Saturday, August 29, 2015

Plotland Journey nearly complete

Just as one is pleasantly tired at the end of a long hike or run, so too is the novelist when penning the final scene of a novel that has been labored over for too long.  Behind the valiant novelist lay the swamps on indecision, the tangled paths within the plotting wood, and being lost in the long barren deserts of resolution.  Throughout the journey the novelist has kept an eye on the end, ever seeking the distant mountains of completion where one can pause and look back on the path they have taken, recalling with bitterness the diversions that made the road so difficult to follow.  There on the mountain the novelist can at last breathe a sigh of relief.

But the intrepid novelist will discover that the mountains of completion are not forgiving.  They care little for your past stumbling, discordant steps, your endless frustrations and the malaise that infected you thorough the seventies. The mountains ask only that you scale the terrifying cliffs of penultimate draft review, clawing from one tenuous scene to another, avoiding the landslides of contradiction, trying to establish handholds where style alone will not overcome plotting or characterization mistakes, and getting a firm foothold on the sequential order of time, place, and character.

Finding ones way through the treacherous mountains is a daunting task, taking more than half the time it took to initially cross Plotlland's wastes.  But you somehow manage to fond our way without slipping and falling into the fearsome chasm of abandonment.  You surmount all the pitfalls to reach the foot of the final climb and there discover that you are still a long way from the peak.

Between you and that peak lies the fissure of completing final draft, the chasm of beta reviews, the shaking bridge of endless corrections, and the wayside inn of drinking and sobbing.  After that, after the absolutely final, --FINAL God damn it!-- draft you still must navigate the huge boulders of rejection impeding your work's ultimate success.

The long journey almost makes a novelist wish they hadn't started working on the next one.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Speaking of Writing

Five months ago I felt a sudden, terrible pain in my shoulder that later turned out to be a torn rotator cuff.  X-rays and MRI showed that the rotator muscle had completely atrophied and, as a consequence, the humerus was now nearly touching my scapula. The only cure would be a shoulder replacement which I did not want to do so I've been in intensive therapy to strengthen the other shoulder muscles to compensate.

One of the consequences of this has been an inability to type for more than a brief period. After an hour or less the increasing ache becomes such a distraction that further concentration proves impossible. I thought I would experiment with the on-board dictation software, something I had previously ignored. Even though dictation would be slower than typing, the ability to throw down words for longer seemed an acceptable trade-off.

Te first thing I discovered was that dictation caused me to think before talking, a characteristic that I fail to mind on occasion.  Where before I often typed a sentence or two and then modified it, I now found that I had to compose each sentence in my head before speaking. I also learned that I had to speak more slowly and enunciate more clearly to overcome my mid-east-coast accent.

But those were just mechanical considerations. The more important thing that I learned was that dictating changed my style of writing, especially with dialogue. The dialogue I produced seem to resemble natural conversation, or at least the literary conventions about conversation (that in no way resembles reality.)

I also discovered that my sentences became shorter and have fewer subordinate clauses. My speaking vocabulary seems to be more meager then my typing or reading vocabulary. Nevertheless, the quality of prose produced* reads better than my usual material.  Of course, that is my subjective opinion of my own writing and not that of whatever editor reads the piece and renders an objective opinion. Whether these changes raise my hit rate above the pitifully low numbers (20%) I normally experience or not remains to be discovered.

One of the benefits of the experiment is that I am able to produce more words per session then I was doing by simply sitting in a dark room thinking, plotting, typing, and editing without speaking. The other benefit is that by doing this I am less tempted to spin off and read emails, scan the Internet, or do any of the hundreds of distracting efforts that impede my writing.

I do not think that dictation will ever replace the hard work of editing, correcting, and rearranging text into a finished peace. However, for initial conceptualization and just getting the story down in concrete form, dictation seems to be the best way to go.

Not to mention easier on the shoulder.
* Regrettably, the number of misspelled words has remained 
constant but now I can blame the software.

# SFWApro

Friday, August 7, 2015

Getting Off the Stage Gracefully

Eventually, after months of pounding out sporadic, confusing, and often contradictory chunks of writing, my mass of words has begun to coalesce into what looks like a  novel - sort of.  I've got the characters fairly well defined, the scenes have become consistent from one chapter to the next, and everyone's names have finally settled into their final forms (and spelling.) After arranging the various chunks into an order of presentation and plastering over the plot holes it appears that I have managed to compose a more or less complete story.

Or have I?

In the final part of this tale the protagonists, having achieved their goals, are standing around, shuffling their fictional feet, and making small talk and wondering what they are supposed to do now that they've strutted and fretted their hours upon the stage.  Do they simply shrug and exeunt stage right?  Do they perform a dance, recite the major events to remind the readers what a great time they had?  What to do? I don't have any horses on which they could ride into the sunset. What to do?

The novel can't just end abruptly and I refuse to use an afterword chapter to talk about what later happens to my characters since I'd feel as if I was letting the reader invade their (fictional) privacy. Characters deserve to live their own lives, you know.

I can't be the only writer with this problem of how to wrap things up gracefully, at once rewarding the reader with something they can savor and, at the same time, telling them that this bit of fiction is over, thank you, and please don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.  I'm starting to suspect many of those who write serials do so because they can't figure out how to prevent an awkward end that lets the characters get on with their (fictional) lives off stage and in private.

Plot resolution was easy, but crafting a proper ending is proving to be hard work.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Signposts Along the Plotland Trail

The most recent issue of The SFWA Bulletin contained a Michael Bishop quote that I paraphrase here for emphasis. "...No one writes a novel, but instead writes segments of a novel that may eventually become the novel initially imagined..." He goes on to say that a writer should concentrate on writing good scenes that will be knitted together to comprise the work.   Others have told me that no writer ever understands what their novel is about until it is done.

I take this to heart as my struggles with the novels under development writhe and squirm under my fingers, the characters and plot struggling to wrest the story in directions known only to them.  Meanwhile, in my role as shepherd and breeder I attempt to steer them away from dangerous marshes of uncertainty where they may become eternally trapped.  Sometimes a character wanders far afield from where I intended to take them and I must send my sheep dog of editorship to bring him, her, or it, back to the fold.

That then is my failure.  I've attempted to take the story to a specific end instead of merely concentrating on achieving the next narrative quarter mile (0.402336 km) as Bishop states. Perhaps I should emulate Chaucer and his band of storytellers, revealing one interesting episode at a time while nevertheless continuing onward to the cathedral of completeness and see where that takes me.

Perhaps it will lead me to virgin country or, at least, as satisfactory conclusion.