Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Q&A on writing

Several of the questions in a recent interview I had with Norm Goldman at Bookpleasures touched on writing techniques. Here are some of the excerpts (see the full interview here):

Norm: What was your creative process like when creating your most recent novel, The Grand Mirage?
Darrell: I first came across the intriguing story of the Baghdad Railway in a history of Deutsche Bank, which I covered as journalist. It seemed to be a fabulous adventure in an exotic world. I found that I had assembled whole bookshelves of works about the history of the Middle East and wanted to recreate a world that has vanished in history but lurks in our subconscious. Then it became a challenge to scour contemporary journals and letters for all the telling details of this world, while the amazing resources of the Internet produced numerous images to help visualize it. ...

Norm: What do you believe is required for a character to be believable and how did you create Richard Leighton, 9th Baron Leighton in The Grand Mirage?
Darrell: Making up a British lord is a particular challenge because everyone of them has been painstakingly recorded and you find that many of the good names have been taken. I wanted the hero to be an aristocrat so that he would have the intellectual and financial resources to be a true gentleman adventurer and able to play his role as an unofficial spy for the government. After that, like all characters, he had to be someone the reader cares for. It's important to delve into his emotions, explore his backstory, show his thinking. At the same time, in an historical novel like this one, you want to avoid anachronism. So, for instance, Leighton does not condemn British imperialism -- he is part of it -- though his love of the Orient leads him to have some doubts.

Norm: Did you know the end of The Grand Mirage at the beginning?
Darrell: What I have found both with this book and my earlier thriller, Gold, is that you start out with a vague idea of the arc of the plot, put your characters to work and see just where they take you. So while I knew generally where things would end up, I didn't anticipate all the twists and turns until they actually developed in the writing. This is one of the wonderful things about creating a work of fiction. ...

Norm: Do you believe you have already found “your voice” or is that something one is always searching for?
Darrell: I'm not sure I'm looking for "a" voice. I'm happy with the voice in both my novels, but I don't think it is the same. There may be some common sensibilities, but the voice of a contemporary financial thriller -- the style, the language, the pace -- is different from that in an historical thriller like The Grand Mirage. At some point, I may want to write a police procedural that would have yet again another style and voice. ...

Norm: Do you have any suggestions to help our readers become a better writers? If so, what are they?
Darrell: I think it's important to pay attention to the role of language in writing. Plot, characterization, often research are all important, but the writer should revel in the language itself, play with it, use it as a vital part of the overall package. One of my favorite writers at the moment, Simon Mawer, says a writer should be like a sculptor working in the marble of language, shaping it to portray the reality we see.

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