Tuesday, May 16, 2006

(Re)writer's dilemma

As I've rambled on about for some time now, I'm currently in the process of doing a major rewrite of my novel. A big chunk of this involves totally new chapters, interleaved with the existing material. The second half of the book is going to get reworked pretty well from scratch, but the first half has a lot of decent stuff that just needed some tuning.

It's interesting to see, though, how much more positive feedback I'm getting on the new chapters versus the old. This isn't the first time I've had this happen either. One of my earlier projects was actually a fantasy trilogy, which I did draft from start to finish. My problem once I got to the end, though, was the disparity in the writing quality between the books. I'd spent so much time working on the whole thing, I'd grown substantially as a writer. In fact, the gap was significant enough that I've bottom-drawered the whole thing. If it ever sees the light of day, it'll be in an entirely different form.

That's kind of the dilemma, though, in writing long fiction. When you're still getting to grips with the craft, still learning how to make a story really clip along, every six months or a year brings with it a leap. The new stuff might not just feel better than the old--if you're paying attention, it probably is!

At this stage, I think the first half will be workable without dropping it, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the tug, hear that little voice in my head that says, "If you rewrote it all, it'd be better!"

Encouraging post

Like I've mentioned before, Jonathan Carroll doesn't post a lot of things to his blog about his writing, but I found a recent post of his most encouraging. It's great to know that one of my literary idols finds himself looking elsewhere at times for pointers, to get in the feel for what he's trying to write.

I've actually had that experience recently. The antagonist POV character in my novel is a creepy guy. I found myself with this undeniable urge to re-read Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, hoping that some of that pure nerve-tingling energy would rub off.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

On appropriate formality in the written form

The tone of my novel is pretty casual. It may be that your novel has a more formal tone to which my advice wouldn't apply. If so, good for you. I'm currently reading Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series--which is excellent by the way--and it trots out words I'm not sure I've actually heard spoken. Somehow, though, the formality is never a barrier, and instead builds into the high fantasy world he creates.

However, for me, rigid, overly formal writing is a problem. It doesn't fit with my novel, but is something I'm prone to. Things are looking up thanks to my writing group's diligently pointing out any offending patches they see. With that help, I'm now starting to notice patterns that I tend toward when I'm getting too formal.

  • Don't avoid contractions -- I fought this one for a long time. My group suggested I use contractions more often. Something in me (with the voice of some writing teacher along the way) told me, "You cannot use contractions in your writing. It is weak and poor form!" Needless to say, once I got over the mental hump, my writing flowed far smoother.

  • Big words -- One of my favorite sayings if "Why use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice?" That just about sums it up right there. In more casual writing, the length and complexity of words I choose sometimes drags things down, makes them too stodgy and technical. Anytime a word is more than a couple syllables, I now seriously consider whether it's really what I'm trying to say. Sometimes, the big words get to stay, but only when 1) they're doing the exact job they're intended for and 2) there isn't a viable, shorter alternative. (For the record, I'm hoping to someday write where I can totally cut loose with whatever high-falutin vocabulary I want, but that day isn't today!)

  • Don't always look for synonyms -- Trouble comes when I try to avoid saying something plainly. I don't want to just say "It was green," that seems too bland, so I end up with a monstrosity like "It possessed a greenish pallor." None of the words are the end of the world individually (well, except "greenish" maybe) but the drive for synonyms ended up in a very bad place. Now don't get me wrong, variety in structure and word usage is important, but getting rid of every "was", "said" and "went" in your novel isn't going to make it stronger. Sometimes, the thing just was green.
This is far from the end of advice for too formal writing, but it's the things that I've started noticing in my own work. On the plus side, I'm seeing fewer of them in the new pieces I'm writing, and hearing fewer complaints from the critique group about it.

Word delta: New handwritten chapter