Tag Archives: Ken Kesey

Writing Fiction: Quotes

A few of the quotes that I have had, at various times, on my writing board.

  • I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. Hemingway to Fitzgerald.
  • 200 words a day. What Anne Enright would have tattooed on her in the event of a midlife crisis.
  • Be aware of the bear. Ken Kesey.
  • Talk to your muse as frankly as you would talk to your friends. Allen Ginsberg.
  • I just think there too much pressure on this idea of character. Find truthful moments first and character will come. And you will be surprised how it comes and will keep coming and it’s an endless well. Brad Pitt.
  • When writing, just jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. Ray Bradbury.
  • I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am. Jane Austen.
  • It is never too late to be the person you could have been. George Eliot.
  • Be as intelligent as you are. Mike Myers explaining the rules of improvisation.
  • Writing is problem solving. Me. A reminder for every time I get stuck.

Writing Game: Placebos

A paediatrician friend told me that his favourite cartoon was of a man at a surgery saying, ‘I’ll take the placebo if it makes you feel better, doctor.’  Or there’s my favourite, The Simpsons, when the people of Springfield rush to the hospital for a miracle drug and are told it is just a placebo.  ‘Where can we get these placebos?’ someone shouts.

But so much for the joke.  A recent Horizon programme showed how something as simple as a pill filled with sugar or corn flour can help in recovery from IBS and Parkinson’s in full flare-up.  A fake procedure aids recovery from vertebral fractures.  And it’s not just health.  The performance of the British cycling team was so improved that one cyclist recorded a personal best time.  A climber was able to function at low oxygen levels.  Best effects are from being given a large red and white pill by someone wearing a white coat.  But it can even work when you know you are being given a placebo.

So, my question is this.  What if you were given a new miracle pill for your particular field of endeavour, and told that, for the period of taking that pill, your performance would improve to a standard beyond that which you thought you would be capable of?  What would you find yourself able to do?

For me, I would find myself able to write with the mastery of Jane Austen, the energy of Charles Dickens; fluency of Penelope Lively; the informal humour of Raymond Chandler; the wit of PG Wodehouse; the poetry of Ken Kesey.

The fictional world would present itself to me as if I were just a stenographer sitting in the scene with the characters.  No longer needing to worry about plot, because that was just something that happened in front of me.  And at the end, I would be able to look back and see how things had connected up, and why the protagonist now finds him/herself where she is.  A fully realised world with insights and knowledge about it seamlessly woven into the prose.  Characters who had both humour and suffering.  A plot that drew you along with a sense of mystery and disclosed something deeper towards the end.

As an experiment, I tried this on a chapter I was rewriting.  Using, as my placebo, a large vitamin pill taken with a glass of fizzy water (no, really).  And certainly there were insights.  Somehow I relaxed more easily into the point-of-view of the main character.  So much so, that when I tried to change something she had said because it didn’t seem right, she got quite cross.  I put it back the way it was.

What we’re talking about would be familiar to anyone who uses solution-focused techniques.  It’s a mild form of self-hypnosis that helps you to overcome the barriers that normally exist.

Structure: Follow the Dog

It came as a big surprise to me, aged 19, to realise that novels were written on purpose.  I’m not sure that I’d thought about it that much, I had been too busy playing in a band and not concentrating at school.  But after crashing out of exams, and a year of work, I decided to retake my A levels.  I ended up with an English teacher (I wish I could remember his name) who taught structure.  Writers write on purpose.  When a character in a Jane Austen novel goes ‘beyond the ha-ha’, or wanders down a serpentine path, it means something.

Well, duh.  Except for me it was like cracking a code.  Like the first time I was told that the scrolling black-and-white thing at the top of a TV screen means there’s about to be an advert break.  Or that every time a character is sad in a film, it is raining.  This was great!

My favourite book at the time was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had got the idea that it would be interesting to look at the halfway point in novels.  Because if you were going to write on purpose that would be an obvious place to have something significant, (don’t even get me started on Sophie’s Choice).  I opened it at exactly halfway, and found a dog.  A page-and-a-half about a dog, to be precise.  Chief Bromden is looking out of the asylum window and he sees, ‘a young gangly mongrel slipped off from home to find out about things went on after dark.’  The dog explores holes in the fence, is distracted by migrating geese, and then sets off after them.  Then I looked at the start of the novel and found this: ‘A bluetick hound bays out there in the fog, running scared and lost because he can’t see.’  And at the end of the novel, ‘I ran across the grounds in the direction I remembered seeing the dog go.’  Just planted in there: the beginning, the middle and the end: a mirror to the Chief’s state of mind.  I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t been looking.  It’s almost as if Ken Kesey knew what he was doing.