Dom’s pet hate corner #1

P1010391.jpgWell, that’s the first one obviously: rogue apostrophes. Let’s leave that one there because I do it a lot myself, but if I don’t pick it up on the read through, my editor grabs it during a review.

The next one is a minor point that many are guilty of, including me. It’s the increasingly common ‘trailing off’ dialogue:

‘But Marion, we can’t just…’

Okay, I don’t have a problem with that, except that it’s often accompanied by a dialogue tag:

‘But Marion, we can’t just…,’ his voice trailed off.

Continue reading “Dom’s pet hate corner #1”

Pangea’s Mansion and the Way We Think

A few years ago I wrote a short (very short) story called Pangea’s Mansion. It was only a few lines, but it was meant to explore the idea that humans, as a species, are somewhat selfish; not only are they selfish, but they are quite willing to hurt themselves in pursuit of selfish ideals: cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, as it were.

People who read it seem to like it, though one or two shared the same reservation: would rich people really commit suicide because everyone else is suddenly as rich as they are?

I was exploring an idea concerning the nature of human greed, that greed is not so much about what you have, but what everyone else hasn’t got.

And today, I ran across this excellent article by Seth Godin that seems to back up what I was saying. If you’re a student of human nature it’s well worth a read:

After a company in Seattle famously raised its lowest wage tier to $70,000, two people (who got paid more than most of the other workers) quit, because they felt it wasn’t fair that people who weren’t as productive as they were were going to get a raise.

They quit a good job, a job they liked, because other people got a raise.

This is our culture of ‘getting ahead’ talking.

This is the thinking that, “First class isn’t better because of the seats, it’s better because it’s not coach.” (Several airlines have tried to launch all-first-class seating, and all of them have stumbled.)


And of course it works in the other direction too. Have you read Don Delilo’s White Noise?  An absolute classsic. There’s one particular scene that takes place aboard a plane that suffers a mid-air emergency. Thinking that the jet is about to crash, the first-class passengers attempt to surge towards the rear of the plane where they believe they’ll have a better chance of survival. What really had me in stitches was the reaction of the people in coach:

“No! You rich fuckers paid for first-class; you can stay in first-class!”

Sort of a reverse survivalist snobbery.

I always thought that writing good characters was about making them react in surprising and varying ways; but sometimes they react in ways that are totally expected; it’s just that the reaction is not something we like to see in ourselves.


Erotica without the sex

One thing that writing an erotic novel has given me is a sense of discipline. I don’t mean that I’ll look at a piece and think ‘Ookay, I think I might have gone a bit far there…’ It’s more a case of not taking the erotic prose to a point where it becomes a little… well… ridiculous. I was concerned about this when I started work on the Quisling Orchid, so I set myself a very simple goal: Don’t write anything that will earn you a spot on the ‘ten worse sex scenes of the year.’

As well as going to far, you can just as easily write something that’s hampered by your own inhibitions. I come across a lot of writers who’ve churned out some pretty staid erotic fiction simply because they’re afraid that someone they know will read it. The last thing you want is your great aunt (the one who promised to leave you the cottage) thinking you’re into auto asphyxiation.

Get over it, you tell ’em, it’s holding you back.

So they get over it, and then go from the shallow side, straight of the deep end; now we get some erotic writing that can only be described as ‘gooey’: you finish reading it and you think ‘Jesus, who’s going to clean all that up!’ But to be honest, going too far is probably better than stopping yourself from going far enough.

Worthwhile erotica is hard to do, so read the good (so you know what you’re looking for in your own work) and the bad (so you know crap erotica when you’ve written it yourself).

For me, what makes a piece of writing erotic is the atmosphere surrounding it, not necessarily the sexual act itself. The erotic is in building the heat and anticipation, and it’s a very good way to practice your writing: write an erotic scene that you know isn’t going to end in someone getting jumped. It helps focus your mind on the characters and their surroundings, on what you can do to charge the atmosphere and then finally expel that charge. Don’t discharge using any of the following:

  1. The sudden popping of champagne cork that no one has twisted.
  2. The sudden appearance of fireworks at the window.
  3. Sighing.
  4. Crossing of legs.
  5. The sudden and inexplicable destruction of a nearby planet.

And as with all writing, never hold back in your initial draft; the dodgy stuff can always be fixed later. But if you inhibit yourself from day one, then you’ll probably just stay inhibited until you publish.

Here’s a section of The Quisling Orchid that took me a while to get right; the first few drafts went too far too quickly; the next few were a little bit staid. The one after that was okay, and it was at that point I realised that I actually preferred the first one. Sometimes, the most erotic scene is all about the anticipation.

The Quisling Orchid (extract)