like, you write what you think is good, and you finish what you started. That is all. That is all Neil Gaiman said, so that's all there is to it.

Easy, right?

Anyway, I am rather lugubrious at the moment, so I guess I can list down some really basic advice people give to writers about writing.

1. Write what you know.

Well, if your story is about a cannibal and you are a cannibal, then why not? If you're not one, you can use your imagination as to what cannibalism is like. Is it like smoking? Is human flesh the only thing you like?

Do some research. Interview some real cannibals. Ask questions like, "Who taste more like chicken, the Chinese, or Koreans?" Or  "Are Indians really spicy? What kind of spice?" Or "If you eat someone's dick, is that considered giving him a blowjob? Are you gay?"

2. Show, don't tell.

This is pretty self-explanatory.

1. There's the first person narrative: "I want to have sex with her. Goddamnit, I'm hard already. Must... hide it... I walked nonchalantly towards this dresser, where my erection will be safe from prying eyes.  OHMYFUCKINGGAWD!"

2. the third person (God) narrative: "Amir thought about how he wanted to have sex with her and sported an erection. He moved his erection behind the dresser, where he was attacked by a cat. The cat was hiding in the shadows.."

3. and then there's the limited God perspective: "Amir felt the blood rush to his loins. He tried to hide his semi-hard penis by moving - in a manner he hoped to be suave and nonchalant - across the room, behind the dresser. Unfortunately, he didn't account for the family cat hiding in dark shadowy crevices of the house - a feline who perhaps did not like bulging things shoved in its face, in the dark.

Of all three, number two is the weakest. It's boring and shitty. Go for number three, or if the story calls for it, number one.

The reason is, well, your role as a writer of fiction, is to help the imagination of readers along. You make suggestions, but you don't tell them how to think. You can tell them what to think, because not telling them what to think is like this:

"Something happened to one of the characters some time last night....somewhere"

No, you always tell them what, but you allow the readers to construct their own hows. Don't give away everything.

3. I am sleepy and I don't give a fuck.

We shall continue tomorrow, where we talk about openings.