Monday, August 23, 2010

Writerly ... stuff

I've been revising (again) in the hopes that perhaps people will like the revised version a bit better. Trying to get a book published is a lot like fishing, in that you get to bait a lot of hooks and reel in bupkiss while the mosquitoes suck you dry. I must repeat to myself, it's business, it's only business, it's not supposed to be pretty and they're not supposed to like you. It's just really hard not to take a form rejection personally. If writing = business, there are two kinds of product: Good, which sells, and sucky, which does not sell. A form rejection means I suck. End. Of. Fucking. Story.

But that's not what I wanted to discuss/ ramble about. In my internet wanderings I ran into Laurel K. Hamilton's blog, and one of her posts irritated me enough to rant. So here we go.

One of the fun things about revising is being able to take a scene apart, figure out what I was trying to do with it and then try to figure out how to make it better. I have no problem taking a scene and making it worse. A little more tense, a little more extreme. Something I've played a lot with the last six months or so is just using body language to convey emotion. Rather than "The blank made her nervious," write "The blank sat there with blankety running down its sides. She felt the spit dry on the back of her tongue." I have no idea how much more effective that is, but it means I have to spend a lot of time role-playing what my characters do. Even if it's just eyes closed, hands on keyboard, wandering around hallways in my mind. I have to feel something of what my characters feel emotionally so I can work out what they would feel or do physically.

One thing I have no problem doing, though, is shutting that off when I'm done with it and moving on. My characters aren't friends, my world isn't real, it's a fun box I can take stuff out of and play with, and then put everything back into when I'm done. Part of this, I think, is because I know exactly where I'm going with this, and it's hard to, say, feel scared for WBR's protagonist when I know she's gonna have a (relatively) happy ending. But most of it is, I don't go for creative bullshit.

Fiction writing is fake. My characters, all of them, are little psychological constructs that are plot dependent, just as the plot is character dependent (IE situation a requires weak link represented as character A) and if I don't have the capacity to alter them at will, as required by book/story/editor/reader/whatever, then I am not doing my job. I do not speak for my characters, I am not the voice of my own invention. In fact, I would say that when I write for somebody other than me, I am not doing something creative with words. I'm doing something creative with you.

A writer who is effective plays their audience like a violin. Or to put it more bluntly, when you read what I write and it has an impact with you, I am fucking with you. I am screwing with your emotions and your mind, making you have the reactions that I want you to have. In the beginning you become interested. In the middle, you may laugh, you may cry, you may become angry, but if I am doing my job, you are doing what I want you do to, thinking what I want you to think, believing what I want you to believe. And in the end, you ought to close the book thinking, simultaneously "That was a good ride" and "I'mbackonplanetearththankyougod (post roller-coaster ground-kiss) I wanna go again. Later. Like, tomorrow." and you wind up re-reading select passages a few hours later. Ideally, of course. The primary goal of a novel is to take the reader's virgin mind and do a great many things to it, hopefully enjoyable.

IMHO, a writer who places anything over reader reaction in the writing hirearchy has lost the plot. Even if all you're writing is a teaching manual, your goal should be expressing the idea to the reader. If you're writing horror, the reader should be horrified. A mystery ... whee, you really get to jack with your reader there. Fantasy should be exhillerating and scary as hell. Sci-fi should have a sense of wonder and speculation. Christian fiction should express Christian ideals, as should any other religious novel. 

The absolute last thing an author should do is fuck with themselves. It is not shallow to be able to set your tools down and move on. It's sane. First, because reality is a demanding, bitter, nasty bitch that requires your full attention, and who probably considers your novel to be a nasty two dollar ... yeah, we really shouldn't carry the sex metaphor any further than that. Second, because if you go pro, you have to deal with little things called "editors". Who may require you to kill significant portions of your book. I'm not talking about your darlings. I'm talking about their families, right down to their second cousins. And if you've gotten yourself so wrapped around your fictional universe you don't want to hurt your little babies, your boss might go "Well, that debut novelist is really more co-operative" (or if you are debut, "That midlister is much easier to work with"). Pro writing is a job. Half of the paycheck is to create something. The other half is earned by murdering significant portions of that something so that it is made better and more appealing to a general audience.

And for the record, I have to wonder just how deeply one really can "feel" a novel, as LKH's stuff is the shallowest stuff I've read in a really long time.

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