Thursday, March 09, 2006

Way Cool!

Well, Holly has done it again! Now she has started a podcast on writing, and will be taking questions from the audience. The first episode deals with "weather opening". This is just too cool.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Outline This!

Melly offered a link to this post on outlining by Crawford Killian the other day. He has some interesting things to say about the subject. His last point got me thinking, though. He says:
But when you first learned to drive, you were thinking consciously (with an
outline) of every aspect of driving. It took a lot of practice to make
driving a matter of habit. Writing is no different.

I don't completely agree. I do agree that writing gets easier and more natural with practice. As far as growing out of writing with an outline, though, that's going to depend on the individual writer.

One of the things I'm exploring as I work my way toward a first draft of my first novel is an organizational method that suits me. I've tried note cards and line-per-scene and a couple of other methods along the way. What I'm discovering is that I will probably never find one particular outlining scheme that works all the time for me.

My detailed outlines were vital to getting the novel started, but none of them bear any real relation to what the novel has become. As the characters and plot and subplots grow throughout the story, I have to be open to the changes that become necessary, the surprises and ideas that drop in uninvited, prop their feet on the table, and light their cigars. The growth of the characters and plot reflect my growth as a writer and my increasingly intimate connection to the story. If I am not willing to follow valid and compelling paths as they open up to me, I'm wasting my time on this book.

In a nutshell, my outlining method has evolved to match the needs of the story. My origianl outlines showed me the starting point and the finish line, the in-between has become increasingly foggy over time. I have started outlining only 3 to 5 scenes ahead as I write. As I get deeper into the story, each scene brings some new insight that affects everything that happens from then on. This is good.

When I first started this novel *harumph* months ago, I despaired of ever having enough of a story to fill an entire 100k words. That fear is dissipating as I go. Though the first draft will be far short of that mark, there is enough depth and complication in this story and in these characters to fill it out nicely in subsequent drafts.

Outlining has to servce the story rather than the other way around. A rigid outline will kill a story in my mind. I have to retain the flexibility to explore and revise as the story grows. I don't think I will ever outgrow my need for some guidelines, some peek into the future of the story. My mind just cannot maintain a grasp on all the different threads and details that make up a complex story.

That a large part of my writing philosophy: everything serves the story--POV, outline, style, scene and chapter breaks, everything. The story remains paramount at all times. That's not any kind of rule I'm trying to promulgate, either. It's just the way I thnk and work. Every writer has to work out his own methods and philosophy for himself.

Monday, March 06, 2006

How Much Are You Willing To Pay?

To publish your novel, that is. Apparently, a Lot of people are willing to pay a lot of money to get "published". Herewith, a few comments about why I think the vanity press industry if booming. NOTE: this post is not about self-publishing as a marketing tool or the validity of vanity presses for publishing small print runs of works of extremely limited interest. Those are separate topics. Today's victim is "pay to play" fiction.
  1. Validation. Writers are insecure, with the possible exception of Paperback Writer, but then she seems to be the exception to most every rule. Writers are frequently overtly neurotic. The few who are not only hide it well. Writers seek validation that they are writing something meaningful, something the world needs to read. If traditional publishers are not willing to buy it and publish it, then maybe they will go with a vanity press and sell it themselves. Once word gets around, everybody will want one.
  2. Paranoia. Why don't agents/editors jump at the chance to publish this modern-day classic? I know stuff like this sells. The bookstores are full of it. Besides, just look at all the pure crap that's on the shelves. It must be a conspiracy. If you don't know the secret handshake and today's password, you can't get in the door. Vanity presses are the only options open to new writers, right?
  3. Egotism. Or narcissism, if you prefer. This is really nothing but a cover for vast insecurity and paranoia. The craving to see one's name on the cover of a book filled with one's words overwhelms reason and discretion and becomes the only goal worth pursuing. At any cost.

Vanity presses (including "subsidy publishers", if you have to pay to play, it's a vanity press) play on writers' weaknesses, their fears and insecurities, their pride. They offer an easy way to escape the responsibility of doing the hard work of writing well, crafting a story that people will want to read in readable prose. Just one question: if vanity presses are a viable oiption, why aren't big name authors going that route? The royalty rate is much higher, the author has vastly more control over the process and over his/her book. Why not?

The reason is simple: quality. When everyone is publishable, publication means nothing. The traditional system, for all it flaws (and, Lord, they are a-many), provides a screening mechanism that weeds out (most of) the crap and lets the cream rise to the top. Being published by a traditional publisher is a real accomplishment, and one you have to work very hard to achieve. Very hard. No matter what someone else tells you, you cannot avoid the blood and tears, the night sweats and morning trembles. If you want to achieve publishable quality, it will certainly cost you, but not in money.

Money flows toward the writer. Writers who do not consider their work to be serious work and are willing to pay to have it published cannot expect to be considered seriously by the rest of the world. If they value their own words so little, why should anyone else care?

Writing is a job, a profession. How many other professionals do you know who pay for the privilege of practicing their profession? Baseball players? Mechanics? Doctors? There are none. Real professional writers are paid for their work. Not much, assuredly, but still: money flows toward the writer.

Writers produce a product--their stories. Readers have a certain expectation of quality when they lay down their money to buy that product, and writers are seldom, if ever, a good judge of the quality of their own writing. I certainly am not. I bet you're not, either. Good product demands quality control, and that control comes from other professionals--editors, copy editors, publishers, etc.-- whose job it is to turn your prose into a publishable book.

Not everybody can make the cut. That's just how life is. Not everyone is able to produce quality fiction. There is no "right to be published".