clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

IWSG: Every Day in Every Way

Tonight's post is part of the Insecure Writers' Support Group (Alex has it belonging to a single writer, but I think now it is a group property!).  You can find the link to other insecure writers here.

The point being that we insecure writers toil alone late into the night in laundry rooms and converted closets. There is little feedback of meaning until we have invested the lifetime of a small rodent in the process at which time we hold out our work to selected special friends (and by this, I mean other writers and NOT family ) and say HERE!

Sometimes we receive the help we need. Sometimes not. Then the work goes out. Then the work comes back again all too soon with ego crushing consequence.

But, we're good at writing ! We do it well. We also know the difference between the usage of good and well.

  • There was the letter to Santa in second grade that was published in the paper!
  • Then, there was the high school newspaper. Good review of the AC/DC concert there.
  • Maybe, we had a story in a "Young Writers of the Purple Sage" anthology in college. It probably didn't impress the girls, though.

Now ? Now the work comes back?

Re-inflate the ego. Use scotch-laden breath if you must.

You - as a writer - get better with everything you write. You might not observe it; but, it is true.

When you become serious about your writing you change. Your construction has that weather eye following every stroke and letter. You consider your word choice. You wonder about the describing something your character sees as interesting versus having her walk over and examine it from three inches away as ozone exhaust tickles her nose.

Insecure writers do get better and I'm going to share a little of that with you now from a contemporary writer whose earliest and latest works I have in my hands. I read the opening of his latest work last night and understood what it is to throw a pen so hard it sticks into the wall. Think: "A blonde to make a Bishop kick out a stained glass window."

Let's look at the opening from one of his earliest works: a novella from 1961. Then we'll look at the opening from his latest novel from 2009. We're just looking at the first three lines.

Anybody can write three lines, right? How bloody hard can that be? I know you're thinking this exercise is useless right now. Stop it. You're learning here. Open the brain and look. It will make you feel better. I promise. 

John Le Carre, "Call for the Dead," from 1961. This is the introduction of Le Carre's character George Smiley later a minor character in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and as a major character in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary. When she left him two years later in favor of a Cuban motor racing driver, she announced enigmatically that if she hadn't left him then, she never could have done; and Viscount Sawley made a special journey to his club to observe that the cat was out of the bag.
This remark, which enjoyed a brief season as a mot, can only be understood by those who knew Smiley.

Not too bad, is it? That first line with "astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary"  certainly holds a lot of information for us. Even if we haven't got any Mayfair friends, we know what they are because they are titled (and so is Lady Ann); they are astonished; and we know Ann's opinion of George as "breathtakingly ordinary" instead of just ordinary. There is a lot of there, there. (Wave to Gertrude).

That was the 1961 bit. We'll now jump to 2009 and Our Kind of Traitor.

At seven o'clock of a Caribbean morning, on the island of Antigua, one Peregrine Makepiece, otherwise known as Perry, an all-round amateur athlete of distinction and until recently tutor in English literature at a distinguished Oxford college, played three sets of tennis against a muscular, stiff-backed, bald, brown-eyed Russian man of dignified bearing  in his middle fifties called Dima. How this match came about was quickly the subject of intense examination by British agents professionally disposed against the workings of chance. Yet the events leading up to it were on Perry's side blameless.

Wow. We have 30 and maybe 100 pages of seed here in this trio. Until recently at Oxford. A young man playing tennis with a much older man whose trappings were not of a minor personage. We know names. We know English and Russian. We know British agents and by the tone we know they come from the Russian interest side of the house and not for Perry. We also sense the sinister because the events were blameless...for Perry. Only for Perry tells us a lot about the other fellow and our "workings of chance" being disallowed. Lastly, because of the introduction, we know Perry is the principal character of at least this first section. We see things happening to him.

I'd say the 1961 introduction would be fine for most of us. We'd be glad to have it and move along. Dated? It's probably too traveled for our current submission requirements. It works, however.

The 2009 piece is just a schooling. It's a sixty word sentence that most of us should not try as a lead without a net. The whole paragraph moves us forward with damn near everything we could want in a set-up of a spy thriller.

I'd say the writing has gotten better.

Yours will get better, too. Every day, in every way --  autosuggestion aside.

I've got to go get my pen out of the wall.

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