Saturday minutia, like killing your novel

Morning folks! Or, at the rate I’m typing this, happy afternoon! I know, posting on this blog has been haphazard at best, especially if you ignore the book reviews. No real excuses – when faced with the choice between blogging about something, and just doing it, I’ve been opting for the latter. If you need your Mike fix really badly, look me up on twitter (@kodermike) or on Facebook. In the meantime, let’s see if this long overdue post can’t help overextend my welcome in your retinal cortex.

So grab some coffee and sit back with your favorite e-reader and enjoy yourself. Personally, I like to start Saturday mornings reading the latest article from Ken over on genreality, sipping some sweet coffee and loafing in a chair, but your mileage may vary.

Of course, part of reading Ken on Saturday mornings is that I find it a great way to juice up my brain to do some writing. Writing during the week is haphazard and random at best, but Saturday’s, especially first thing in the morning, are when I tend to get a good bead on my story going and can belt out a few thousand words while the kids eat breakfast. You wouldn’t think this would be productive, but by a rough count I’ve written over a hundred thousand words in the last year. Not much of it has been noteworthy or worth keeping, but still, just the practice is good.

None of that actually happened today. Today I watched youtube videos, but they were largely relevant! See, I’m coming to grips with my inability to write without an outline. Discovery writing (“pantsing”) works great for me when the story is small. But my efforts with Aspect Ratios has taught me that when working on a larger piece, it ultimately leads to ruin and failure.

A short story doesn’t need a lot of breadth or consistency. You write a hook, run through some rampant action that almost gives you insights into your character, and then you resolve it (or resolve to end the story and leave your reader hanging, either way). This is an oversimplification, but you can see where I’m going here. The very medium of the short story, with its constraints on word counts, means that no matter what calibre of writer you are (or in my unpublished case, aren’t), the story is only going to be able to stretch so far within the confines of the page, leaving the rest to the reader to fill in and guess at.

But a novel, ah, there’s the pain. Using the same methodology when writing a novel leaves you with fifteen to twenty great bits. But do they connect? Are they internally consistent with each other? Do any of them help your character rise above the shades of dimensionality that is necessary for the reader to feel engaged? I think not. In fact, lacking a guideline for my writing, what I end up with are a time traveller’s nightmare – paradoxes. Bits that are so internally inconsistent that they are their own grandparents. For example, scene A has Bob in it, where he refers to his lost love who died tragically, all the while doing something with both his hands, something that requires two hands in order for the story to survive. Scene B? Scene B is Bob with that love, but is written in such a way that the fact that he is now the one armed man is critical to its success. Both are good scenes in their own right, but one cannot exist beside the other. I have 40 or 50 of these in Aspect Ratios. OK, maybe just 20, but still, there are enough that bringing internal consistency to them is a feat that might actually not be worth it.

Does this make me sad and weepy? A little. But the kids are milling around my desk, so I’m keeping the stoic straight face on until they go to bed. And I’m working on an outline for my next novel. Or, rather, something I stabbed a few times in the past but never wrote enough to even worry about.

Which, in the wonderfully round world of the web, is how I get back to the video below. This is the first part of a lecture Dan Wells (I know him from Writing Excuses, you may know him from his actual books, whatever 😉 ) gave on story structure. Ken Scholes (remember him way back at the beginning of this incredibly long, long blog post?) gave me some great advise a year back on story structure, but apparently I didn’t pay enough attention, since Ken is finishing up book four of the Psalms of Isaak and I’m still struggling with finishing a manuscript to the point that I’m ready to tackle looking for an agent. There’s something in Dan’s presentation that resonates with me (maybe its the great examples), so if you are struggling with a novel I recommend giving it a whirl. I’ve only made it through the first few segments (there’s 5).

You may recall me commenting in the past that I am awful at outlines. I still am. But I’m also learning that there’s more in this hat called “outline” than just a series of roman numerals. Did you know, its still an outline if all it is a long collection of paragraphs describing what will happen in each chapter? I did not. (honest) I was completely blown away when the walls tumbled down around me on this. (not honest)

So today, in my free time, I’m working on the novel. I know the beginning. I know the end. I know the middle even. Gasp and shock, I even know what the big points are in between them. But I’ve never codified it, never taken the time to write it down and look at how the words work together. Fool!

And that’s what’s on my mind this Saturday. Now its time for me and the girls to go get our eyes examined and prodded, with the very real probability that we may come home with new glasses on today. Have a great day!

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