Behind the Scenes

This past two weeks has had me glued to the television, watching my favourite tennis stars in action.

I love everything about the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament: the games, the characters, the idiosyncrasies’ of the weather. These are the best athletes in the tennis world and, for a short time, we are lucky enough to be able to watch them daily on our screens. One year I actually got to visit in person and the atmosphere, even in the outside courts, was all encompassing.

The players make it look so easy, dropping those shots right on the line, just in the edge of the court. In reality they practise day in, day out throughout the year, spend time in the gym, on the track, not to mention on that all important court. It’s all those hidden minutes, hours, days and weeks behind the scenes, that makes them shine. 

Achieving success at anything contains an awful lot of hard work. A few years ago I read a book review which contained the following words, “…writing so good, I didn’t notice it.” My initial thoughts were – the poor author.

As writers, we agonise over words to convey just the right message, layer our descriptions to build a certain atmosphere, craft phrases to achieve the correct imagery in readers’ minds.

There are those inspired sentences: ones that come to you into the night, those that spring into your mind in the supermarket queue. Lines that need to be scribbled down on the back of old receipts, scraps of paper, backs of hands; caught quickly before they slip away into the deep, dark abyss within our heads.

When my writing tutor cast her red pen across these precious lines, I wanted to wrap my arms around them, my babies to protect. As she whipped them out, I wanted to run to the waste paper basket, uncurl the crumpled pieces, and insert them back into my work.

Instead, I thought about books I have read. I’m a sucker for a good page turner. It got me thinking – how many times do you see ‘spare’ words and phrases in a thriller? The simple answer is never. Why? Because they distract the reader and detract from the story. In point, they can be the difference between a reader loving or hating your book.

As those inspired lines were prised from me, I realised that in the early days I was being self indulgent. I used some prose because I really liked it, not because it either added to, or drove, the story forward. And that is what it is all about – the story. We are here to spin a good yarn.

Penning a novel isn’t about how many words you write, or how much you expand your manuscript. It’s also about how much you take out, the polishing that goes on behind the scenes to make that all important story sparkle. It struck me that a good book derives from an author that, like a tennis player, has sweat buckets to make it work. We just get to hide our damp patches.


6 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes”

  1. I am not a great Wimbledon follower, though I have loved playing the game, and I am pleased for Andy Murray’s success. But I am a self confessed word addict, inspired by the 18th and 19th century classics that were so admired by my teachers at school. How I have been seduced by the descriptive powers of the great authors of a golden, and bygone, era of literature. So much so that I have spent far too much time and effort trying to weave clever and eloquent phrases and passages into my attempts to write, believing that it will bring me merit as a serious author. Wrong! Your observation that it interrupts the flow of the story and distracts the reader is astute. I have noticed how great contemporary writers effortlessly weave the evocative and the emotional into their text without affecting the metre of their writing. Their chapters have the pace of an exciting rally and they sprinkle exceptional wordplays within them as if they have served an ace to our literary appreciation. As you say, the story is everything. It should be written for the reader not the author’s ego. Less is quite often literally more. I am working hard as a writer to eliminate the line calls of verbiage and the foot faults of over indulgence, but one day, one day in the future, I’d love to walk out onto the Centre Court of literature. In my case it’ll probably be to cut the grass or paint the lines for the real pros, but in the meantime I can dream … isn’t that what writer’s do after all? … New balls please!

    • Very well put, my friend. I’d love to join you on Literary Centre Court, however I think my best shot is as a ball girl. I got a mean bit of movement in my pins, lol.
      I think you might be surprised though. Determination is half the battle. I’ll certainly be buying a ticket to watch your game when the time comes. Thanks for stopping by:)

  2. Cutting what needs to be cut is one of the hardest things I do when editing. I just love some phrases, but if they are fluff and don’t add to the story, they’ve got to go. Great post, Jane.

  3. Hello, Jane. *waves big*
    We didn’t really watch the tournament this year, and apparently missed a great men’s final, huh? My wife and I watched the highlights on ESPN and it sure looked thrilling, especially when one factors in how close Murray had been before, only to finally win. It was great watching the whole country celebrate. It must have been awesome over there.
    As for writing, that’s a great quote. I don’t like tripping all over an author’s fancy prose. It’s totally distracting!
    I hope you’ve been well, my friend. I’ve missed you. I’m busy over here doing a month-long book tour, but hope to visit more often as soon as it’s over.
    Take care.


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