X is for Xylophones #AtoZChallenge

Post by Guest Blogger
Ian Roberts

Xylophones—simple instruments that parents dread their children getting but can't resist trying for themselves—bear comparison with the process of plotting, characterising and writing a book. All of these require a willingness to release the inner child's curiosity and risk making something interesting from it. Whether the way you write is carefully planned or not—and I've tried both approaches—researching a possible framework provides an instrument and the keys to what might become a story.

Just as, if you aren't musical, working on the plot and characters for a new book by selecting the keys to strike - and in what order - is a matter of trial and error: the more you do it, the more you become familiar with the possibilities and pitfalls. Gradually, you learn how to pick out the kind of sounds you want and—just as important—develop a tempo that is appropriate to them.

Since it's a matter of trial and error, the rhythms and melodies have to be revised—or redrafted—and doing this is the means by which the different sections and eventually the whole piece lodge in your mind sufficiently to be able to play them in your head; in my case, visualise and re-read them. At that point, you have the luxury of being able to focus your thoughts on specific parts of what you have done and the way they relate to others without actually being engaged in playing or writing and, thus, to be able to reshape or reorder them somewhere else entirely.

Out walking, for instance, listening to music or watching something. Part of the mystique of this, in my experience, is discovering the truth in the saying that characters and stories can start to write themselves. Instead of simply playing the instrument or writing the book, the process becomes a dialogue in which the characters themselves show you possibilities you hadn't previously considered, and different paths through the plot—even to the point of refining the whole. It's as exhilarating for me as the point of take-off in an airplane is for people who don't share my doubts about the wisdom of being thousands of feet above the ground.

The first three books I wrote were based on general ideas which I drafted out in full and the process of editing and remoulding what I had delivered plots and characters which were different than those I'd envisaged. Not a million miles from them but, I am confident, far better.

I planned the one I'm writing at the moment in more detail and decided to write it in scenes which would fit into the story at different points for two reasons: shorter sections would make it easier for me to proof-read each more effectively—I can't afford to pay someone else—and make it easier to ensure that the historical content didn't drown the story—or the reader. Interestingly, both methods have led me to that same sense of lift-off.

Over time, I hope this will lead to improvement, particularly with feedback. At present I feel certain that my fourth book will be better than the others, although I know progress isn't necessarilly linear. Either way, the moment when you feel that you have pushed what you have as far as you can is like the feeling of liberation that is reflected in children's faces when they bring their efforts to a conclusion, be it a mighty final series of strikes or a flourish which runs over all the keys.

A little about Ian Roberts

Grizzled 61 year old teenage ageing bluesman with three historical fiction novels on Kindle. All 4/5* reviewed. Sometime hospital porter, croupier, antique dealer's warehouseman, research asst. and, in the end, career teacher, now retired. Writing for five years now—first three books simultaneously. Now 40,000 words into a new book about the fine lines between different types of driven behaviour, self-deception and the psychotic spectrum through four key characters in 1880s and 1890s East Texas.

Check out his website HERE.

His books: Henry and Isaac, To the End of the Trail, and Old Bones.

Follow him on Twitter: @DonQuixote43rd

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