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I recently went on a skiing holiday in Finland. I’d been skiing before – in France, Canada, and on dry ski slopes in the UK – but never on an actual skiing holiday where it’s the main activity of the week.
During the week as I explored new slopes, it occurred to me that skiing is quite like writing a book. It may sound like a pretty random comparison but I’ll try and explain why.
Reaching the top of the mountain is like writing The End on your manuscript. It’s such exhilarating pleasure. But just like skiing, that’s really the start of the journey. You whiz down the mountain and yet there are so many other things to learn, with skiing as with writing. I’ve broken down the different things you learn in skiing into four broad categories, with comparisons to writing.
Equipment or SPAG
Skiing is also about learning how to put on and take off the boots and skis. That’s just the start of learning to ski, and itself takes quite a bit of practice. Not to mention learning how to stand up after falling over. It may sound simple, but trust me, on a slight hill, with heavy boots and skis, it’s harder than it looks. And as you become better at skiing, you can buy better equipment – cross country skis, or skis for speed etc. For me, this is the basic building blocks of writing – spelling, punctuation and grammar – or SPAG as I was taught at school. How can you write a story if you don’t know how to punctuate dialogue, or spell, or break up thoughts into paragraphs etc? As you write more, you learn about dangling modifiers, or the difference between that and which, or when to use a semi colon and a colon…
Lifts or Genre Conventions
Skiing is also about how to use the different types of lift – a button life, a gondola, a chair lift, a T bar lift. Each type of lift has a different way to get on, ride it and get off at the end. All things you have to learn. I think of this as learning to write different genres of story – romance, mystery, thriller, literary fiction. Each genre has its own conventions you should stick with to avoid disappointing your readers. Just like each lift has its own way of getting on and off to avoid…falling flat on your face in the snow!
Difficulties of slopes or Complexity of Plot, Number of Characters
Skiing has 3-4 different difficulties of slopes, from the easiest of green, through blue, to red and finally black which are the hardest most steep type of runs. So once you’ve got comfortable with the easier runs, if you want, you can move onto the next level of difficulty. In writing this could be adding more complex plots, or more characters, or more sub-plots, or simply writing a different length of story – maintaining the suspense over 100k words is harder than over 30k words, or cramming a full story into 1000 words instead of 60k words presents its own set of challenges. I had written stories with 4-6 characters and then tried one with 13 characters, stretching over 90k words. It was much harder to write and keep track of everyone’s character arc and the overall story arc than with fewer characters.
The skiing moves or The Writing Moves
Finally, skiing has a number of different ‘moves’ which increase in difficulty, ranging from snowplough where you point the tips of your skis together forming a snowplough shape. This is the basic way to slow down and stop. Then you learn to turn in this shape, snowplough turns. Then you move onto parallel turns, where your skis are parallel, meaning you go much faster than in a snowplough, and you turn in this form too, faster than using a snowplough. After this you learn to do faster parallel turns or hockey stops, and so on and so forth. Some people were advanced skiers who preferred to remain on the easier slopes, practising their advanced moves. Others were less advanced skiers stretching themselves on a medium difficulty slope. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just down to what you want to learn, practice and enjoy. In writing I compare the skiing moves to your writing skills as they develop through editors, self teaching, and by simply writing more words. Writing – like skiing – is a practical skill that can only be improved through doing, rather than simply reading about it. The more books you write, just like the more slopes you ski, the better you write. For me, examples of this are removing most of the dialogue tags and adding in some action or internal thoughts because like people, characters do and say things at the same time. I used to have a lot of characters bursting into tears, or with descriptions like ‘she was angry’ and I learned about showing and not telling. Early stories I wrote included long passages where the character told another character what had just happened, or with characters moving from one scene to the next scene, with not much going on. I learned about telling and not showing so I don’t write those linking scenes now – unless something really happens in them of course.
So what does this mean for writers?
These variables – equipment, lift type, ski run difficulty, skiing moves – all combine to give many different types of skiers, experimenting within the sport according to what they enjoy, what they want to stretch themselves with, and where they are skiing. It’s the same with writers too – the contemporary romance writer who changes to crime; the gay romance writer who starts writing straight romance; the multi character saga writer who writes a 2 character novella.
I think that’s one of the many reasons why I love writing – you’re never finished learning about it. You’re never simply done! There’s always a new genre, a new form, a new challenge to master, just like the expert skiers who come back to the same resorts season after season, with new skis, trying different runs, new moves, writers come back to their laptops week after week to face the next challenge writing fiction presents us. And I think that’s beautiful.
In 2016 my writing challenges will include: self-publishing, a historical novella, a straight romance, and maybe a non-fiction idea. What are your writing challenges for 2016?
Liam Livings xx