I generally try not to over analyse what I do as a writer for fear I will write myself into a corner. But as an exercise I had a look at the very latest piece that I started and I actually scared myself in the process. There is generally a dark thread in most of what I write, whether that is in relation to the darker side of the human psyche or actual real, in your face darkness.
The obvious stuff is fair enough. If you pick up Darkly Wood, you have a pretty good sense that something lurks inside just from looking at the cover. Bad Blood similarly even by the title, gives the game away. But when you look at the smiling face on the cover of Little Big Boy, I’m not sure anyone can really be ready for the dark heart, melted into the soft centre of this, perhaps my readers’ favourite book. In Larry Flynn I introduce one of my darker characters right from the get go, but in his case it is all about that thing we often hear called ‘the human condition.’
In reading over my latest work in progress, I saw a very personal darkness emerge. The trouble with me is that I wear my big old heart on my sleeve and in conjunction with that, I carry a gimp mask, a hunting knife and plastic ties in a bag on my belt. I am I know, obsessed with developing how we love and are loved in our lives when I write, and I exploit my characters through fear and uncertainty throughout, to develop my stories to a place I want readers to discover and uncover, in an organic way. I never want it to feel contrived or forced and for that reason I never write to a formula.
I won’t tell you the name of the new piece I am writing because the moment I do, everyone who has ever read my blog will know what it is about, but let’s just say that much like all of my books, I have dipped deep into my personal pit of emotion, to create something that as I mentioned at the beginning, even frightened me.
My books cross genre, something I am pleased to say helps me stay fresh, but this new one very definitely fits into the horror category. That being said, if you have read any of my books, you will know to expect a twist on horror when it eventually arrives. I tend to go off script in this regard. So what have I discovered in trying to analyse the freshest example of my work?
First I guess I have discovered the value of practicing your craft. With each book I write, I learn something new and it is not just a technical learning. Over time I have begun to grow my own sense of who I am as a writer. I have learned through the process that I have certain strengths and weaknesses and importantly, I immediately saw this when I read over this new one.
At the time of writing this, I am developing the third book in the Darkly Wood series, trying to re-write a manuscript from my younger years, writing two other very different novels, one historical fiction and the other a rather emotional piece. I have also the bones of a small love story, a zombie book that I doubt I will get to for a while if ever, and this new twisted little piece.
They each require their own discipline. Some writers write to formula, some to a clock or a word count. Every writer I have ever spoken to, have their own insecurities and their own way of doing things. I just work on telling a story. It sounds obvious but it’s not that simple. Storytelling is the primary driver and with me, I always develop the story through my characters and how they interact with their emotional life. In particular I concentrate on how they handle love and fear.
Love, be it romantic, familial, self-love, based on avarice, immaturity, delusion or instinct, can be arrived at in a story from so many different angles. Poor old Larry Flynn is deprived of love and is consequently a dark twisted soul. Bad Blood has at its centre an impossible love. Darkly Wood is despite all the horror, really about romantic love and of course Little Big Boy, is a book with love rooted firmly in its tiny little boy’s heart. Having armed my characters with the heart and soul of my book, I allow them the freedom to find the path that will lead them to the place where their deepest and darkest fears may lie. That is not fear in the horror sense, rather their inner fears, insecurities, weaknesses or the fear that comes from arriving at a place or event in their lives, for which they are wholly unsuited or ill-prepared.
Every story needs a hero of sorts and they can only be found through adversity. Sometimes it all sounds so simple, but this is where perhaps I understand myself as a writer best and what gives me my voice. It is essential for every writer to have their own voice, a sense of themselves that no matter what genre they write in, the reader can recognise.
I know my start point. I know the story I want to tell and where it should lead right from the start. What I do then however, is allow my characters complete freedom to become who they need to be, in order to tell my stories in a way that feels like my reader is sitting next to me. It feels like a performance when I write.
That is my goal in a way. I love telling a joke or spinning a yarn. I spent many years training people for a living and I always enjoyed holding a room full of people in the palm of my hand. Every time I finished a training session I would go back to the office and immediately re-write my presentation to keep it fresh. I always had to have the flexibility to ad-lib and take it in a different direction, for it is in that ability that I found I could hold the room. I never wanted anyone to feel bored or disinterested.
Telling stories through my books is exactly the same. I start by telling myself the story as I write. I surprise myself quite a lot, odd as that may sound. In my most recent book Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, I initially introduced a minor character called Wormhold. But Wormhold didn’t like his role. He was far more interesting than I expected when I first imagined him to the page. He was a creature of such great dark potential, that I changed the direction of my book entirely based on one sentence that I wrote about him.
I re-read the opening chapter of my newest work as I mentioned and I saw it again. It was staring me in the face, a word. One word has turned me left instead of right and now I am excited. I have to reign myself in, for I want to skip my newest, least developed book, to the top of the pile. But I won’t of course. That is what keeps me fresh in many ways. I never have writer’s block because I deny myself the treat until I finish the main course and I always have a choice of treats to tempt me back to the page.
We all do it differently; I doubt I could write any other way. I loathe the countless invisible hours of editing and proof reading, that become the focus of my work once I complete the third draft. No one sees the effort it takes to turn the idea into a story, into a book that someone wants to read. It is a colossal task. There can be anywhere from half a million typed characters plus in each of my books. Think about that. Try counting that number. Then try checking each number over and over again to make sure you haven’t skipped a number, or misplaced a number or put in a number that makes no sense at all. Can you even consider the time it takes to hit each key stroke.
How many characters have I typed here do you think? Would you be surprised if I said near nine thousand keystrokes were involved? Now bear in mind I’m a four fingered typist at best. This blog has almost seventeen hundred words and I’ve written books with in excess of one hundred and twenty thousand words inside their covers. My books vary in length,but I have published five and I am writing another five at the moment. Do the maths.
Yet here I am. I have been asked why do I write and I say because I love telling stories. I am ultimately a vain, selfish man who enjoys the smile on the face of the person I have just made laugh because I told them a funny story or the leap in the air, when I give them a fright with a scary story. As long as I remember that feeling when I sit at my laptop to write, once I remember that I am telling my story to just one person in my head, then I can tell my stories with pleasure. The reason is simple. When I make every keystroke, I am in my head talking to my reader as though he or she is sitting opposite me.
It is as clear as day every time. The lights are low; there is a fire with a crackle. There may be a cup of tea or who knows, maybe even a glass of vino or whatever tickles your fancy. I have your complete attention. I know what I say next will decide whether you tell me you have to head off home now, or whether it will keep you hanging on, listening to my voice, waiting with anticipation for the very…next…word…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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