July 2012 - Posts

Shapes and Subjects
Sunday, July 15, 2012 12:16 PM
Novel update: Finished that section earlier this week. Pseudo-finished it anyway. I'm letting Mary get a first read on it and I'm going to at some point run back through and clean it up a little bit before really calling it the third draft. As I've said on here many times, my approach to this draft is different than others in one huge way: I'm not banging out a chapter at a time and calling it done; I'm working on sections. Overall, I'm not sure if it's the nature of this revision and it's process that requires me to think at once both globally (moving around huge pieces of the novel, changing how events take place, etc.) and on the smallest of scales (is this the right verb? How would this character really say this?), or if it's the fact that I'm caring for my SUPER-PREGNANT wife through the whole thing, but this draft is going very slow. However, I think quality is definitely on the rise, even if my frustration is going with it. As for the section I've sort-of just finished, the goal was to reduce it from 42,750 words in 7 chapters to somewhere in the ballpark of 30,000-35,000 in five chapters. The five chapters was accomplished and a lot of cutting took place, but it still weighed in at 36,400. (It's worth nothing that the changes here also make it possible to delete two chapters later on, so there was significant streamlining.) We'll see if that can come down a bit when I return and give it a once-over. My goal for the rest of the summer, four-five weeks, is to finish one more section of four chapters and get a chance to go through everything up to this point and make sure it's all up to par. When I think back to my original plans of trying to knock out the whole book this summer I think they were pretty naive, but I had no way of knowing how much I'd need to be there for Mary, and I'm happy to. I do know, or think I know, how much work is ahead of me with these babies coming (A LOT) and don't think it'll be pushing too hard to ask myself to get this small amount of writing and revising done before I go back to work. Even with a week or more where I won't even think about writing, I'm sure I'll be able to squeeze a tiny bit of novel-time in during naps and what-not. Finish this next bit will take me up through what was the half-way point in the book, though now it'll be more like the 3/7ths points or something.

I've been reading a lot of newer scifi novels lately. Newer meaning written in the last two decades. Most of the novel-length science fiction I've read in my life has been the classics from "the gold age" of science fiction. I'm a big Heinlein fan. Most of my contemporary scifi reading has come in short form thanks to magazine subscriptions and what's free on the internet. I'm a huge fan of the short story form and would like to write more and work on the many ideas I have for stories, as I feel that genre gives a writer more flexibility to experiment with form and subject. I'm not just talking about the flash fiction I've had some success with, but longer works in the 2,500-10,000 word range. One reason I'm devoting so much time to the novel, though, is that it at least has a possibility of generating some income and possibly at some point (even if it's after sequels and everything) allow me to devote more of my time to writing and free myself to write more short fiction.

But even in reading these new(ish) scifi novels, I've discovered the wealth of diversity in the genre, particularly in style of writing, but in subject matter as well. From a short humorous novel that takes place in present day Key West and Boston to what I'm currently reading which takes place tens of thousands of years in the future and so overflows with aliens that even the humans are alien, having evolved slightly from thousands of years spent on alien worlds. Then there's some of the other books I've been making my way through which take place only several hundred of a thousand years in the future, on or between distant worlds but they too are so different from each other. One, a little like mine in this way only, focused on a small group of people on a single space craft, how they all assembled there and what happened when they did. Another focuses on several characters, their different stories that span the galaxy as an armageddon-like war looms. It's been fun finding the time to read this summer and I hope that doesn't disappear completely when work resumes and have babies to care for. However, there has been at least one lesson I've had to learn from reading these books.

I read now with two agendas. As a reader I want to be entertained and swept away. I want my emotions to be tapped and my imagination expanded. As a writer, I want to observe those successful at the craft. I want to learn. But I've learned to be cautious with the second objective there. Learning and observing is one thing, but making too many comparisons between my own writing and others is dangerous. A lot of what I'm reading our Hugo award winning books crafted by contemporary masters. I don't think there is anything wrong with setting lofty personal goals. I know I'll be a published writer one day, but my goals are to write best-sellers and award winners. But wanting to win awards can't be a first concern when writing my book and I can't be worried about how other author's wrote their books while I'm writing mine. Yes, a lot of scifi is in third person omniscient while mine is third limited. I don't want to imitate their style, their topic or their brand. It's good to see what others in the field are doing, to write in response and with the knowledge of how my book might be perceived by the community at large, but I can't sit around comparing my book and bemoaning it's deficiencies or, for that matter, trying to defend it against others. That is a fruitless exercise.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished novelist.
by DMI | with no comments
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Numbers and Words
Monday, July 2, 2012 3:39 PM
I've been dealing with weird issues as I write this draft. First of all, I'm taking a different approach to writing this time around or at least it has a very different feel. The pace seems much slower and I don't think it's just because I haven't been able to find a steady schedule where I write for large blocks of uninterrupted time time day after day. As, essentially, a caregiver for a pregnant woman there are lots of responsibilities floating around. This is okay; I have to get used to it if I'm going to be able to write when there are twin babies around. So far I think I've made that adjustment as good as can be expected. I'm making progress, despite my complete shrugging off of the June 25 deadline. A week later, I'm still a chapter out from that milestone.

But that brings me to the next point. My Dad has often suggested that I take it easy with the writing and make sure I'm getting it right, doing it well (probably because my writing status updates often come in the form of words or chapters written). This go around, rather unintentionally, though most likely because I'm trying to balance so many different concerns as I revise (suggestions from different readers, things I want to do, worries over length, pacing, voice) I'm going much slower. I hope this means I'm getting it right. The first two chapters felt that way; they felt really well put together, almost like they were done.

These next few don't feel that way. They feel bloated and overlong. I'm trying to shorten the novel as whole, but from what my readers have been telling me, the second half of the book is good just the way it is. They say it's an exciting page turner with lots of action and a good pace. They all want me to cut from the beginning. Unfortunately, as I've tried to snip and sew, cut and paste, grabbing the good from seven chapters and shove them into five, the chapters are swelling in word count and I'm afraid will read like a scrap book of poorly thrown together photographs, scenes cut short and smashed together with forced transitions. Yes, overall the book is getting much shorter, but I don't feel like I'm doing any justice to this portion of the novel that was admittedly weak at the outset.

Readers do notice chapter length. One who read my second draft made a note when he felt there was a chapter of "perfect length." How important is it to have balanced chapters of similar length? With the first two fit to that perfect-reader length and the following swollen to nearly twice that at times, I'm really worried about how to proceed and how to fix that. I could make new chapter breaks, maybe adding another chapter, but I wasn't trying to add more. Then again, word count was my measure in terms of length, not chapters. Is it better to have long chapters or short chapters?

All this talk of numbers has me thinking the problem is, for once, the thinking about it and not the actual work being done. My dad talks about quality, but here I am trying to quantify everything. Length is an important consideration, but how high a priority should it be? Right now, I can't help but look at the word count as I write and that's probably not conducive to producing quality material. Maybe that's why I'm going so slow. Trying to balance number of words and the right words. Then again, time is also measured in numbers. 

Worst comes to worst, this will just take longer and longer, but it'll still get done. I'm almost "done" with that section. The quotes are because when I'm finished, I'll be going back to see if it actually is working and I'm just being a butt, or if I need to rewrite the whole swath of chapters. Worst things have happened. I want to get right - even if that means stuffing it into a box with a word limit on it.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished novelist.
by DMI | with no comments
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