Monday, August 27, 2007

The Art of Sketching

When I was young, my brother started playing this new game with his friends, called Dungeons and Dragons. Bro was obsessed; he talked about the game all the time, and what he had to say was riveting to my prying little-sister ears. Dragons? Elves? Orcs and dungeons? Hoo-yeah! That sounded great! What kind of a board did this game have? What kind of pieces?

I was mad to try it, but y'know - being a little sister and all, I wasn't exactly welcome among a crowd of twelve-year-old lads. Regardless, when my brother finally hosted a D&D party at our house, I crept downstairs, desperate to see this game in action.

What I saw was a bunch of boys sitting around a card table with pieces of paper in front of them, talking to one another. Hey! Where were the dragons? Where were the stinkin' elves?

My mom explained that the game took place inside their imaginations. That was a new concept at the time; D&D was the first role-playing game to become that popular. I remained disappointed, but even at that age, I recognised that the game was probably waaaaaaay better when played in the imagination than it ever could have been with cardboard pictures or plastic figurines.

In a previous post, I discussed the power of "showing" rather than "telling" in writing. It boils down to you forcing your reader to actively imagine what's happening in your novel.

Just like in D&D, you couldn't possibly describe the scene any better than the reader could imagine it unassisted. Thus, your task as the writer is to sketch in just enough detail for the reader's imagination to get excited, jump in, and finish the job.

An interesting twist on this idea occurred to me today. Some of the most charismatic characters I've come across are the ones where I didn't have enough detail for my imagination to finish the job. I had enough hints for it to get started, but that was all.

The result was that my imagination scurried wildly, trying to sort that character out. I became hooked, obsessed. I was desperate to find out more.

That's a good state to get a reader into; it keeps the pages turning. The tension caused by having too many viable possibilities to decide which one is correct is quite delicious.

Obviously, the reader is going to want some satisfaction by the time the book ends, but you can leave that to the last page. You can also leave the reader with only a likely hunch, not a definitive understanding of the character. That will keep the reader tortured thinking about your character long after they close the book.

I think this technique works best with villains, who are a bit removed from your protagonist's world-view (and thus the reader's), but it could also be applied to an unreliable narrator .

What characters have you run across in books/movies/television/games that drove you wild with curiosity? Which ones had you pondering their mysteries long after the story ended?

And what sorts of hinted backstory got you fascinated in the first place? Repressed pain? Hidden gentleness? Unrequited love? Concealed malevolence?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Teh Endses, liek woah


I finished writing my novel today. Tra-la!

Well... Except for doing the final read, final edits, putting it away for a month, re-reading it, doing more edits, changing half the names to - well - less stupid names, re-reading for typos and consistency, doing more edits, writing query letters, writing synopses, researching literary agents...

Et cetera. You know; finished. :-)

I shall try to get a meatier post than this one up soon, but as you might imagine, I'm barely keeping myself from leaping around the room like a puppy right now.

Hmm. Time to buy a new printer cartridge.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Recommending Libraries

In the WHOO-HOO department, I'm now down to one-and-a-smidgeon chapters still to rewrite before I'm finished my novel and can stick it in the fridge for a month to chill. Simple excitement over the prospect of being done has sped the process considerably.

In the OH-POOH department, the library workers in my city remain on strike, and oh, how I miss my library. I support the workers and wish them well in their negotiations, but oh - how I miss my library. *sniffle*

Speaking of libraries, I once read the website of a writer who was very funny, but who had some curmudgeonly comments about library books.

Specifically, she grumbled about people who tell her how much they love her novels - and then mention they borrowed the books from the library or bought them second-hand. Grouch, grouch, says the author. Thanks for nothing; I get no money from that and hey, I'm poor and all. If you love my books so much, toss a royalty my way.

I can see the author's point, but I disagree with her assessment that a person who didn't buy the book new is not helping the writer earn a living.

Word of mouth sells a lot of books. If I hear someone rave about a novel, I seriously consider getting it. And if I do buy it, the author just made a royalty, regardless of whether the original person bought their book new or not. That's a sale the author probably would not have made otherwise.

Recommendations are worth money. Even as a would-be novelist, I'm a fan of the library. First, it allows me to scout for new authors without feeling ripped off if a book proves disappointing. When I do find a writer I like, I will start buying their books new. Second, when I love something, I tell others. That can directly translate into sales for the author. Third, the library allows people too poor to buy new books to be avid readers. Society benefits from that.

In short, I ♥ my library.

If I'm ever lucky enough to have someone tell me they loved my novel - which they got from the library or a second-hand shop - I'm going to grin and say thank you.

And then I'll tell them to please remember to repeat that to their friends and neighbours.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Pole Vaulter of Writing.

I just woke from one of those fabulous weekend naps, the unexpected four-hour kind. I now sit here with the shards of a few dreams still tumbling through my bleary brain, looking out at the tail end of a spectacular day. I feel good, but a bit guilty; I wasted a beautiful afternoon.

Friday was a great writing day, and when I get to the end of those, I usually think, "MUST! KEEP! THE MOMENTUM! GOING!!! Must outline and scheme more! Must write more! Must be even more productive than this! Yes! Yes!"

Which never works. Yesterday, even my husband noticed how lumpish and slothful I was being (although he's a dear about phrasing it as, "You look like you're having a nice relaxing weekend.") And today? Well. That wonderful nap was the apex of the excitement, although I may go for a walk before the sun sets; it's a blitzkrieg of fun here.

I seem to be the pole vaulter of writing; I come trundling toward my goal, face grave, slowly building speed. Then, when I deem myself close enough, in a burst of flailing appendages (mainly fingers), I launch myself at the scene.

Immediately afterward, I lie on my back for a while, staring at the sky and feeling pleased with myself.

What's your metaphor? Think about how you write and fill in the blank in the following sentence:
"I am the _______________ of writing."

Then explain yourself. :-)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Delusions of Grand Finale

I've been rewriting my novel for about a year, and this weekend, I discovered I didn't know what to fix next. So, I embarked on a complete read-through to find out what sucked, and lo! Only four chapters out of twenty-four still suck. Go, me!

In fact, I'm really delighted with most of it. Yes, I'm too close to the work to be objective, but it's still a nice feeling when you're on the swell of the [I'm a talentless hack/I'm better than buttered toast, I am] wave.

One of the weirder things about writing this novel is that I've spent most of the process thinking I'm almost done. Literally, I've spent two years thinking I'd be finished in a month, maybe two.

Holy molybdenum, I'm glad I didn't have any real clue. I would have given up in despair.

But now? I really am almost done. For sure. Liek woah. A month, maybe two. Just don't lay any bets on it.

How common is this delusion phenomenon among writers? Do the rest of you also spend large quantities of time thinking the end is in sight, or do you have a realistic time frame in mind and the doggedness to keep going even when you know there's a long way to go?

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