Here’s a tip for everyone doing NaNoWriMo.
Say while you’re working on your book you get an idea for a decent 2-4K short story, but are uncertain whether you should take a break long enough to write it.
Now this isn’t an instance of “I think this’ll make a good story”. No, this is the story has more or less bubbled forth fully formed out of the froth of your NaNoWriMo-fevered brain, and since you’ve been putting in long hours pounding the keys you KNOW you can write this story, polish it, and get it out the door in 24 to 48 hours.
Well, if that’s the case, and you’re at all interested in actually completing some decent fiction this month, then take the break and write the story.
Your novel draft can wait. Inspiration won’t.
In my continuing quest to make rules to
ignore apply to myself, here’s another one:
I read two books this week. Their names don’t matter much. I liked them both. They had me “turning pages”. But both had what I’ll call critique problems.
A critique group’s job is to find faults, but not all faults need to be corrected, nor can all faults be corrected. A critique problem is that thing your critique group would suggest changing, but shouldn’t be changed because doing so would grossly alter your vision of the story. Perfection shouldn’t be your goal. Your best and the space beyond it are your target. If you have control of your material and are achieving a certain effect and if following the advice of a critique would have you alter so much that that effect would be lost then ignore the critique.
This has been my second writing post. Chuseok pictures to follow.
I’m not a fan of writing posts, especially those written by unpublished, self-published, and/or “neo-pro” writers. Nor am I fan of “celebrity slushreaders” going on about how they dream a story they select might win a Nebula like they were right there writing the story beside the author, or at the very least keeping their tea mug filled, as if reading slush wasn’t the equivalent of being so much human baleen.
Bullshit on all that.
But I’ve got two writing posts itching to get off my fingers so let me just get them done between now and next week and then I won’t have to write about writing or slushing for the rest of the year. I’m putting it here for my own benefit as much as anyone else.
People talk a lot about hooks and openings and grabbing the reader so they keep on reading. And yeah I use the word hook as well, but it’s not about that at all. (Rudy Rucker has a great bit on “hooks” in his Writer’s Toolkit, which everyone should download.)
Other folks talk about establishing trust between reader and writer, and I agree with them but wondered how that trust was gained because it has to be right at the start. Then I got a couple stories in the slush this week that helped me figure it out.
What it comes down to is control.
You can do whatever you want in your story. Write it lush or transparent. Climb Freytag’s pyramid or flip it on its peak and kick it in the rear. Anything goes as long as you’re in control.
As long as each word and sentence connects to the next word and sentence and the whole thing makes a pattern where there’s nothing more you can subtract from it. That’s control. Having pieces left in your hand at the end is control.
What’s not control is starting your story with a well-groomed hook and then piling on introspection, backstory, and/or setting details. What’s not control is leaving nothing out, but throwing it all in there and hoping for the best. Lush doesn’t mean overgrown or overwriting a story so thick it collapses under its own weight.
Every word must link together. They can be ugly or oddly shaped words, but they have to fit into the story’s overall pattern (and of course that pattern can be all freak-a-deak weird, but there has to be some discernable resonance there).
That’s it. Writing post number one is done. It’s all about control.
Next week 10 Bad Slush Habits. Until then here’s Spoek Mathambo’s disturbing cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”. Don’t blame me if it gives you nightmares.
I’m posting this here for my own benefit. You are free to take, leave, or modify this rule as you see fit, but this is how I want to live.
The proper response to a book or short story* is not a blog post about the injustice of the book or story’s existence or why it is just so WRONG WRONG WRONG, but to write another book or story addressing the very issues bothering you.
If it’s a story that makes you angry then write a story fueled by that anger. If you think the author glossed over important details, then by all means create something that widens the scope or changes the perspective. If the story reduces the argument to simplistic terms, then write a story that forces the work back to address a wider spectrum.
Don’t write an angry blog post. Don’t leave a comment. Don’t rattle a saber because you like the way it sounds. Don’t put a chip on your shoulder just to have one there.
Yes. It may be difficult to place that story. It may run counter to prevailing tastes or whatever clique happens to be dictating what’s in fashion these days. Don’t let this stop you. Write the story anyway. Write it with that passion that your words need to be said. Write it like you would that blog post.
But write the story. Articulate your position in prose. And if you decide to post the story online, then make it your blog post.
The best reaction to a thing you disagree with is not a defensive reaction but to create another, better, thing. Explore the initial position, attack it, subvert it, twist it to your own ends, but make something new.
Let the emotion fuel better work, not add to the online noise.
* I’m keeping it limited to fiction because it takes a lot of time and money to make a movie/TV show, and if it’s a comment online that’s making you angry, well, take a deep breath, take a step back, maybe see if you need to clean out the hair-trap in your shower, walk the dog, do the dishes, go to a different webpage, because it’s an online comment and all you need to shoot one of those into the ether is a lizard brain and a twitchy finger hovering near the return key.
Make something new.
Make something better.
Right now I see readers existing on a continuum. At one end we have the addict…
At the other end we have the fetishist…
“… wraparound gold embossed *gasp* slip cover with *pant* waxen end pages and *sniff* mint-tinged book binding glue *squee*…”
Of course both can and do exist in the same person, which is great as long as the overall environment they exist in is healthy. Trouble is that as the distance between poles increases, books cease to be objects we encounter in our day-to-day lives and reading becomes marginalized until it’s either as effortless as eating a tube of Pringles or so fraught with arcana that one expects rites and initiations, along with a full bank account, are required to do it.
Books as addictive substance, or books as art object, support either, but if one side wins it’s likely to be a loss for everyone.
This whole literature versus genre fight, can we just stop it?
This fight between “poseurs” and “hacks”, it’s like a fight between two paranoid reclusive relatives. Each lives behind barricaded doors, ranting against the evils of the other. Meanwhile the actual reader has to put up with them. “Oh yeah. That hack. Jeez, she’s all hung up on plot over there. Yeah. Better add another lock on your door. See you next week. Thanks for the Borges.”
Attention and energy are limited. Read what you want. Write it, too.