Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Links, Editing and Temptation

My editing is progressing slowly, which might not be a bad thing. However I think this is due to the fact that I loathe hard work. I am trying to look at my work objectively and logically (not a strong point of mine). I am making index cards for each scene stating what it achieves - who is in it and so on. This for me is not the fun part of writing and I wonder if I will ever do this for another book. In some ways I hope not. I want to learn these lessons on this one so that I can continue to keep the magic and the fun in the writing but I know I may not be that lucky.

I have stumbled on to some very good links this week. One came from Michelle Styles. She has provided me with many a light bulb in this writing journey of mine. She links to this article by Alexander Chee. I have printed it off and used a highlighter to bring the multiple valuable points out. The one that resonated the most for me was this:

"Very quickly, she identified what she called ‘bizarre grammatical structures’ inside my writing. From the things Annie circled in my drafts, it was clear one answer to my problem really was, in a sense, Maine. From my mom’s family, I’d gotten the gift for the telling detail—Your Uncle Charles is so cheap he wouldn’t buy himself two hamburgers if he was hungry—but also a voice cluttered by the passive voice in common use in that of that part of the world—I was writing to ask if you were interested—a way of speaking that blunted all aggression, all direct inquiry, and certainly, all description. The degraded syntax of the Scottish settlers forced to Maine by their British lords, using indirect speech as they went and then after they stayed. And then there was the museum of clichés in my unconscious.

I felt like a child from a lost colony of Scotland who’d taught himself English by watching Gene Kelly films.
The passive voice in particular was a crisis. “Was” only told you that something existed—this was not enough. "

Now take the Maine out and put Massachusetts in and the same with Scottish and Irish.....I have tripped up all my writing life with a natural syntax that leans heavily on the passive and until I read this article never knew, other than that the Irish use it, why.

Nathan Bransford held a competition recently on opening paragraphs which was amazing. In this post he sums up why he chose the finalists. His insight with the examples on why excellent openers didn't make it to the top ten is brilliant for 'seeing' things that as writers we often hear in criticism. Here is a snippet of the post and do read it and the paragraphs as it is eye opening:

"I don't have any set preferences when it comes to structure and approach. frohock left a great comment that sums up my feeling about first paragraphs almost entirely. Essentially, I think the first paragraph has three important functions: it establishes the tone/voice, it gets the reader into the flow of the book, and it establishes trust between the author and reader.

The concept of flow and rhythm is especially important. It's hard to begin reading a book. The reader is starting with a blank slate and doesn't have much context for understanding what is happening. It takes a lot of brain power to read the opening and begin to feel comfortable in the world of that book. So even if the novel starts with action, or especially if it begins with action, it's very important to draw in the reader methodically, with one thought leading to the next. The flow of the words and a steady building goes a long way toward hooking the reader. Quite a few paragraphs jumped around or felt scattered, and it made it difficult to stay engaged.And on the trust issue: I shy away from anything that feels like a gimmick. A novel is simply too long for gimmicks. Not only do they get exhausting, anything that is clever merely for the sake of being clever comes at the expense of trust between author and reader. To put it another way: if a first paragraph is how an author makes their first impression, using a gimmick in the opener is kind of like going to shake the reader's hand while wearing a hand buzzer. There might be a quick thrill, but they're probably not going to trust you after that. There was a feeling of forced cleverness in many of the entries where I wasn't able to lose myself in the paragraph and forget the hand of the author who was writing it. "

This one from Jane Friedman at Writers Digest is self explanatory.

And the last for today is from Michael Hyatt's blog on 'What It Takes To Become a Master Writer' by guest blogger Mary DeMuth. Hard to read but I think true for most of us.

And finally that brings me to the temptation...as I mentioned above I am struggling with the editing (which to me means I need to knuckle down and just get on with it) so I am sorely tempted by NaNoMo. I have Pilgrimage lurking in my head. I want to do the research and I would love to knock out something that in truth would be nothing more that 50,000 word outline. Oh, the call of the fresh and new....

Is anyone doing NaNoMo this year? For me it would be a bit impractical as I will be doing a bit of travel again....................

6 comments:

Phillipa said...

Liz - Thanks for the links. I read the Chee link on Michelle's Facebooks site. Fascinating and inspiring ..but as usual, the more writing hints, tips and philosophies I read, the more my poor head hurts! How do you decide which of them is pertinent to your own writing? Best advice I read recently - and you flagged it up - was Anita Burgh's on taking criticism and following your instinct. We can only do our best... why is is the more I learn, the less I think I know?

liz fenwick said...

Phillipa I agree with you but I have a theory - you only take in the bits you need at that particular moment....

Today I have been wondering why the h*ll I am even thinking that I am a writer but yet I still plod on.
lx

Phillipa said...

Me too. Almost every day for about a year now.

Steve Malley said...

Not doing NaNo, but I do find myself tempted to follw in the footsteps of my favorite pulp authors by tossing back benzydrine and whiskey for three or four days straight until my first draft is finished!

Flowerpot said...

I know several people who are. Not me but Debs is one of them...

ChrisH said...

Thanks for the links - I'm a bit up to my eyeballs but will follow them up. Well done for plugging away with the rewrite.