Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another 1,000 words. Not bad. Slow and steady wins the race. Of course, it's not the slow part that's hard, it's the steady part.

This book may not end up being 200,000 words long, after all. Could be closer to 150,000 words. But there's no point in thinking about that at this stage.

I'm in the midst of another plot-crucial scene. Tommy has to convince Frank and Ellen of some rather improbable things. So far, he hasn't even convinced me. He'd better improve his spiel pretty damned quickly. Get with it, Tommy.

I can't threaten to bump him off if he's not glib enough. He's the soldier in the book's title. There were supposed to be three equal protagonists, Frank and Ellen being the other two, but Tommy took over. I think it's always hard for a novelist to avoid having one character become the true or main protagonist. In the book after the next one, I hope to pull that off, but I shouldn't let myself think that far ahead.

Time-travel novels are as tricky as mystery novels in at least one respect, I'm finding out. When I wrote my only straight mystery novel, The Cavaradossi Killings, I had to be sure I had figured out in detail what had really happened and which character knew what part of what had really happened. Also, when - at what point in the story - each character knew it. In this time-travel novel, with characters bouncing backwards and forwards in time, it's important not to have a character display knowledge of some past event that he hasn't yet lived through(!). Slightly mind bending.

(As it happens, the first mystery novel I wrote was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Time for Sherlock Holmes, that also involved time travel, but that was really an adventure story, and everyone moved forward through time, although at different rates, so I didn't have to deal with these complications.)

Continuity errors. You see them in movies and occasionally in books. Last weekend, I was exercising to an old alien-invasion movie, Strange Invaders, being shown on TV. It was an embarrassingly bad movie in various ways, albeit suitable for lifting weights to (one doesn't want one's mind too fully engaged while lifting weights), but one thing that made me laugh out loud was how the hero's gun kept changing randomly from snub-nosed revolver to long-barrel automatic. Did the movie makers really think the audience wouldn't notice? Or did they just not care?

My own encounter with the continuity error problem came while I was writing my second novel, The Green God. I wrote it on a portable manual typewriter, so making major changes was an awful chore. While I was rereading the manuscript, I realized that I had written whole chunks centering on an important secondary character whom I had killed off a few chapters earlier. I should have rewritten or eliminated those chunks in which he starred after having been killed, but instead I manufactured some reason why he hadn't really been killed, after all. Which is to say that instead of practising artistic integrity, I thought about the effort it would take to retype all those pages and rejigger the plot, and I cheated.

Oh, I'm so glad that we have computers! Writers can still cheat, but at least it's easier to search the whole manuscript and find every place a minor character appears, for example. In general, computers make fiction more flexible, more plastic. They eliminate yet another barrier between the writer's mind and the story.

Why does any writer reject the use of computers? Some do. Some even reject typewriters and write by hand. Why don't they go back to clay tablets and cuneiform? Or scratch their stories in pictographs on cave walls? Weird people.

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