Saturday, November 19, 2005

Beginning, Middle, End

I know the literati will hunt me down with torches and pitchforks and burn the windmill down around me for this one. Can't please everybody.

It's simple, really, though that doesn't necessarily mean easy. A story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, preferably in that order.

In the beginning was the conflict, and the conflict was in the story, and the conflict was the story. Without conflict, there is no story. It would be like music consisting of a single note. No matter how beautiful the language, there's no substance. It's fluff and it's boring.

In the middle, the conflict and the character(s), because conflict implies characters, doesn't it, evolve and progress. Again, this is necessary for the reader to have any interest in the story. A painting that is only one color is not "art" and does not make a "statement" of any kind. It's a piece of wall. I can look at walls anywhere.

Finally, there must be resolution of some kind. Good or bad, the story must end. I can even deal with ambiguity to some extent, but the story must By-God end! Anything that happens after the words "THE END" is part of a different story. Neverending stories are cute. Once. I read mine back in kindergarten. Wrap it up, resolve the conflict, end the story.

Storytelling is as old as language. It is a way that we communicate our ideas and beliefs, our personal or societal mythologies. Storytelling is more than just sound. A story has content. If it doesn't communicate that content to the audience, the the storyteller is just masturbating, and who wants to see that? Who's going to read or listen to a boring story? I sure won't. No matter how beautiful the language, if there is no content, it's a waste of time.

ATTENTION ALL WRITERS!

End your story! Grow a spine! Take a stand! Show us what happened!

Inconclusiveness is for wussies and pretenders.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

We May Have Winter After All

Freeze warnings tonight and tomorrow night. Temps are predicted to fall into the high 20's F with a fairly stiff breeze. 'Bout time, too. We've been in the 80's most of the past two months. I was starting to wonder.

I spent the morning picking the last of the peppers (pickling time!) and digging sweet potatoes. Everything else that's planted will be glad to get some cold weather. Now, if it would only rain...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Say What You Mean

One of the major demons riding my back is the tendency to shy away from the truth. This is something that I have to keep foremost in my mind when I am writing and editing. The heart of a story is a powerful and dangerous place. Tact and diplomacy are screens that keep me from having to go there and face the story head on. Unfortunately, they also keep the reader at arm's length, generating yawns instead of yelps.

Weasel words kill a story. Not with a knife in the heart or a bullet in the brain, but by slow strangulation. They leach the life out of the writing and leave it pale and weak, gasping for breath and whispering instead of shouting. By "weasel words", I mean indefinite words that sidestep and dodge the true meaning of a sentence. Here is a partial list of the words I seek out and destroy in my writing:

could
should
would
may
maybe
almost
nearly
might
seem
appear

As with all things writing, there are seldom absolutes. The world of story is a shadow place, full of shifting mists and shades of gray. Even weasels have a legitimate place in that eco-system. The trick is to identify those that are necessary and kill the rest. To paraphrase the great philosopher Elmer Fudd: "Kill the weasel! Kill the weasel!"

Conscious choice is the key. Sometimes a sentence needs to be cushioned to have the best effect. Mostly, though, the direct approach is better. If you want make a point, use a right hook instead of a pat on the cheek. A knee to the groin is always more effective than a "Hey, look at this."

What are the words and phrases you have to watch out for? What weasels gnaw on your butt?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Bee In My Bonnet

New title bugging me: "A Dream of Jewels and Dust". I can feel the story in it, but I can't see it yet. Have to free-write some on it later on. For now, though, meditating on "That Others May Live" and finishing the third (and final?) draft of "Sea Change".

How To Ruin a Novel

Very seldom will I invest enough time and energy to get halfway through a novel and then put it down and walk away. I have too many books in my TBR stack to put a whole lot of effort into a book that doesn't helod my interest. In the present case, though, I'm going to have to abandon my attempts to plow through my current reading. It's not bad writing or a boring or trite story or bad characters that is driving me away from this one. There is a much more obvious problem with this book: copyediting.

The novel is Every Which Way But Dead by Kim Harris. She has written a good, fast-paced story populated with interesting characters. The main character, Rachel Mariana Morgan, is a witch. She is also a most painfully human character full of self-doubt, often confused by life, as are we all, and prone to the same misjudgements and misunderstandings that plague every person alive. She is funny, aggravating, bull-headed, sensitive, and very vulnerable. I really like her, and I would really like to be able to finish her story, but the quality of the editing is so poor that I cannot.

Someone has done Ms. Harris a serious disservice. The book is riddled with dropped words, doubled words, and several sentences in which the edited text is inter-mixed with the text that it was supposed to have replaced. The net result is a very rough read in which I am constantly tripping over weird sentences and having to go back to puzzle out their sense. The constant interruptions have kept me from falling into the story and, as a result, Every Which Way But Dead will fall by the wayside.

This is a most unfortunate situation for Ms. Harris, or for any writer. While she is certainly not to blame for this foul-up, she has to carry the responsibility. It is her name that will be forever associated in readers' minds with poorly-edited books. She is the one who has to take the hit on future sales. It's her reputation that is being slimed. Hell, no, it's not fair. Hell, no, it's not right. Unfortunately, it's the way the writer's world works.

One thing every writer has to face sooner or later is the fact that the game is rigged. The deck is stacked, the cards are marked, and the other players have aces up their sleeves. Writers are harried by deadlines and stressed by finances. The work is often hard, sometimes painful, and always demanding. Writing the book is only the first part. The writer also has to shepherd her work through the entire publication process. A hands-on approach is the only way that will work. As I said above, it's the writer's name on the book, it's the writer's reputation on the line. Attention to detail is mandatory.

I certainly hope that Ms. Harris has already raised Holy Hell about this. If not, now's the time to start. Taking this kind of hit because of someone else's sloppiness is unacceptable, and the consequences can be dire.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Snip: That Others May Live

One of my current nightmares:

Jenna clutched the folded flag to her chest and nodded mutely as the Sergeant of the Honor Guard expressed his and the Marine Corps' condolences. By most definitions, Brad certainly deserved an Honor Guard. His sacrifice had saved the rest of his squad from certain death, and his actions certainly earned him honor. The ceremony to award his Congressional Medal of Honor was scheduled for next week.

Jenna wondered if there was any honor in what she planned. Was there honor in breaking a vow made to her dying mother? Was there honor in the sacrifice she was considering, no matter how many lives would be spared? She wondered what honor there was in the death of a 22-year-old father of two small children, a sacrifice to a dark and bloody god in a far-away land for a purpose she really did not understand. Jenna bowed her head and whispered "No."

Rita, Jenna's half-sister, turned and embraced her. Her tears dripped onto Jenna's shoulder. Jenna had no more tears, just as she had no more hope, just as she had no more honor. Rita did not know, would never understand. She was of a different world. Jenna put an arm around her father's other daughter and gave what cold comfort she could.