Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sixteen more chapters

I was working for my uncle in Rochester when I was in my twenties and we landed a multi-million dollar project in Minneapolis that I ended up running. We had hardly any profit on the thing so we had to keep the costs down as much as we could. Brilliant that we were, we decided that I would drive to visit the project. Drive from Rochester to Minneapolis and back. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

On the way there. everything was beautiful. I stopped and snapped this picture somewhere in the outskirts of Chicago on the way there. But the drive back was agony. Man was never intended to spend that much time on the road. Truckers must be mad. By the time I hit Cleveland on the way back, I was literally hallucinating. (Well, I think I was stoned as well, and headed west for two hours out of Cleveland instead of going east, so that might have added to the pain of the trip)

The later chapters of the WIP are similar in some ways. I've become so sick of the journey that I simply want tot get it over with and therefore I think I have become somewhat reckless. Fortunately, those 16 chapters have the tightest outline, and have the most pre-written passages of the MS with the exception of a chapter here and there early on. I need to be vigilant not to speed through these so fast that I screw them up.

There's the tug of putting the work out there, yanking me by the ear. The need to get feedback on the thing. The need to have the ego stroked. It's so prevalent in writers, that critique circle decided to put a feature on their forums whereby you can applaud someones forum post. Just a little dash of encouragement. Wow, what a great post, you must be a great writer, the author believes that the one who praises is thinking. No, it's not worth putting it out there now, not before it's ready. The only critics that count are the ones who are willing to part with cash to read it.

Sixteen more chapters, a bit of polishing, and I'll be ready to face the real critics.

There's a strange effect the exhaustion that comes with working on something this long brings. You look back and you see the improvements in your vocabulary, in how you are able to express yourself, in your depth of knowledge for having researched all sorts of things you would otherwise have never taken an interest in while you sat there watching football, or soccer. You gain an appreciation for the very act of writing, and realize that you've succeeded regardless of whether or not the critics like the result. Obviously, the joy of said reward is far better if your work is appreciated, but failure in that respect isn't nearly as dark as it it seemed it would be years ago, when this thing was growing wings.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Attributing motives is now in the past, and the rest of the MS is action

By my estimation, I've written enough words to fill six volumes of War and Peace. I'll discard more than five of those before I present what's left to the public. That means that one out of every six words I write is shit. That's a .160 batting average in baseball. The only kind of team that keeps a player with that kind of average is one of those youth league teams that doesn't keep score because they don't want to hurt the child's fragile ego. Everyone gets a trophy. Luckily, in writing, batting average doesn't matter.

I left one big motive surprise for the epilogue to help set up the possibility of a book two, if there is one, but other than that, from this point on, I'm pretty confident that the reader knows what drives every primary and just about every secondary character. I've passed the Rubicon in the book, probably three fifths done, and from here on in, it's a chess match and backyard brawl. What's strange is that the easier it gets to put the chapters in chronological order and discard the extraneous crap, the less it feels like writing. These chapters are so structured and fixed in my mind, that any word that doesn't belong sticks out like a fox in the chicken coop.

One thing I've noticed is that, after having thought about this stuff this long, and having played it in my mind this many times, some things become stale, particularly the humor. It's like watching the same movie every day for five years. I might have chuckled at a line the first ten times I wrote or read it, but I'd have to have Alzheimer's to keep laughing at the same thing every day.

The wife and I own hundreds of DVD's. Maybe more than a thousand at this point. One of my favorites is a documentary about the making of The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. The Floyd is probably my favorite group, and that's one of my favorite albums. There's a scene in the DVD in which David Gilmore wishes he was just an ordinary person who got to listen to the album from start to finish without having been a part of its creation. The inference being that, the very act of having been involved in its creation, having listened to the component parts and all they discarded, robbed him of getting the full pleasure of the presentation.

I think that's a very profound statement. I really believe that the author's immersion into the creation of a book, robs him of the pleasure of it's proper presentation. There are clearly different pleasures at play, the very act of its creation for one, but the book is like a song or painting. Its natural state is the finished state. The state that's supposed to entertain the reader. I'm amused by my story. If nobody else is amused by it, it wouldn't shock me because I simply have no idea of what to expect. Gone are the early days of writing with the Pulitzer Prize daydreams. I lost those about five years ago. I have no delusions that I'm a Tolkien or Asimov or Tolstoy. As much as the heart wants it to be that unique, that good, the head tells me it's not. But I think I'd like to read it complete for the first time, as if it was written by someone else, just to see how much enjoyment I'd get out of it. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

In search of elegance

According to conventional wisdom among scientists, a good theory has elegance. The same can be said for writers. A good book has elegance.

Mark Twain destroyed James Fenmore Cooper's works. He ridiculed Cooper's style and technical ability with what would amount to Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift's hands (or whatever their names are, I just remember the moment, not the singers) at the Grammys and declaring that she didn't deserve the award. Yet Cooper's books were elegant. There was a beauty to the art. He brought the power and grace of the American Indian to the page unlike anyone had prior. And the fact that the true heroes of his books were Indians, while Twain made them the villains of his, has to put some doubt in the minds of anyone who blindly rushes to accept Twain's view of Cooper's craft.

Elegance isn't easy. I think I've achieved it in the past, but I think I'm lacking in some in parts of my MS. My problem is that the need to move the plot along overshadows the need for elegance. However, I plan to go back and smooth out those parts as best I can to bring a bit of the waltz to the break dance.

What brings about elegance in a novel, one might ask. Simply put, it's the flow of one thought to the next. One scene needs to logically bring about the next, and so forth. I believe the writer allows himself more latitude than the reader in that respect. That means the writer should overcompensate a bit. Not so much that half a chapter is wasted on transition, but enough that the reader follows the line of logic.  

On a lighter note:

Arlene put this blog in hers as part of one of those blog versions of chain letters. I'm supposed to nominate five blogs on here for my favorites. Well, I really only visit three regularly. One is Arlene's, one is Barbara's, and one is Jean's. The links are in the sidebar.

I've had a lot of friends in my life, thought most of them I no longer converse with on a regular basis, if at all. The ones I do keep in touch with are wonderful people, but they're not authors. They are great in person, but the written word eludes them. And, unfortunately, most of them are in Pittsburgh, or places like that. Too far to drive in one night and be home in time for supper. So, we e-mail each other periodically, some of us daily, but the people I've grown closest to are the authors I exchange blog comments with. Being authors, they express themselves far better than my friends or family does, which makes them more interesting over the Ethernet. What a strange world we've devised for ourselves.

As reclusive as I am, I thank God every night for this medium that allows me to communicate with people I would've never been in touch with if technology wasn't what it is today.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Confusing and daunting and beautiful, all at the same time

I just re-read chapter one after not having seen it in months. As to the question of whether or not the plot moves along quickly, yes it does. But is it too quickly? I have no idea.

There is no sentence, no word of the manuscript that is frivolous, though some may seem that way at the beginning. each word plays a part. Each phrase sets up future events. Well, maybe not later in the book, but in the first five or six chapters, it's all relevant. Even the stuff hat seems like character building.

The problem is that there are chapters that jump around, and the first chapter is one of them. Someone more concerned with selling might remedy that situation, but this is the chronology I wish to divulge the story in. That puts me in a pickle. if you're in this predicament, my suggestion is, don't worry about it. If you're a good enough writer, a 5000 word opening chapter will set the mood, and that's all that counts. The two or three relative facts you'll eventually reinforce along the way are irrelevant at this point anyway, so don't worry that someone will forget the nickname of your MC's friend.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I need to re-work some anchors of the book.

In romance, the story must end in happily ever after, or it gets categorized as some other genre, so I've been told. Science fiction, however, leaves no such constraints on the storyline, only requirements of futuristic possibilities driven by a scientific premise. It's the difference between telling the pet store you want a pet that licks your face at the end, and saying you want a pet that has dog hair. Each type of story is open ended in its own way, and each is confining.

The three plot threads that drive my MC revolve around politics, sci-fi, and romance. When one ebbs, one of the others wanes. Since the manuscript will ultimately be classified as science fiction, I'm feeling a little inadequate in that thread. I'm confident in the other two aspects, but this is a rope that must hold tight, and if one of the threads is weak, then the whole thing snaps.

My background in science is weak. I did okay in high school, and I passed my college chem and physics courses, but I didn't ace them because of the math. I do well with simple math. In fact, that's the primary requirement of my job, but that's a far cry from differential equations, which gave me fits in school. I do, however, love theoretical science, and that's really what I need to shine in my story. The problem is that, while I love it, I've been so focused on learning how to write and a new found love of politics, that I've neglected to keep up with the latest scientific advances. Oh, I buy the occasional Scientific American, watch Nova, or Discover, but my knowledge of the the field I need for this book is antiquated, dates back to the early 90's.

It started gnawing at me the other day, so I bought a couple recent books that were released on the subject, and I find that a premise or two on the sci-fi aspect of my book is out of whack with currently accepted knowledge. Fuck. Not a big problem, but I'll have to fix about three or four paragraphs throughout the book that took me a long time to construct. These explain the science part in layman terms, so without them, the thread breaks down. Getting caught up is something I should have done before starting the book, though it's hard to get caught up on your subject matter when you don't know what that subject matter will be yet. I wish I was lazy enough to leave it. It's plausible enough in its current state, but it would drive me crazy. I'm not going to do it now. I just finished one of the chapters that I didn't have clearly defined in my head. I have one more of those right after that one, and another a few chapters later, but all the other chapters from where I am to the "The End" are crystal clear. They'll go quickly. I'll cruise down the other side of the mountain, and then go back and fix the hiccups. Besides, by the time I'm done, there may be a hundred more scientific discoveries and theories that emerge, and I'd hate to have to do it again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I've been deceived for 49 years by my parents.

My parents are some of the most honest people I know, but I discovered yesterday that they've been keeping a dark secret from me my whole life. My buddies and I are planning a semi-annual trip far north into Canada to go fishing, and I was polishing up on my limited French in case we have to go through Ottawa where they seem to refuse to speak English for some silly reason.

The wife asked me if I knew any swear words and I told her that Mr. McHale had taught us a few in 10th or 11th grade. I boasted that I know the word "fuck" in many languages, and she asked me what the word was in Czech, the tongue of my birth. I didn't know.

She said I should look it up on line, and so I did. Turns out I've known the word all my life. It's one my dad used liberally when we were growing up, but the parents told me when I was "old enough" that it meant whore. Bad enough, but not quite the word for the dirty deed. I guess they couldn't bring themselves to admit that dad had been cutting loose with it all this time. And all this time I thought he that was just the one place he wouldn't go. Now I know, he's just as vulgar as me. Nice. I feel relieved somehow.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Four Chapters into one

I've condensed more than I thought I would. Four chapters down to one, that's got to be some sort of record for me. It was easy. The mind does it all by itself.

The clearer the story becomes in the brain, the more one focuses on the fun parts of the MS. Well, maybe not fun for the general public, but fun for me. So the more I think about the chapters and scenes I like, the less I think about the others, and the less relevant they become. Nothing wrong with them, but they no longer fit the flow of the story. After all, we're talking about scenes written years ago for something that only came into real focus about last summer.

I've moved some of them into the file for part two of the trilogy, and the rest either got nuked or spread like butter to other chapters. Yes, it's a trilogy. It's always been a trilogy, ever since I read Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. It has to happen in three stages. It feels natural. I don't know who the first one was to come up with it, but it just feels right. That's about as long as I'll need to tell the whole of this tale.

Part one just jumped from chapter 18 to chapter 22. That's more than half, and the second half is far more defined than the first. Also, the next few chapters will be condensed into one, so it feels like I'm about 2/3's of the way through.

On a technical note, I try real hard to make sure that none of the chapters is solely focused on one character or the other. Even in the scenes when the protag is almost alone with his love interest, there are other characters involved, and therefore, there are sub plots that intermingle with the main plot. I've noticed that, in the chapters where the protag doesn't come into contact with either his love interest, or the antag, there's a far better chance for the secondary characters to make a statement about who they are, and I'm not sure they're different enough from the protag to make the chapter feel as though it's not about the same person. After all, the whole book is about me. I live in all the characters, male and female. They are simply an extension of my good and evil. I think they're different enough so that I can tell the difference, but I need to make sure the reader can tell the difference, and that might men going back and instilling idiosyncrasies into the secondary characters. At first, I cringed at the thought, but now, I think I'm looking forward to it. I think that two of them need to have the Quasimodo hump. This may be the most fun I've had in a long time.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The end is not as far as it seems

That's a picture of me. wrestling in high school. I wasn't much good. I barely won more than I lost. But working on this WIP doesn't feel the same. I can't lose, because I control the outcome. And it's not that far from completion.

Ask the layman how long they think a manuscript will take to finish when the first half took 4 years, and they'll tell you 8 years. Ask an author, and he'll have a better idea. My outline is a living entity I record on my tapes, these little dictatorial tapes designed for office work. I've recorded 21 and a third to date, and I've transcribed 17 onto the page. The first eighteen or so, went fairly fast because I was building the plot and characters in that precious hour I get to write while I'm in traffic on the way to and from work. (an hour commute each way). But the last few tapes have taken much longer, and putting those tapes on paper and then in the computer, and then in sequence won't take nearly as long as the first few. The ideas are much more focused. I know the characters far better than I did early on. And as soon as I catch up to what I'm recording, the hour I get at lunch to refine the prose will be much more focused, because instead of needing that time to take what I've written onto paper and entering it into the computer, I'll be able to concentrate on sequencing, and then eventually, on removing the parts that don't move the story along.

I would never recommend this process to anyone. It is ridiculously tedious. It is frustrating. But it's the only way that can work for me at the moment. I'm confident that, a year from now, I'll be putting it out there for critique, and another year later, I'll be querying. For those who punch out a book every six months, that may seem extreme, but for me, it feels like light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My super secret formula

So I'm on chapter 19. For anyone not familiar with my writing style, my chapters average about 4-5000 words per chapter, so that puts the WIP at between 80K and 100K, right where the agents supposedly like manuscripts, particularly by new authors. Unfortunately, my WIP as currently outlined runs 42 chapters, which would put us at 200K words, far more than agents are willing to stick their necks out for.

Not to worry. At this moment, I'm eyeing chapter 28, at which point the meat of the novel picks up. That means I have about 9 chapters of "fluff." Okay, it's not fluff, but I believe I can condense it into 2 chapters. A lot of it is old material. Things I wrote when I was first outlining the thing that are no longer relevant. That's the easy part to cut. The harder part to cut is the banter between the protag and his love interest. I seem to have accumulated an awful lot of it and I've been sweeping it past the chapters that move the plot along to a nice pause in the plot where I can get it out in the open, but I didn't realize I had this much of it. I could fill a whole book with nothing but political argument and sexual innuendo between my protag and his love interest alone.

It's hard to part with. The tension between them is essential to the plot, but I'd like to get as close to the 120K work count limit set by agents as possible. I'm at a crossroads. I can cut and dump some of this into a second book, or something subsequent, or I can throw the rules out the window and press on, let the chips fall where they may. If I had to guess, I'd say that, if I told this thing naturally, the way I wanted to, I'd tell it in about 160K words. (And that's not 160K of purple prose. I think I'm pretty word efficient when I've whittled and re-written.) That's 40K too many, by conventional thinking.

I'm sure there are seasoned authors out there who scoff at anyone who can't tell a story in 120K or less. But then, somewhere along the line, I realized I don't give a shit about what other authors or agents think. It's not that I don't want to give myself the best chance for success. I'd be lying if I said I don't. It's just that, this is a space opera with political, romantic, and sci-fi threads that are intertwined and run deep. I don't feel like I can leave any of the three threadbare. I feel the need to develop them all to their fullest in order to give the reader the right picture. Maybe I'm just not good enough to do it in fewer words, but I think the WIP will come in well over the recommended amount of words. And I won't sweat it.