Friday, December 30, 2011

Then It Begins To Resolve

I never do very good by making New Year’s resolutions, but as I get older, I have gotten more focused on setting specific goals.  I feel I accomplished a lot in 2011 - I went to NYC for the first time, I went to New Orleans (ok, let's forget that), I moved into a new house, I published my first novel - two of those are from a lifetime goal list, so 2011 wasn't too shabby.  My only real goal for 2012 is to make 2011 the rule, and not the exception.  That being said, I have a few small goals I will tend to in 2012:

  • Publish my collection of short fiction (Winter 2012)
  • Complete and publish my next novel (Fall 2012)
  • Start work - and complete a first draft?- on the Elizabeth sequel (2013)
  • Go back to NYC
  • Make that return trip to Europe I have been planning for 10 years
There's lots of other things I'd love to do, such as:
  • Hold my breath until Community comes back on
  • Stop caring so much about new Apple rumors
  • Redirect frustration over the things I cannot change into the things I can
But a man must have priorities.  Everyone have a safe and happy holiday, and a wonderful new year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Revising Fiction: The Reader

182.  Have you forgot your reader?

The writer-reader relationship may be one of the most complicated - and unforgiving - in the arts.  To give you an idea, do a Google search to see how many qutoes line up on the side of the reader being the most important aspect of writing, and then see how many quotes you can find for the exact opposite.

The truth is, without readers, fiction is nothing.  Your reader must be your primary concern, but then at the same time, you have to have a certain ignorance of them.  As a writer you need to achieve a couple things in your novel or short story.  The first and probably most important is distance.  The reader can't be aware of the author as they're reading; if they are, the jig is up and what John Gardner calls 'a vivid and continuous dream' is shattered.  Every effect you create within your work has to work towards the goal of making you as the author invisible; you have to work in mysterious ways. 

That being said, there's a lot of fiction that is deliberately meta.  An excellent example would be one of my favorite shows (and things ever) - the NBC show 'Community.'  Dan Harmon has made the show a running commentary on itself, other TV shows and the medium.  Part of the audience engagement here is in this communal self-consciousness.  The reward is a deeper understanding and appreciation of the medium, and the acrobatic skills of the author; the risk is story. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Revising Fiction: Uses of Dialogue

Continuing my series of posts based off of David Madden's essential Revising Fiction:

99. Have you failed to make dialog perform secondary functions?

A lot of beginning writers see dialogue as a way of advancing the plot. Most of the plot will come out through it, and in lesser fiction, characters will contribute things they already know and/or would have no reason to share with someone else because the author needs to get this out for the reader. Dialogue can and should advance the plot - in a play it's often the only means - but dialogue can also convey other functions as well.

Dialogue is a incredibly effective means of conveying character. Done correctly, a character may reveal any or all of the following through dialogue:


Most of this should come subtly. You don't want to have a character announce any of these things (typically). A highly educated person will sound different from someone without an education. One or both of those people may have a bias against the other; this will come out in their interaction, even if they don't openly express it. The highly educated person may be condescending, or we may see he/she is talking circles around the non-educated person in a way that person is not aware of.

Dialogue should also say what the person isn't saying. People often talk around subjects that are painful or distressing to think about. Yet these things inform their conversations and behavior; imagine a married couple deciding which tree to buy for Christmas. The wife has had an affair. They've reconciled but the fault lines are still there. The husband wants the tree. She seems disinterested. They argue over which one to pick. Are they arguing about the tree? The affair?

Try writing this scenario out as an exercise yourself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Revising Fiction: 1st Person Narrative

As promised, I'm kicking off a little run of posts dedicated to the topics from David Madden's essential Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers.  I'll touch on a few of these, and in no particular order, so here goes:

3. If you have used the first-person point of view, have you realized all its potentials?

The novel in progress, otherwise known as #GhostofBigDamnEpic, features a first-person narrator.  This is pretty unusual for me.  Most of my work tends toward the third person, such as The Book of Elizabeth.   I chose to tell the new novel from the first person because of the opportunity the character presented me.  The main character lives in isolation, exiled from his memory and every other concept of life that we take for granted.  His voice is his only constant; it's repetitious, a trick against forgetting.  It had a music and an energy that made it compelling to pursue. 

Where I rely on Madden is asking myself some key questions:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Revising Fiction

You've all heard the old addage - writing is rewriting.

No one believes that more than me.  I probably over-revise.  I spend years on short stories.  'News Right Fresh From Heaven,' my story that appeared in Fantasy Magazine earlier this year, began almost four years before, as two different stories (one was good, one was bad).  I have a couple other stories right now that I have been working on in some way, shape or form for just as long. 

It's funny now to be editing my story collection, which will appear very early next year, and to revisit these stories.  My intent with the editing was mainly cosmetic.  I ended up making some minor edits, mostly aimed at excessive commas and exclamation points (!!!), but also a few bigger changes to sentences and paragraphs.  I changed nothing structurally in the stories.  I don't want to re-write these, though the impulse sometimes occurs - what was I thinking there? - and so this is less a Director's Cut than it is maybe Edited for Television.  I plan to post about each story to promote the collection when it appears.  It's been fun to return them.  Most of them I hadn't looked at since they were published.

The hardest thing with revision is knowing when to quit.  Also hard is knowing when and where to start.  An invaluable resource to me for years now has been Revising Fiction, by David Madden.  I found it at Barnes and Noble and I've never put it down.  I recommend it for advancing and advanced writers alike.  What I enjoy most is that the book never quits on me.  As I grow as a writer, some of the sections and ideas in the book reveal themselves, or take on new meaning.

One thing I plan to do this week and maybe next is pull out some pieces from the book and offer some of my own thoughts as to how they relate to my writing, and maybe yours.

Friday, December 09, 2011

My Writer Pet Peeves

In no particular order:

  • I'm usually too tired from work and writing fiction to blog.
  • Most everyone says I need to blog to promote my fiction.
  • I write fiction to promote. On the blog I'm too tired to update.
  • Most people think since you're a writer, you always know what to say.
  • Most people - sometimes - think you must be smart, because you're writer.
  • You calculate the speed at which excitement collapses into disappointment on someone's face as the time it takes you to answer, "So what kinds of books do you write?"
  • Time=the books you want to write
  • The best books you will ever write are the ones you dream about right before you wake up.
  • You listen to music for economy and melody.  You watch TV for rhythm and depth.  You listen to the way people talk on the bus for dialogue.
  • You tell everyone else who wants to write to read.