Friday, December 26, 2008

Wordy guy, I'm

Although far from wordy enough. Chains is over 11,000 words now, growing reasonably steadily albeit insufficiently quickly.

This is the first book I've tried writing without some kind of outline in a long time. Flying blind! Instruments only! Zero visibility! Strange vibrations coming from somewhere! Tower, talk me down! Oh, wait, I'm also the tower. Uh oh.

I do know where I'm going, in a general way, and I have nebulous ideas about the signposts along the way. (I'm not going to even try to make that fit with the flying-on-instruments metaphor.)

Right now, the characters are moving along the plot curve, such as it is, mostly by means of lots of extended dialog, banter, and occasional deep thoughts. Which is a kind way of saying that nothing much has actually happened. At this rate, I'll end up with a first draft of some immense length -- 200,000 words? more? -- which will require serious reworking to change it to lotsa stuff happening and serious cutting to make it a salable length.

I'm enjoying the current writing process, and I think I'll enjoy the rewriting process even more. Oddly, I'm enjoying myself more with this book than I have in quite a while. I guess I'd forgotten how exhilarating instrument flying can be.

Wait! What's that looming up out of the mist? Yaaaaaaaaahhhhh!

17 comments:

TGirsch said...

Just curious: Have you ever gotten a crapload of words on "paper" -- maybe tens of thousands -- and then, in the rewrite process, decided that this is an unworkable piece of crap beyond any hope of repair?

That's why I've never tried to publish a novel, except that I doubt I've ever even gotten to the ten thousand word mark.

Also, when you start writing, do you generally start with some McGuffin you expect would prove entertaining, or are you starting from some sort of message that you're trying to convey? Almost all of my very limited fiction writing has been in the former category, and I've meant to play with the latter category. But to my mind, there's already plenty of "important" fiction out there, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with entertainment for its own sake, as opposed to in service of some important message.

David said...

More like bits and pieces and occasionally sizable chunks throughout the book, rather than tens of thousands of contiguous words. Usually, I do an outline or synopsis of some sort ahead of time, since most of what I write is plot based/plot driven, so the problem is usually that I'm not happy with how I've handled a part of the plot, rather than that the material is inherently bad.

Some famous English novelist, I wish I could remember who, said that an important part of writing is "murdering your darlings" - throwing out the sections of prose that you thought were the spiffiest parts when you were writing them. I wouldn't go that far, but I do often find that the parts I thought were just workmanlike while I was writing them are the most satisfying when I'm doing the rereading and rewriting.

Most of my books have started out as a McGuffin. Then I came up with the characters and plot built around that. However, a few years ago, I finally realized that after the first version is done, I need to view the book as embodying a message or a theme or at least as being based on some kind of underlying structure or image. Often I don't see what that is until I finish the first draft and then step back and think about the book. That's not for philosophical reasons but rather because that enables me to tie everything together properly during the rewriting. It also leads to murdering some darlings that seemed great just as prose but that didn't tie in properly.

Alex Moore said...

I've written both ways --> although writing blind is certainly more fun, it's also (at least for me), much more difficult to tidy up. When characters decide, "Oh this would be fun to do," it's usually because there's no outline to follow :) There's always that tedious moment afterward when you're like, "Oh shoot. Now I have to follow these tangled words I've woven and see them through to the end."

On the other hand, one purpose of writing should always be to fill the inner happy spot, so if writing blind suits you, go for it! (Just carry a 'chute!)

David said...

Regarding characters doing their own thing, I haven't exactly had that happen, but I have had characters whom I intended to be minor become interesting and important enough to me that they became major. And that affected the plot, of course.

Years ago, in an online board, a much published mystery author was dismissive of the idea that characters can go their own way, or at least that they should be allowed to do so. She said that all her characters were completely under her control and did only what she required them to do. I remember that discussion being a bit heated.

Alex Moore said...

yes, i've heard the arguments. all i can say is that there are headstrong tugs in certain directions by certain characters. i'm not deluded: obviously, it's all me. i am the one w/ the fricking laptop :) but those tugs are there none-the-less.

i think the real argument comes down to personality types: control-freaks don't admit to anything being beyond their iron-clad grip. Wanderers allow tuggings to entice them in wayward directions, and then blame it on the characters :)

Kevin said...

Tgirsch

I probbly sholdn;t bring this long running argument to someone else's places but this:
"But to my mind, there's already plenty of "important" fiction out there, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with entertainment for its own sake, as opposed to in service of some important message."

Doesn't sit right. First, there is no reason 'important' isn't entertaining. Shakespeare isn't performed daily all over the world becase english profs love it.

Second, I don't think it is possible to have an entertaining -- aside from the so bad it's good variety -- story that doesn't have some sort of theme. It cnnot be entertaning without some sort of coherence among the plot, and the charactorizations. And that coherence lends itself to a theme, even if it is a simple one. It is not possible to be mindless, not really, and be good.

David said...

Kewl! One of my favorite arguments, being threshed out right here on my very own personal blog!

I don't know that Tgirsch and Kevin are saying something different. The great fiction is both entertaining and important, of course. It's that combination that makes it endure. I wonder, though, in how many cases the authors of the great classics started out wanting to say something important, and how often they mainly intended to entertain and the important message or theme was a byproduct.

In Shakespeare's case, we can assume he had entertainment mostly in mind because he was an impresario and entrepreneur and needed to bring in the crowds.

The ancient Greeks seem to have leaned a bit more toward message, but they also knew that if their plays got the approval of the theatrical judges, then the crowds would follow. (Although our view of them is probably distorted because so many of their plays didn't survive.)

So, Kevin, what do you say about P. G. Wodehouse, a master of plot and style and light-hearted characterization, who will presumably be read for as long as he keeps readers laughing? In his late seventies, he insisted that his writing had no message and that, unless he hit his stride in his 80s, the world would have to remain one message short. Is he an important writer because he's such a skilled and delightful one?

Kristen said...

I'm glad you're having fun. I'm flying blind, too - tried an outline, then left it in TN when I came to FL, and have so far managed to put together quite a few scenes that I think are connected.

Like you,I'm looking forward to the revising phase.

Happy writing, and happy new year, and remember to ALWAYS trust the instruments even if you get the leans,

Kris

David said...

I've heard enough horror stories from AF men about experienced pilots who trusted their guts instead of their instruments. Of course, some of those stories were supposition, because the experienced pilots weren't around to explain exactly what had really happened. ...

I just killed off a minor character in a darkly humorous (I hope, anyway) scene, and now I'm burying him in another darkly humorous scene. Fun!

TGirsch said...

Kevin:

I dunno. To use a movie rather than a book (because it was the best off-the-cuff example I could think of), if Die Hard (for example) had any kind of message it was trying to deliver, beyond "it's fun to blow shit up," I certainly missed it.

For what it's worth, I never said important couldn't be entertaining, and never meant to imply it. All I'm saying is that there's nothing wrong with mindless entertainment, either. Entertainment for its own sake, rather than in service of some sort of moral or message, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It seems to be my use of the term "mindless" that's causing confusion. By that, I don't mean something that lacks any themes or coherence whatsoever. I'm just saying that a story doesn't have to contain some sort of commentary about an important political issue, or about some sunny or dark aspect of human nature, or about any of those other themes that "important" authors obsess about, to be entertaining.

In other words, important and entertainment aren't mutually exclusive, but they're not mutually dependent, either. Something absolutely can be one without being the other.

kcraybould said...

Tgirsch

"dunno. To use a movie rather than a book (because it was the best off-the-cuff example I could think of), if Die Hard (for example) had any kind of message it was trying to deliver, beyond "it's fun to blow shit up," I certainly missed it."

Actually, the message was that the best solution to problems as to blow things up (the cop who killed a kid accidentally was cured at the end of the movie and was free to kill again), talking was stupid (see what happened to the pompus business negotiator) and the press was idiotic (in the second movie they upgraded that to the press is the actively evil). Every book/movie that is at least technically competent has a theme/message, even if it is not the overriding point of the piece. The movie makers chose to write their characters in a certain way, and since they were good at their jobs, the plot and the character reactions flowed believably from those basic premise and thus delivered a theme.

David

"I don't know that Tgirsch and Kevin are saying something different. The great fiction is both entertaining and important, of course. It's that combination that makes it endure. I wonder, though, in how many cases the authors of the great classics started out wanting to say something important, and how often they mainly intended to entertain and the important message or theme was a byproduct."

You can get it either way but I think in most cases the people who set out to entertain get it more often. If you set out to entertain, you write real characters who act within the confines of believability define by the parameters of their personalities. And if you have talent, that cannot but help deliver some message, even tangentially.

David said...

kcraybould,

A lot of it is a matter of personality. I've always written mainly to entertain, but I also try to sneak a message by. (I once saw one of my books attacked on a right wing site. The book was called dangerously well written and entertaining, and the "critic" warned that it might brainwash unwary right winger readers into accepting my leftist ideas.) Some writers are message oriented by nature, others entertainment oriented.

There's also a change over time. I have the impression that it's common for young writers to want to write about the wonderful world they've imagined (this would apply mostly to fantasy). Later, some of them become more message conscious.

The opposite can also happen - the equivalent of the 19 year old who wants to explain to everyone how the world really works but who grows out of that.

kcraybould said...

David

I think I am starting to drift off the original topic here, but:

"A lot of it is a matter of personality. I've always written mainly to entertain, but I also try to sneak a message by. (I once saw one of my books attacked on a right wing site. The book was called dangerously well written and entertaining, and the "critic" warned that it might brainwash unwary right winger readers into accepting my leftist ideas.) Some writers are message oriented by nature, others entertainment oriented."

It is my argument (well, not mine. I am not an academic, but I think this would fit pretty well into the Marxist method of reading literature) that whether you set out to have a message or not, your work, because you are a good writer, will have some message or theme to it. Good writing creates that because good writers create characters that react in believable ways to even the most outlandish circumstances. And because we are human beings, no circumstance is ever so outlandish that we will not be able to make connections between it and real life, even unconsciously. Because that is what humans do.

David said...

I think there are a couple of problems with that argument.

First, it's a version of the no true Scotchman argument: "A good writer always conveys a message or theme, whether intentionally or not." "But X writes books that are fun to read but don't have a message or a theme!" "Then X is not a good writer."

Secondly, I think it leads to too nebulous a definition of message or theme. It may be possible to dig something out of a novel one enjoyed and point to that thing as the message or theme, but at the risk of broadening the definition to the point of uselessness.

TGirsch said...

Kevin:

I think we may be talking past each other. What you're talking about are themes, plot elements, McGuffins, etc. Every good story has to have those. When I talk about "important" fiction, I'm talking about stories that have a moral or a message that applies well beyond just the story you're watching.

Case in point, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Sure, it's fiction, but it's also consciously trying to get a point across. The fiction story primarily exists as a vehicle for that message. With something like Die Hard, there is no such message. It's pulp fiction, and I'd argue it's exceptionally well-crafted pulp fiction. The fact that it doesn't have any important moral to convey in no way detracts from its value as entertainment.

(And not all the "important" stuff is good. Just think of all of the "Golden Age" of Sci Fi stuff, e.g., Who Goes There, aka The Thing, where it was really about communism.)

Kevin said...

Tgirsch and David

Yes, but as I said, I think all well crafted art has some kind of message. Maybe this is a no true Scottsman argument, but I don't think so. Good art has to be defined somehow, and I don't think work with solid characters, a coherent plot that makes internal sense is an unreasonable definition. And I don't see how that kind of work cannot have a message. Through the character reaction to the situation, and the natural human tendency to build associations, any well put together art is going t have some kind of message.

Even if its just humor: if the humor is directed at the group listening, then it's highlighting something absurd about the accepted way that group lives. If it is directed at outsiders, then it is used to reinforce that otherness.

Die Hard and The Day The Earth Stood Still had messages about violence. The message was more pronounced and more intricately tied up in the plot of the latter, but there is no question that the message was definitely present in the former.

And I am not trying to say that work that deliberately sets out to send a message is necessarily good. Sometimes, it is good in spite of the poor delivery of the message, like Sandinista. What I am trying to say is that there is no real distinction between "entertaining" and "important" except in the intent of the author.

TGirsch said...

Kevin:

I'm still not sure I agree. And Die Hard is a perfect example. You seem to think there's a "message" there, although you haven't really discretely stated what that message actually is. I think it's totally a formula picture. There's simply no lesson to be learned there, and no important message to be taken away, unless you're working from a vastly different definition of "message" than I am. It's pulp, pure and simple.

Now what I would say is that for you, a message of some sort seems to be a prerequisite before you'll call something "well-crafted." But then you have to explain what the message of some of the formulaic crap you like is, and you especially have to explain how you can like anything involving Wil Ferrell. (Unless something doesn't have to be "well-crafted" for you to like it, I guess...) :)