Society’s latest pariahs?

DifferentBeing a wordsmith by profession, I perhaps notice this more than I should. But it seems to me that there’s a lot of lazy writing and cliché that surrounds the issue of overweight and obesity in the press.

To start with, there’s the fashionable catch-all term – the obese – that apparently offensive group of people who have had the audacity to over-indulge and now make disproportionate use of free health services and take up too much room on trains and aeroplanes. The default position of the media fat-haters is indignation: How dare the obese eat so greedily, and lean so heavily on services paid for by our taxes, and inconvenience us so intrusively with their overflowing flesh?

That’s the obese… but then, there’s the morbidly obese – an even more loathsome lump of offending flesh; those of us so apparently devoid of the capacity for self-regulation that we’re actually killing ourselves.

There are other lazy clichés adopted by the media too.  Who hasn’t read those stories about overeaters stuffing themselves with food, piling on the pounds, or ballooning to a hefty weight?

The effect of this lazy writing is to depersonalise the enormous (pardon the pun) and diverse population of individuals whose size is above the ideal range, turning them into a single amorphous blob of uncontrolled indulgence; a blob on which it is apparently now acceptable to pour scorn and derision.

But… people whose weight exceeds what society deems a ‘normal’ range are not a clutch of cholesterol-laden clones.

We may chuckle when we get together, about our inability to eat just one chocolate, or our fondness for a takeaway, but we’re all different. Not every fat person loves McDonalds and KFC; we don’t all pig-out, lonely and friendless, in front of the TV every night; we don’t all pass the time shovelling our faces full of donuts – in fact most of us don’t do anything remotely like that. We don’t all sit on our ample arses all day long; we don’t all get puffed out climbing the stairs. Some of us even like salad!

We’re individuals, with a multitude of different issues, challenges and histories; a variety of health concerns – or none at all; a spectrum of self-awareness and psychology; a diversity of shapes and sizes, ages and genders, ethnicities, social backgrounds, educational accomplishments, intellects and achievements.

Like many, many people – possibly every single person in the entire world – we have let one aspect of our life run some way beyond acceptable boundaries.

Some people smoke, others drink to excess. Some gamble their wages away, others take chances with anonymous sexual partners. Some didn’t apply themselves at school, others never go to the dentist. Some can’t get through a day without a few puffs of weed, others can’t get through an evening without a few glasses of red. Some go crazy when separated from their mobile phones, others can’t separate themselves from their virtual realities. Some people can’t throw anything away, others need their CDs in alphabetical order and their pencils all lined up.

We all have challenges, weaknesses, shortcomings and areas of our lives where we’re not at our very best. For those wearing weight above what society deems ‘normal’ – a part of that will have something to do with food.

That is it. The end.

Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing

pencil-sharpener-390609_1280 - 2A ‘Happy Sunday’ quickie – and a chance to catch some old posts too. A few ideas on sharpening up your writing – great tips and snippets of advice I’ve received over the last four years.

  1. Learn how apostrophes work; and semi-colons.
  2. Well, it’s really rather important that you just do this. Run search and delete on every instance of the following words: really, just, quite, rather, very, oh, so, well and suddenly. Check out my post ‘One Word At A Time’ for this and other editing tips.
  3. Practise Show vs Tell the Anton Chekhov way: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
  4. Take a chunk of back-story or exposition and rewrite it into a dialogue. Then repeat. Then repeat again. Dialogue is much more engaging than flat-text exposition and a page of conversation is easier to read than a thumping boulder of a paragraph.
  5. Focus on sensory detail. Not just sight, but sound, taste, touch and smell. It will enrich your reader’s experience. I blogged here about using all the senses.
  6. Every time you see two clever, descriptive adjectives side-by-side, delete at least one of them. Yes, every time. Writers can publish with excess of adjectives, but only once they’ve sold a gazillion books and are unassailable. (If you doubt me, check out J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith – but then go and delete half your adjectives, because you won’t so easily get away with it.)
  7. Review your work for any not-so-perfect tenses (past perfect, past continuous and past perfect continuous) and opt for something more immediate. I blogged about how this works here.
  8. Delete the first paragraph of every chapter. There’s no need for foreplay, dive straight to the action. Hmmm, personally, I appreciate literary foreplay, so I’m not sold on this tip – but better writers than me will endorse it.
  9. Delete the last paragraph of every chapter. Don’t hang about after the action. Get out, fast. This, I can vouch for.
  10. Clichés – avoid them like the plague… Yes, you guessed it, I blogged! This one might actually hit the mark (doh!)

The Fat Bird – an atypical protagonist

Fat BirdI needed a strong central female character for Singled Out; a woman in her early to mid-forties, perceptive, bold and shrewd. When it came to physical appearance and with one eye on Hollywood (see how optimistic I can be!) I could have gone for an Angelina Jolie, a Julia Roberts or a Gillian Anderson type – lithe, slender, unsettlingly striking.

But I’ve gone for a fat bird. Yes, my protagonist – early to mid-forties, perceptive, bold and shrewd – is unapologetically overweight.

But let’s be clear, this isn’t your stereotypical one-dimensional fat bird. You know the cliché; the friendless, clumsy lump, drifting round in a cloud of body odour, stuck in a dull job and spending her evenings in front of the TV stuffing her face with donuts and chocolate whilst fantasising about an imaginary boyfriend. If she’s in a novel or a TV series, she’s the one that’ll get murdered, her corpse lying undiscovered in a secluded attic flat for months until her bodily fluids seep through the floorboards and attract attention. Or she’s the deranged axe wielding perpetrator, desperate for affection and driven to heinous crimes by her loveless, empty life. So far, I’m afraid, so very predictable.

That’s not my girl. Not even a little bit.

In the great tradition of novice writers I’m writing what I know – at least in part – because I’m overweight too. I’m a lifelong yo-yo dieter who has spun into middle-age at the wrong end of the string. Depending on your perspective, I’m fat, plump, obese, tubby, lardy, big, broad-beamed, heavy, chubby, chunky, stout, podgy, ample, fleshy, well-rounded, plus-size, large, buxom, curvaceous, womanly, cuddly, curvy, rubenesque, bountiful, abundant, voluptuous and any number of other flattering and not-so flattering descriptors.

Apparently, novice writers are wont to base a main character on themselves. But I’m sorry to disappoint you; whilst I wouldn’t mind being my female protagonist, and whilst she and I share one or two other characteristics, I’m really not her. I understand the physicality and the occasional self-confidence issues of someone who carries extra pounds and I thought it would add a non-stereotypical dimension to my character – and that’s more or less where it ends. I’d love to have her boldness, and her hair, come to that. But she has frailties and failings that…  Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Anyway, they are frailties and failings I like to think I don’t possess. I have others, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

When it comes to my abundant, warm yet troubled female lead, I’ve played it deliberately vague on the question of size. That’s because what’s fat to one, is curvaceous to another, what’s blubbery and revolting to one is alluring and magnificent to another. My readers get little – actually nothing – in the way of specifics. No height-to-weight ratio, no Body Mass Index, no speak-your-weight scales, no dress size – nothing… um… concrete.

Aspects of her physicality reveal themselves here and there but the biggest (sorry) clues the reader will get are from the other characters, who respond to her according to their own perspectives, prejudices – and desires. She could be a size 16 or a size 26 for all the reader knows, and I imagine each reader will see her differently.

As to how I see her – I’m not telling. If you encounter this woman within the pages of my debut novel, you’ll need to imagine her yourself; and the persona you conjure up will be informed by your own perceptions and preconceptions, alongside all the other clues to her character, spirit and style.

I just hope I’ve done a good job of bringing her to life.

Cliches: Avoid them like … …

This writing business, it’s a roller coaster ride, up one minute, down the next. It’s been emotional and I’m struggling to come to terms with it. Some people think it’s as easy as pie and writers don’t have a care in the world. But you have to be tough as old boots and hard as nails to suffer the slings and arrows and weather the storm. You have to think outside the box, have nerves of steel, take the rough with the smooth and above all, don’t let it get you down.

You may get out of bed the wrong side and feel like a bear with a sore head some days, but you’ve got to keep on keeping on, because at the end of the day, it’s down to you. It is what it is and if there’s no pain, there’s no gain. Just don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

But keep your chin up. Every cloud has a silver lining and every dog has its day. What goes around comes around, and time heals all wounds. In the grand scheme of things you’ll live to fight another day.