Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grumbling and muttering

Haven't blogged in a while, obviously. I'm sure whatever small readership I developed is now gone. Oh well, my fault.

The reason I have not been writing is, amusingly, that I have been. I set out some time ago to write a book and then have it published. Hardly the first time I've taken to writing a lengthy story, but this time I had a plan that would, hopefully, avoid wrangling with a publisher and editor. Such wrangling is outside my skill set and the reason I've never had anything published. I'm just not very good at revising my own work, especially when I make a mistake in continuity.

But this time, I had a plan! Before the first word of the first chapter was ever committed to a Word document, I had written detailed biographies of each and every character of importance, I even had a list of tertiary characters at what was important about them. I had an outline that was just under twelve thousand words in length (for reference: most books are around one hundred thousand). I had detailed notes about every spaceship involved, its history, crew roster, armaments, performance, and quirks. Every planet and polity (obviously a sci-fi) was detailed down to the demographics, who was in power, political structure, and laws. All the technological and cultural changes in humanity was carefully plotted along a detailed timeline.

Truly, a masterpiece was about to unfold. Only...I noticed as the story unfolded that it was kind of stilted, seemingly disjointed. The plot twists hardly seemed like twists at all, more like inevitable outcomes of the string of events. I shrugged that off and plowed ahead, promising myself that my live-in editor (the Wifey) and I would fix it easily in the first revision. The continued until I had over sixty thousand of the planned hundred and twenty. Despite knowing what was to happen next, with the assistance of my handy outline, I could not seem to get the story from point A to point B (or point H to I in this case) in a manner that seemed both logical and to flow pleasingly.

The problem, obvious in retrospect, was that by arranging so many details ahead of time, I had severely limited my options when writing. Worse, it just wasn't any fun, which tends to stifle my creativity. If I wanted a character to do something that might seem counter-indicated, like leap up from cover and run screaming towards the badguys, I told myself that it didn't fit the bio, no matter how much my mental picture of the character said that was exactly what he would do. Looking back over what I had, I can't imagine any way to make it even remotely readable without a complete rewrite.

So I gave up on writing for a few weeks. Thought about at least posting on the blog, couldn't get motivated to do it. Heck, I even had a hard time getting my essays done on time for my homework. I seem unusually prone to writer's block when frustrated.

Well, about a week ago I had a conversation with some old friends of mine, who both happened to be published authors and among my favorites at that. They gave me a few tips, most of which centered around being less of an anal retentive obsessive compulsive. Shocking that.

Which brings me to where I am now. About ten thousand words (Already?!) into a book that, as yet, lacks so much as an outline. At least a written one, I have a bare bones one in my head, but I'm not, apparently, allowed to commit it to any media until I've reached a certain point in the story. It's kind of funny, but has been amazingly effective. I feel almost like a passive observer as the outline as steadily transformed into something far more readable and exponentially more interesting than it would have been had I committed to it before I started letting the characters interact in my head.

The best part, is the solution to a problem I've had in writing even before my obsessive planning got out of hand. Despite my best efforts, I've never successfully injected humor into any story I've written. This goes back to the first time I wrote one back in grade school. The problem is trying to put humor into a story. It don't work that way, Cleetus. It has to already be there, all the author should have to do at that point is simply bring it to light. The characters, at least some, must have senses of humor and the circumstances simply have to give them something to laugh at every now and then. My current story has thus far been, at various points, both hilarious and spine tingling and it all flows logically. Sure, most of the humor is of the dark and/or gallows variety, but some will no doubt be labeled sophmoric. That's fine with me, I know first hand just what people's sense of humor will do in bad situations and I think I'm pretty close.

So, got that all off my chest and an entire blog post written, hopefully the first of more to come.

Time will tell...


Larry said...

One reader still here. Looking forward to the book, I love sci-fi (assuming the new effort is going to be of the same genre).

Tam said...


I don't surf the 'net from my blogroll nearly as often as I do from my sitemeter.

I know I'm not the only person out there that does this...

Good luck with the novel!