Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm a Writer...sort of, well, um...I mean I sometimes, you know...write...stuff

You would think, by now, a year-and-a-half after I dropped everything to 'become' a writer, that it'd be getting easier to call myself one. You would be wrong.

I have a rather menial editorial part-time job at the moment, and yesterday one of the editors asked me to submit some reviews for one of the guidebooks we publish. They need writers, and I'm doing a writing course - no great leap of the imagination there.

'Of course,' I said. 'I'll give it a go.'

Give it a go?
No, I won't 'give it a go', I'll do it, and I'll do a kick-arse job of it, because I'm a writer and I'm pretty good, if I pull my finger out.

But I had to give some wishy-washy answer like, 'I'll give it a go.' All you non-Australian writers out there who have self-doubts: imagine also growing up in a society where the worst social crime is to have tickets on yourself.

Later that day, just before my evening Novel class, I stopped to get a hot chocolate from the French waffle place in Degraves St. I was chatting to the owner, and it came up that I was studying over the road. He asked me what course I was doing, naturally, and I said Writing.

'Oh, you are a writer?' he asked, with great French enthusiasm.
'Um, well I'm trying to be,' said Miss Wishy-washy.
'No, you are. You have to believe in yourself,' he said. 'Good luck with it.'

I don't want to stereotype (but here I go), but it strikes me that the French don't really do self-doubt. Existential angst maybe, but I suspect they don't have an equivalent phrase to 'up yourself'.

I'll be going back to the waffle place regularly, I think.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not taking it lying down

I went and saw that George Clooney movie the other day - Up in the Air. It's not a bad film, I enjoyed it and Mr Clooney is always nice to watch. BUT there was a moment that got me riled.

It's about half-way through. George, the corporate, shallowish jet-setter, is in his airport hotel room and receives a text from the chick who is the love interest. Some dirty texting seems imminent when she asks him what he's doing.

And his reply?

His reply?

'I'm just laying in bed.'

Laying? What is this? I think.

Picture me then leaping from my seat, fists clenched by my side, yelling at the screen:
'Laying? What? George! I don't see any eggs in that bed. No bricks, no table or even (ahem) another lady. You are not laying, you are LYING in bed! We can never be married now.'* [sits down]

I don't know, maybe the film's writers were trying to lend an air of veracity by having a character make what is a fairly common mistake. I'll give them (and George) the benefit of the doubt.

And anyway, I suppose I can see how the mistake is made. Lay is the past tense of lie - easy to get them mixed up.

OK, George, even this pedant can't resist that twinkle in your eye. But please, just try to remember:
if you are making yourself horizontal, you are lying down. If you're making something else horizontal (or producing eggs) you are laying them.

*I might not have actually said this aloud. I'm usually very considerate of other theater-goers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Hero's Journey

I've been on holidays from my course the last two weeks, so of course I've spent all of this weekend churning out the homework we were given to do over the break. Organised is my middle name, but unfortunately my first tame ends in 'dis'.

Anyway, I've been having some fun today with the Hero's Journey. This is a concept/meta-myth put together over the years by various anthropologists, historians and literarians. It's the idea that all hero stories, from King Arthur to Buddha, follow a number of essential steps. Things like an unusual birth, an unknown childhood, threats to life in adulthood, apotheosis etc. (it means elevation to a higher plane, I had to look it up). So we had to use Joseph Campell's model (it's the most widely-know one) to write a 500-word hero's journey of our own, and I thought I may as well do it for one of the characters in my novel. 500 words is 500 words, eh? It all counts!

It was such a good exercise. I wrote a hero's journey for Albert, an Aboriginal station hand from the 1890s, using 6 of Campbell's steps (below). I might not use all of it in my novel, but now I have this great mythic background for a character. When I say mythic btw, I don't mean gods and dragons 'n stuff, I mean a story that resonates. I think we recognise and respond to the hero's journey in even the most every-day stories.

I suppose my point is that these myths and journeys are a tool that writers can use. If you're like me and go a bit wobbly without some structure, you can use something like the Hero's Journey to scaffold your story, and fit characteristics or plot around it.

Here were my 6 requirements for the story:

1. Hero is a child of parents of two different peoples/cultures, but is raised by only one of them
2. The parent dies, and hero leaves their home in search of their heritage in the other culture.
3. They meet a helper on the way who is ambiguous. There is a test that shows whether helper is trustworthy.
4. Revelation about the family/heritage of hero, and threat to their life.
5.  Hero returns to family roots (could be either parent’s culture).
6. Adulthood and responsibility.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless!