How I write: Mark Haddon
Published: January 12, 2005
|In novelists' continual quest for a distinct narrative voice, Mark Haddon struck gold with his smash hit The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (900,000 copies in print). The narrator is a 15-year-old autistic boy, Christopher, who understands math and science but not human beings. His resolve to find the killer of his neighbor's dog and the dissolution of his carefully ordered world are the heart of a poignant, funny story. Haddon, 43, has worked as an illustrator, cartoonist, painter, and award-winning television writer and children's-book author. He lives in Oxford, England.|
Other credits: 20 children's books, including many novels, the Agent Z series and the Baby Dinosaurs picture-book series.
It's like breathing or eating. I'm not even sure if there is an answer to the question Why? It's simply who I am. But if I were pressed ... I guess it comes down to the near-religious experience I have when I read a truly wonderful piece of writing, whether it's George Eliot or Shakespeare, Jane Austen or Homer. I write in the vain hope that I can give something of that same experience to other people.
I constantly revise as I'm writing. Every time I sit down to work on a novel, I read and edit the previous five, 10, 15 pages. Consequently, when I finished Curious Incident, the early chapters had probably been revised at least 50 times.
It's something I've learnt from working in television. Every script will end up going through at least eight drafts (sometimes for good artistic reasons, sometimes for annoying technical reasons). It's painful, but you soon learn that a script nearly always improves when it's rewritten. The same is true of a novel.
|Finding a narrative voice:|
Having spent a long time inside Christopher's head, I've learnt some important lessons. Perhaps the most useful is this: Remove yourself from the picture. Put yourself completely at the disposal of your characters, your situations, your story. Don't give in to the temptation to show off or to indulge yourself. No one is reading the book to find out about you. Quite the opposite. A good book will help the readers find out more about themselves.
Getting the ideas is the easy bit. If you're a writer, they flock around the inside of your head like bats. The difficult part is sorting the one idea that will work from the 99 which won't.
As for Curious Incident, I began with the very pragmatic and unglamorous determination to write an opening page which would grip a reader and make them want to keep reading. Hence, the image of the dog with a fork through it. At this stage, I had no idea that the narrator would be a teenager like Christopher (he came along when I realized that the image was stranger and funnier if it was described in a monotone). And I think it was this which, hopefully, saved the book from being too earnest or sentimental. If I'd set out to write a book about disability, I suspect it would have been the kiss of death.
Read widely. Write huge amounts. And throw lots of it away. It's easier, and quicker, to write a new novel than to rescue one which isn't working. Believe me. I know. But don't worry. None of the good stuff is ever lost. It just sits at the back of your head waiting until you can use it again.
Find good readers and use them regularly. They're the ones who give you criticism which chimes with the secret doubts you've been having all along. Whatever else writing might be about, it has to entertain. And if you've got yourself a good reader, you can check that out right now.
--Posted Jan. 12, 2005