clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, May 17, 2013

AAA: Some S'plainin' To Do

Welcome to Aspiring Authors Anonymous (AAA): the Friday Night Sessions.

I'm Jack (Hi, Jack) and I suck as a writer.

I want to stop sucking as a writer. Standing in the back of the room drinking coffee during the meeting isn't going to help me with that, either.  

Right. So like all too many of you, I am amassing a fair amount of texts on writing that - for better or worse - really muddy the waters.

How do you tell a good story? Tell a good story.

How do you write clean succinct prose that moves the story without intruding? Write clear succinct prose...

How do .... You know where I am going. You've also read some of the same material and were largely unchanged.

Q: I'd like to write well. I mean, I'd like to write thrilling fiction that is filled with compelling views into the emotional state of my characters. How do I do it? 

A: I'd start by writing well. After that, I'd move on to telling a story by writing well. I'd then turn to mastering characterization and the art of emotional portrayal in acts and words by writing well. That ought to do it.

Smart-ass answer but one which we've all heard or read. I've been lead to believe that writing well comes from reaching the effective emotional portrayal of characters in your own head as you write. Then, writing well evolves from editing.

Make a mess. Clean it up. If you start with 80,000 words and edit to the 35,000 or so that have meaning, you're on the right track. That's a bit steep, but illustrative.

Updike said he'd write the first 100 or so pages of a novel until he hit a point where he knew himself that "this" was the start of his tale. He'd begin again from that point. I believe I read that in a Paris Review interview. I'm working without a net here so I could be confused. Vertigo. Sobriety. Whatever.

I'm not as drastic; but, I have editing problems. 

This is an Aspiring Authors Anonymous meeting, right?

I write a bunch, throw it out, and start from there. I have a small set of stories I've written by just sitting down and telling the tale. I like these but I've never shown them to anyone. I think I'd be crushed if someone found them crude and unpolished. It is the raw nature of the tales I like best and so, they remain hidden. Are they good? We'll not know for years. I'd have to feel I had the chops at writing successfully to pull them out. That's not just around the corner, yet.

So, tonight's book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Renni Browne and Dave King are the authors. They're editors and write the book a bit like editors write a book. Well - they write a little like editors with a God complex but we all are a bit pretentious about what we know better than others.

I've got this pile of books on writing. Great quotes. Marginal help.

However, this Self-Editing text I have consumed in three days. It helps. Each chapter is filled with twelve to fifteen vignettes of experience from past editorial issues they've encountered with stories.

I read it and thought "yes...I have one like that. Oh, that is a good idea...that would solve the repetitive baseball game scene dilemma for my adulterous catcher."

Every chapter has working solutions for stories I've written, iced, and have not been able to salvage in edits.

This book is a delightful tour. It isn't the most scholarly text on prose and writing that I have. It is however a powerful checklist for those of us who haven't yet had the principles of editing to publication burned into our little brains.

Once upon a time I had an editor. She was an honest-to-Dog editor. She told me the truth, my errors, and suggested fixes. I should have listened. I should have had her words bronzed and hung on the wall.

Instead, I doubted myself.  I was in the ocean swimming and thought "I had arrived" rather than "I was still swimming - but this time in the right direction."

Help yourself out. Grab a life ring. Find out which way it is to shore.

Read widely. Have some coffee in the back of the room. Think about buying this book. It helped me.

I'm off to edit something horrible into passable fiction.


Nigel G Mitchell said...

It sounds like you're on your way. Sounds like a great book. You shouldn't be so paralyzed to show your work to others, though. I recommend a website called Scribophile. It lets you submit work to critique in exchange for critiquing others. Really helpful to get lots of eyes to help you.

jack welling said...

Thanks for the reference, Nigel. I'll definitely check it out.

Thanks for the tip.