Tag: Michael Bauer

On being observant…

You’ll often see in books on the creative writing process to write what you know about. This is good advice – it’s how you can make feelings, actions, settings and thoughts real. But it’s limited … like if your character is not your own age doing things you might be doing.

How do you write about someone living in another time frame? Or harder still, writing from the viewpoint of a child living hundreds of years ago?

Lots of authors do it successfully – like Michael Bauer in his recent adventure novel, Dinosaur Knights where three children face a terrifying ‘dragon’ (really a dinosaur dropped accidentally into their time by scientists in the future). Michael has captured the children’s interaction with each other because he knows a lot about human behaviour, especially boys of a certain age. So he can place them in whatever time and place he chooses.

Another example is Felicity Pulman‘s Janna Mysteries set in Medieval England where Janna’s quest to find her father after her mother is murdered sets her on a dangerous, treacherous path. We empathise with Janna because she has human qualities that any young girl might have when facing extreme challenges … fear, grief, loyalty, courage, love, … whatever the era.

These books (and many others) work because their authors can feel and sense human reactions, both emotionally and physically. They’re probably very observant people, watching human behaviour with innocent but eagle eyes, listening with careful nonchalance to the conversations of strangers. Combine this practise with their creative imaginations and you have great stories we can all relate to.

It’s like having what’s called an ‘artist’s eye’ – that ability to see the negative spaces, the hues and tones of colour, recognising a perfect composition or design (even if it takes months to ‘get it right’ on canvas.) Like everything the more you practise the skill of observation, the better you get. It’s the same with writing. And you get to use your ears as well.

Have you ever deliberately eavesdropped in a cafe? Or at a party? It’s especially worthwhile if you are amongst strangers – then you know no back-stories.

Here’re some lines from conversations I’ve listened in on (surreptitiously) – a story in the waiting for each of them?

‘I’d rather go a size bigger than give up chocolate!’

‘I kid you not, Jackie reckoned they did it behind the bar – and nobody knew.’ (Unfortunately, the three girls  left then, so I missed the end of this conversation.)

‘You’ll never guess what was in the freezer – a pig’s head was staring out at me!’

‘Why was the gun in the ceiling?’

This last quote was the impetus behind my short story, The Gun.

If you want to read it it’s over in the Works-in-Progress page…..

PS I remember a gaggle of Aunties once telling me off with the words, ‘Little piggies have big ears!’  I must’ve been eavesdropping back then too.

Music to write by?

Do you listen to music while you write? A Mozart sonata? John Coltrane’s sax or some classic Miles Davis? A bit of the Cuban touch? Coldplay‘s lastest CD? Or soundtracks from your favourite movies?

It could be that, to work successfully, you need a blur of background sound to keep away the silence. Or is it deliberately chosen music that fits the mood of the piece you’re writing? Or do you prefer silence?

I’ve asked some writers their preferences….

New Zealand author, Brian Falkner has a very definite way of working – he finds a specific piece of music that reflects the kind of emotion in the scene he’s writing. If it’s an important or emotional scene, he sometimes spends as much time trying to find an appropriate piece of music as he does writing the scene. (See Brian’s website on the sidebar)

I find that the right music can not only affect you emotionally while you are writing, but it can also bring imagery to mind that you can use in the scene.’  Usually he uses the music choice once because then it’s become tied to that particular book and scene in his mind.

Here’re some of Brian’s choices, (if you know the music you can imagine the scene he’s writing):
1812 Overture / Barber’s Adagio for Strings  / Quidam (Almost the entire album) – Cirque du Soleil  /  Firebird Suite – Stravinsky  /  Night on Bald Mountain – Mussorgsky  /  Ave Maria – Schubert  /  Oh, Fortuna – Orff /  The Swan – Saint-Saëns

Australian author, Claire Saxby finds music keeps her going if she’s writing something new, and it tunes out ambient noise. She says beat music will keep the words flying. Favourite titles include Augie March’s two albums, The Frames (Irish band), Waifs, Cat Empire, Paul Kelly. Familiar albums allow for subliminally absorbing – so much so, often she doesn’t notice them finish.

Michael Bauer, a fellow Ashgrovian, and the author of the splendid story, The Running Man (and others), confesses to needing silence when he works because he’s easily distracted. ‘I thought I’d give it a go so I put on a cd but I couldn’t write a thing because I kept listening to the music! Maybe I just didn’t pick the right songs?’

Michael does have a point – there is music it’s impossible to write by – I’ve tried it. The latest I’ve tried is a Christmas gift from my sister in Washington – called Rhythms Del Mundo CUBA. A collection of musicians, from Coldplay, Sting, Artic Monkeys, to Quincy Jones and Ibraham Ferrer (from The Buena Vista Social Club) and others, playing their music with a Cuban influence – all with the intent of raising funds and awareness about climate change. Great music! But why is it impossible to write by? How can one key words when one is too busy salsa-ing?

My favourites to write by depend on what I’m working on…  if it’s an action scene or dramatic dialogue, then it’s the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings – especially when the orcish army is storming Helm’s Deep. For background music, I’m back in my Celtic ancestry with any of five Loreena McKennitt CDs. Or Paul Kelly’s Songs from The South.

P.S. My favourite Music quotes:
‘Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.’  ~Charlie Parker
‘Life can’t be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years.’  ~William F. Buckley, Jr.

So, do you have music favourites to work by? Love to hear your choices.

Here’s a video of Rhythms del Mundo CUBA – enjoy!