The Art of Writing Backwards: a Novelist’s Sleight of Hand?

When you saw that title what did you imagine?  A scene from Alice through the Looking Glass?

mirror writing credit Mind Map Inspiration
mirror writing credit Mind Map Inspiration

One of those high speed reverse sequences in a magical fantasy film, when everything rewinds? Or perhaps a time-slip scenario?

Or simply an image of mirror writing?

Would it be wonderful if we could indeed start at the end and then proceed to the beginning? Or would it rather be a nightmare? Of course, TS Eliot encapsulated this idea when he wrote: The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

In one of the chapters of my book Perilous Path I looked at the seemingly paradoxical idea of writing a book in reverse. In many ways this idea appeals to me. After all, when we consider the obstacles a writer confronts during the creation of a novel, it seems that all the problems are wrapped up in the tyranny of time. The journey of a novel is often about getting to know your characters and allowing them to reveal to us what we’re writing about. 

Robert McKee in his excellent book Story says every story has a controlling idea; and the controlling idea is embedded in the final climax of the story. In fiction, controlling ideas are below the surface. So in one sense the process of writing a story does indeed involve travelling backwards, on an unconscious level. You will find more about this in my chapters in Perilous Path inspired by the theories of Carl Jung.

Our controlling idea, I believe, may not necessarily be fully worked out on a conscious level. It is hidden deep in the unconscious and the act of writing a work of fiction may simply be the working out of this, and the process of bringing it to the surface, and out into the light. Thus on an unconscious level we do indeed write backwards.

Some novelists start a first draft with their characters, and begin telling the story, and go where their characters take them. Finally the controlling idea is revealed. Then we might say they go into reverse, moving back again, and imposing structure in subsequent drafts. Others plan the novel out in detail using the 3-act structure, plotting out the story points before they begin writing. Perhaps, for them, the controlling idea is already out in the light and clearly defined.

Examples of controlling ideas include: ‘Goodness triumphs when we outwit evil’ (The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike). ‘Justice prevails when an everyman victim is more clever than the criminals.’ (The Firm by John Grisham).’To love with integrity requires personal worldview transformation’ (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen). Here are some very helpful blogs upon the subject of The Controlling Idea by Shawn Coyne and Steven Pressfield.

My writers guide Perilous Path may also be helpful; signed copies are available and may be ordered from this website.

The New Luminarie Editions of Mystical Circles and Perilous Path Are Out Now

I’m pleased to  announce my two new books are on sale now. Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4 They can be found online through the links below and also, of course, to order through all good bookshops.

You can download my psychological suspense novel Mystical Circles here, and you can buy the paperback here.

My inspirational writer’s guide Perilous Path can be downloaded here, or ordered as a paperback here.

There are many ways to help an author besides buying the books! Cover design of Perilous Path by SC Skillman, a motivational and inspirational writer's guide pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017You can get the word out by sharing, recommending and reviewing online. And in the real world you can recommend titles to your own book club for discussion; or order the books through your local library to increase their awareness and encourage them to order copies for their stock.

It all helps. And if you do support me in any one of the above ways,  thank you very much!

 

 

Luminarie editions of Mystical Circles and Perilous Path Out Today!

Today is publication day for my two new Luminarie editions Mystical Circles (psychological suspense novel) and Perilous Path (inspirational writer’s guide).

Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4
Cover Design for Mystical Circles by SC Skillman – psychological suspense pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017

Both are widely available through online retailers, or to order from bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

They are available both as ebooks and as paperbacks.

And from 8 September both books will be on Goodreads giveaway to UK readers. Yes – I have 10 paperback copies of each book to give away to the lucky winners!

The giveaway will last for one month. If you live in the UK and you’re a Goodreads member why not hop over there and enter the giveaway.

Cover design of Perilous Path by SC Skillman, a motivational and inspirational writer's guide pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017And if you do win, and you read the books, please do remember, we authors always love Amazon reviews, no matter how many stars, and whatever you choose to say in an honest review.

And that’s not all my news. Today (5th September 2017) is also Day 5 of my Blog Tour. Today I’m on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo and the title of my guest post is “Inside a spiritual hothouse.” Hope to see you over there!

I’ll be at the UK Games Expo at the NEC Birmingham 2-6 June 2017

I’ll be at the UK Games Expo at the NEC Birmingham UKGElogotomorrow Fri 2 June and all weekend signing copies of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path on the Authors Stand (F11) alongside Gareth Baker, (thrillers & fantasy); Darren W Pearce (fantasy & sci fi); Richard Denning (horror, fantasy & historical fiction); Jonathan Green (Fighting Fantasy gamebooks & Doctor who novels) & Ian Livingstone (creator of Fighting Fantasy interactive gamebooks).

Hope to see some of you there over the weekend!

Creative Artists: In the Minority, and On the Outside Looking In

Today on Radio 4, whilst stuck in slow-moving traffic due to an accident on the M40,  I listened to the Midweek programme, in which Libby Purves interviewed four guests – Diana Moran, fitness expert; Jack Thorne, playwright; Dashni Morad, singer and presenter; and finally Omid Djalili, comedian and actor. For the purposes of today’s blog post, I was particularly interested in what Omid Djalili had to say.Omid Djalili

Talking about his own development into a highly successful comedian and actor,  he made the point that throughout his life he has always felt, on every level, part of a minority within another minority… and so on. That has informed his comedy.

I loved him in the film The Infidel when he explored questions of identity as well as the boundaries and prejudices between two major world faiths, Islam and Judaism. He was brilliant in his role of a man who had been brought up an East End Muslim then discovered he was adopted, and really a Jew.

The point he was making in the Radio 4 programme related to the topic of one of the chapters in my new book Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, in which I explore the feelings of someone else highly successful in the arts; this time, a bestselling author. And I feel there is a close connection between being in the minority in a minority, and feeling as if you’re always on the outside looking in.

The author in question is Howard Jacobson and he made his remarks in another radio interview, just after he’d won the Man Booker Prize.Howard Jacobson

Here’s that chapter, a taster from my new book:

ALWAYS ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: WHAT DOES A BESTSELLING NOVELIST HAVE TO TEACH ASPIRING WRITERS?

I was listening to a bestselling novelist (Howard Jacobson) speaking on the radio about his success in winning a major book award. Among the many things he said which touched and amused me, I was most impressed by the answer he gave to this question:

 “Now you’ve won this prestigious award, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”

And he replied,  “No. I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.”

What a wonderful response the interviewer received to this question! And it seemed to me an authentic writer’s response. As observers of human life, this is what creative writers spend their lives doing. Often whilst researching for novels, we are on the outside looking in. We do not necessarily wish to ‘get involved’ or ‘drawn in’, although there are times when we must ‘come alongside’ those we observe, in order to truly understand.

This is especially true of those on spiritual journeys. To be a traveller on this path, you need an open mind and an open heart, and must be prepared to go anywhere and come in on anything. This does mean exploring other spiritual outlooks, other worldviews. This should be no contradiction to a spiritual traveller, whatever religion they belong to. As Rabbi Lionel Blue discovered, ‘my religion is my spiritual home not my spiritual prison’.

The great mystics have transcended religious boundaries in order to experience the presence of God beyond them all. So, how can we always be outsiders looking in? Or is it sometimes necessary to get involved, and come alongside? I believe both can co-exist simultaneously. There is, in fact, never a time when a writer is so fully involved, he or she cannot at some future time stand back and write it. Every experience, no matter how negative or difficult, can prove raw material for a writer because in the act of writing a story you are often drawing upon unconscious material. Novelist Margaret Drabble remarked that fiction writers are good at ‘turning personal humiliations and losses into stories … they recycle and sell their shames, they turn grit into pearls’.

I am particularly fascinated by group dynamics. And in order to learn about those you have to participate. But you can also observe. The truth lies in paradox. Thus the most successful creative people can literally be, in the eyes of the world, on the inside. Of course they have arrived! And yet they can still feel they are always on the outside looking in.