Monday, 15 March 2010

Read Me, I'm a Celebrity

I was going to stick up for Martine McCutcheon. Lots of writers are former actors - I am myself - and if you think about it, the chances are we're going to make better writers than, say, a former plumber or accountant. And then I read 'The Mistress', and all hope of sticking up for MM went out the window. It's AWFUL. Seriously. But it's not enough to say it's awful. Part of writing is learning to examine exactly what makes one bit of writing awful and another brilliant. So here goes...

The first six pages start with our heroine, Mandy getting into a taxi and going to her evening destination. She makes small talk with the taxi driver, and has a few reflective thoughts about her life at the moment.

Good points...
* The purpose of this scene is clear, to introduce the main character, which it does effectively.
* It's also good that Mandy jumps into a taxi, so the six pages that the scene takes have a forward movement as the taxi moves from Mandy's flat to her destination.
* Specific details are used: Mandy clutches a copy of Grazia, the taxi drives past specific landmarks such as the Natural History Museum and the Ritz.
* The pace is fast flowing even though there's a lot of reflection, because she's tempered it with lots of small actions in the narrative present such as checking her makeup and snatches of conversations with the taxi driver.

Not so good points...
* Lazy and often naff adjectives, for example the description of the taxi driver as "a sweet, cheeky chappie in his thirties with cute dimples".
* Telling, telling, and yet more telling - "Mandy loved her home", "she felt good", "she felt relaxed" and so on.
* Having convenient-for-the-writer thoughts..."thinking how thrilled she was that so many of her friends could make it. They were colourful characters of all them, with fast-paced lives, and pinning them down wasn't always easy."
* Having your character appear dim...Mandy "tried her umbrella, arms stretched out of the taxi. 'Eureka, it works!' she trilled, as if discovering a new invention."
* Cliches. It's a cliche to describe your main character by having them admire themselves in the mirror, but even worse if "her hair was as dark as ebony and it fell in shiny waves over her shoulders; her skin was flawless, even and gleaming, her dark long lashes framing her beautiful big brown eyes perfectly."
* The purpose of the scene is to introduce Mandy, which it does. However the impression I get is that she is dim, vain, self-obsessed, lacking humour or humility, self-satisfied. I'm not keen to read on about such a character.

I could carry on nit-picking, but life really is too short. Besides, the worst thing about the scene is that nothing happens. And this is the opening scene. It's like throat clearing before the main speech starts. For six pages a young woman travels by taxi to her destination and has a commonplace conversation with the taxi driver. It would have been so much better to have started with the second scene when she arrives at her destination, her 30th birthday party dinner. The whole thing should have been cut, cheeky chappie and all.


Lizzie said...

What's even sadder about this, Sarah, is that MM has been asked to write more by her publishers. I've only read what was posted online last autumn so perhaps it gets better ... but then again, perhaps not.

But at least MM wrote her novel, unlike Sharon Osbourne who doesn't even credit her ghost writer. Oh well, c'est la vie.

Sarah Duncan said...

She can only improve...

What is a pity is that the things that are not good are fairly easily rectified, and probably would have been if she'd gone through the usual process of going to workshops/classes, getting feedback etc.

Interesting conundrum tho - is it better to have a good celebrity book, because it's actually written by a professional writer, or a poor celebrity book because the celeb did it themselves?