Tag Archives: Writing

Writer’s Log: 1400 what we remember

Update: I’m back on my first manuscript, Blue Across the Sea, rewriting it for self-publishing on Draft2Digital here soon. This story portrays a designed environment, a bucolic dis-utopian future set in the Great Basin (which is now the Bonneville Inland Sea). I had a great time writing it, but my skills were pitiful — and it shows now that I’m going back through it.

Incidentally, Shadow Shoals takes place in the same future time frame – but on the East Coast of the US. These stories are 200+ years post CME.

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I sat and thought last weekend about stories and what we remember from them. What makes a story memorable? I’m struggling with trying to get the parts of a story balanced: plot, setting, conflict, events, characterization, and dialog. And I wondered if the things we remember about a story might help focus my emphasis. And here is one theory I came up with: What we remember are the people, settings and events.

In M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts I remember the classroom, the chemical scrub, the gnashing of teeth at the sergeant’s arm, the girl strapped to the table about to get her brain removed, the escape from the facility, the bouncing trip in the HumVee, the use of a tiny girl as a lure, the grey wall of fungus.

Do I remember any dialog? No. I remember what happened, the events and the reactions, the suffocating thought of spores entering my lungs. The realization that this was the best representation of zombies ever.

I don’t remember anything anybody said. I recall the girl was super bright, and the teacher naive (no doubt communicated through dialog). But nothing specific.

There’s this YouTube ad, a grizzled writer (for a Masters Class I think) sits and talks, “I’ll a piece of paper, and a pen would be nice, and I’ll sit down and write some dialog.”

I imagine two friends stepping out from the theater after they saw that paper and pen dialog movie, they meet a third friend:

“So, what’d you think?”
“It was good.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, it was two people talking.”
“And what happened?”
“Nothing really. The man smoked a pipe. The woman drank coffee. They were both in their sixties.”
“Nothing happened?”
“They talked.”
“Okay. About what then?”
“Oh, life, love, this and that, I don’t really remember.”
“But it was good.”
“Yeah, but, no, nothing happened. Oh, wait, the guy made a mess with the ashes as he cleaned his pipe.”

We remember events and setting and situations and rarely what anybody said.

Dialog seems to represent the feel and packaging of a character. Dialog is the critical glue that holds story parts together. The parts might be good and memorable on their own, but how we get from scene to scene is people talking us through it.

Yet, we remember the parts and not the glue.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but, again, I’m seeking broad spectrum heuristics here that I can remember as general application rules.


Practice by doing

PracticeGolfBall

I’m a full subscriber to the philosophy of learning by doing. Practice, in my book, is just another name for doing a shitty job because your skills are poorly honed, you’ve got less experience than you need to get the job done, or you’re trying out some new technique or method and need to feel out the boundaries.

Practice for the sake of practice, to me, means you’re not really trying. You could just as easily dial back the effort of a full-on production run, focusing on some specific nuance of your skill set because you need the pressure of production to force yourself to learn that skill.

I used to shoot a rifle competitively — in high school and my first year of college. Yes, such things exist and no they’re not alt-right-NRA-drum-beating-neo-cons. It’s just like archery or darts or curling or hell, shuffleboard. And I used to “practice” all the bloody time. (Like 3-4 nights a week, 1-2 hours a night, with matches on weekends and all summer long.)

But I never took practicing seriously. Matches? Those were intense situations. You put money down (not the high school variety – the club variety). Had we only shot in matches, all the time, I’m sure I would have improved considerably more quickly than I did.

The same, I believe goes for writing. Practice writing? Hell no. Write for some venue. Either high end, medium or like here, low end. But write to publish. Write for production. Practice is for losers.

 


Writer’s Log: 1301

So, yes, I did have to splurge with an extra pint or two of writer’s blood squirted from my wrist-severed arteries at the wall of creativity. Ooh, does that look like Galadrial (Sissy Spacek style…?)

And I would say that, looking back at the process that produced this exquisite expose’ of narrative bliss, those that say you must sit-the-hell-down-and-write-the-fuck-out-of-your-story-UNTIL-IT-IS-DONE! are bite-the-head-off-the-chipmonk wrong. Yes, they’re that bloody wrong.

Not all the time they’re that wrong. If you have a straight month of ten hours a day to burn writing fiction, then sure, I can see that they’re on the leaning-in side of right. But just barely, tipping like they’re about to fall into the pond if they lift an eyebrow at what I’m about to say next…

Which is, take your damn time. Re-read everything you’ve written to date. Review and revise and revisit and redo whatever it is you don’t like about your story up to that point.

Kerplunk!

How the hell else will you maintain continuity over an extended period of writing time? Say you can only write at night, for an hour, three times a week, every third month, during leap years? Of course you’ll have to go back and read what you’ve previously penned. “What the hell did Siegfried say he was going to do if he found Myrtle, ass-end-up in the bath with Roy?” Do you remember? I sure as hell don’t. Well, you better go back to the beginning and reengage your consistency engine…

The point is, for me personally, I was able to take seven months and write a pretty good story. And the only way I could do that was by cycling back again and again to the beginning to recapture the tone, the plot, the voice of the characters. So, bollocks to those that say you must write your novel in a flurry. NaNoWriMo my ass!


In addendum…

One aspect that also affects one’s ability to saddle-up and get wrangling those words right out of the chute is — ya can’t. I can’t. Writing is not like wrangling horses, chopping wood, working in a kitchen, or construction or any of hundreds of jobs where the task it set and a pattern is established for the work at hand.

Writing, to me, takes flow; takes presence of mind. It takes rolling a handful of marbles over the chinese-checkerboard of my mind until they all find their own personal niche: boop, boop, boop. And this takes time. Re-reading of prior chapters, perhaps. Or just note taking while I envision, not just the story, but the voice (my voice) and those of my characters. Again, this takes time, often an hour or more while I bump around, avoiding the task, but thinking about the story… Until the groove starts to show itself.

Writing without a groove is work. And yeah, I’m doing that right this instant. But when it’s story time, and I’m groovin’ with the flow of the plot and the conflict and the enchanting sounds of the words in my mind as they tinkle from my fingers through the keys and onto the screen, well, that there’s pleasure. Not considered work at all.

Trying to cram write? Sorry, but, fuck that.

 

 


You’re writing for me

As a fiction writer, you are not writing for yourself. You can write for yourself, but don’t expect anyone else to read it. Just twiddle away, write your hundreds of words a day, living in that artificial world you’ve constructed and enjoy it. But don’t expect ME to enjoy it.

You see, if you’re writing for an audience, then you have to realize you’re writing for an audience — right-up-front.

Sure you’ll go on your own private journey while you pen your story. The climbing of the icy mountain, the scuba diving off the coast of Ecuador, the rickshaw trip through the back roads of Cambodia, or Fantastica or wherever.

But while you journey and write, remember that it’s me you’re trying to engage. By “me” I mean us, we, your potential readers. Every word you write, phrase you turn, paragraph you ponder, must be done so imagining someone else reading it.

Not you reading it.

Someone, anyone, everyone else reading it. That has to be your constant, back of your mind Buddha, the little fellow who sits there and reminds you, “Hey, I don’t know what that ‘eponymous’ word means! Maybe there’s a simpler, clearer word…”

And it’s not just phasing or your lexicon that matters. It’s the big stuff. Like how fast is your story going? Do you really need all that extra description? Don’t you think that having him fail four times in a row is a bit much? Wouldn’t just twice be enough, with a clever word slipped into infer additional efforts?

Writing’s hard. Writing well is nearly impossible. But if you try it, remember, it’s not you you’re writing for. You’re expressing these wonderful visions so that WE can experience them.