This Business of Writing

Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick, 2/2

In The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

This is the second and final installment of my interview with the ever-gracious Elizabeth Chadwick. Please take the time to read the first posting of this interview as she has a great deal to teach us. When you read the initial post you’ll see I tried to focus on any lessons Elizabeth Chadwick may have for aspiring writers as they learn The Craft of Writing. Today we finish with the sixth through the tenth questions.

Please note there are spelling and punctuation differences between her home of England and mine of the United States. If you see something that feels odd to you, trust the way Elizabeth Chadwick writes it.

Now, on to the interview.

My sixth question was:

You and I write are in the same genre, historical fiction. A question I’ve had asked of me a number of times is how does an author find the correct phraseology to adequately portray the language of his novel’s time and still appeal to today’s readers. Can you assist us with this?

“Just use good, standard English as the basics. If you go in for ‘gadzookery’ you have to be very sure of what you are doing and you are likely to alienate a lot of your readers.  If you go the other way and write modern phrases into your dialogue, you are likely to put off many readers of historical fiction who don’t want a Tudor personality saying ‘So what do you think of the King’s teenage girlfriend? Geez, she’s hot to trot isn’t she?’  Keep it on a level and perhaps insert the occasional historical word or phrase to give a flavour – although if it’s an item, make sure that the context tells you what it is.”

In her respond Elizabeth Chadwick gives us the technique for portraying a native dialect, a Southern accent, or even an Irish, “Top o’ th’ mornin’ to ya, laddie,” without the need for those many odd contractions and endless apostrophes. We simply use contemporary language and toss in the occasional historical word for authenticity.

As I’ve noted on earlier postings, not only do I follow Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice, but also look also to the flow, the music, within the language you’re emulating. I watched the wonderful movie “Stardust” the other night and the dialect of some rather ancient witches followed these rules. In one scene, a crone is heard saying, “What hardship a few more days?” In this simple phrase you can see the entire concept of what Elizabeth Chadwick recommends. The sentences use contemporary English terms, but with the lilt of the time.

Question Seven:

What might you recommend as the best method or methods for an aspiring writer to learn The Craft of Writing?

“As aforementioned.  Sit down and do it; that’s the only way. Read as much as you can too and across all genres.  Don’t just stick to reading what you want to write.  Try everything and get to know different authors’ voices and what each genre requires.  Watch films and TV dramas.  Watch film trailers.  Observe how they are put together.  You can learn a lot about structure from these as well as reading the written word.  I think visual media allied to reading and writing, helps a writer form images in their head.”

How many among us aspiring authors have heard the old saw extolling us to put our backside in the chair and write? I’ll bet you’ve also heard the recommendation to read widely, haven’t you? Well, Elizabeth’s Chadwick’s words contain the proof in the porridge as this is the primary method to improve your writing skills. Sit down and write is about as clear a recommendation as you might receive. To write better, write more.

My Eighth question was:

Please tell our readers how you see the art of storytelling as linked to The Craft of Writing.

“I suppose The Craft of Writing can get in the way of the story telling if you get too hung up on the rules.  I would say the story telling is all about putting the first draft down on the page, and the craft comes in at the editing stage once you’ve written or told the story.”

I have learned two important lessons from Elizabeth Chadwick, one of which is the “rules” in writing are, as she quotes from The Pirates of the Caribbean, “more like guidelines”. I truly appreciate her counsel in this regard. The other major lesson I’ve learned from her is the power of setting. Read her books and you’ll understand what I mean.

She emphasizes we should, first and foremost, write a good story. Worry about the rules after the story is penned to the page. This also answers a personal question as to why many successful writers don’t always follow the rules and still have stunning novels. It’s always about the story, guys.

Question Nine:

In historical fiction, as with many other forms of the art, research is an integral part of writing. Would you share with us how your research affects your application of The Craft of Writing?

“My in depth research means that I can walk through the medieval period with confidence and know that my characters are of their time and not modern day people in fancy dress. It means that I can imagine them and their world clearly and being clued up means that I am aware of all sorts of details and scenarios that I can fit in to enliven the narrative or save for a scene in the next novel as appropriate.  A writer should do the research but only feed it into the novel on a need to know basis. The material that doesn’t go in is not wasted.  It supports the writer’s ability to get under the skin of people long gone.”

I loved Elizabeth Chadwick’s response here. It seems The Craft of Writing isn’t directly affected by the research an author performs. Research, instead, enlivens the narrative so as to immerse your reader in your story.

And finally, question number ten:

Are there any other suggestions you might recommend for aspiring authors relative to The Craft of Writing?

“Enjoy what you do first and foremost. Don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.  For example, rules about how much dialogue you should have to prose just get in the way in the early stages.  Find your voice first and then begin looking at craft issues, but treat them as guidelines and don’t get in a state about them, because they can totally mess up your creative muse.  I know they do mine if I start poking about. I would also say write something every day. Set yourself a target that is easily doable even on a fraught day.  That way you’ll always achieve your goal and often go beyond it, which keeps it enjoyable and is a confidence booster.”

Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice for improving your mastery over The Craft of Writing includes writing what you enjoy. I doubt there is better advice available. If you try to shoehorn yourself into a genre which does not call to you, like any aspect of life, your muse will not participate in the endeavor as she might have had you let her speak through you.

Elizabeth Chadwick also suggests you find your voice early in the process. This, too, is excellent guidance. If you pay attention to people in this industry, you’ll find almost every successful person peppers their advice with this specific requirement. Agents, those who land us those elusive contracts, specifically and often recommend finding your voice and developing it. In my opinion, this is second in importance to writing the good story. I’ve written an earlier post on this and you may wish to review it.

She continues with encouraging writers to write everyday with an attainable goal in mind. This couples nicely with Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier recommendation to sit down and put finger to keyboard. There is no better way to achieve a goal than to practice.

This concludes the interview with Elizabeth Chadwick. I hope you’ve garnered from this as much from this as have I.

Again I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick, author of “The Greatest Knight” and many other good works, for her kind assistance in helping me offer this to you.

Now, I ask if Elizabeth Chadwick can take her time to support aspiring writers, shouldn’t aspiring writers take the time to support her?

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s many fine words from The Book Depository: www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to me at this blog.

Thank you for your time and attention. I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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