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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

So of course

I watched the History Channel last night (nothing like a good dose of R. Lee Ermey and Peter Woodward to give your personal reality a little twist. Besides, Jenny seems to have a pursed-lip, headshaking fondness for Ermey. Or maybe she just agrees with him that you are, in fact, the asshole in charge of your own destiny.), which is unusual for me: I generally have little attention span for television. But I was sorry when the Conquest episode on the Danish Bearded Axe was over. Besides, it talked about Harold Godwinsson, who I have an especial fondness for.

Played some Space Cadet pinball simulator. It's not real pinball, but it's close.

And scribbled some outline notes for Scardown. Obviously I was right, and the brain does need refill time.

I'm reading Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, and it took me about a hundred pages to get into it. It took a while to hit its stride, but I am now engrossed.... and I am also thinking. Hannah's made the same comment on my books--that she takes a while to get a feel for my style, but then likes it. I've heard the same thing said of writers as diverse as China Mieville and Diana Gabaldon.

And it makes me wonder. More precisely, it makes me think. Novels are allowed to take a while to hit their stride, aren't they? Yeah, I think they are. As long as they establish a personality, a voice, a conflict, characters and a direction early enough, they do in fact get some nattering time.

The trick is pulling it off. And I think maybe one of the things that helps is doing most of that padding on the front end, and, per Swanwick's advice, driving hard and fast for the ending once you see it. Whatever you do, don't natter on the end. And don't tack on one of those endings that's all out of scale with the book. (David Brin seems to me to do this: I was especially disappointed by The Postman, which I found deeply engrossing until the last hundred pages. No spoilers.)

Interesting. I think I'm pretty good at endings, and I'm willing to forgive a lot of sins in a writer who can pull off a satisfying ending... Barbara Hambly, Guy Gavriel Kay, Peter Beagle. On the other hand, there are a lot of very successful novelists who really.... their books tend to wander south, or trail off strangely.

Which I guess proves the point: a novel is a work of fiction longer than a short story, and flawed.

But my favourite books are always going to be the ones that I close with a wistful sigh, and then have to go blow my nose. And those are the ones I want to write, too.

On the other hand, it also proves that there are a lot of ways to write a novel. And the workshop model--start hard, start fast, keep the tension climbing, climbing, climbing.... may be a little exhausting to read in the long run. Especially in a form whose strength lies in its richness and complexity.



Vaguely related to what you're saying about taking a while to hit a novel's stride: I think a lot of people interpret the "hook" thing in too limited a way. It's not that you need a surprise or a shock or a Big Event at the very beginning; it's that you need to give the [reader|agent|editor] something to make them want to keep reading. It can be a mystery or shock or Big Event, or it can be the things you mentioned (such as interesting voice and/or characters), or it can simply be a vivid or engaging prose style. All you really need to do at the beginning is give people a reason to keep reading.

Interestingly, though, I was totally and completely hooked by Golden Compass in the opening pages -- as soon as I got an inkling of what the daemons were, Pullman scored enough Author Points with me to keep me reading to the end of the trilogy, even though I was kinda disappointed in the second and third books.

Re: Hook

And, in fact--an action hook can be a major problem, because too often writers think they have to start with blood on the pavement and things blowing up... without realizing that nobody cares much about things blowing up until they're wondering why they're blowing up and who's blowing them.

So to speak.

For me, the sex isn't sexy and the violence isn't scary until there's an emotional connection.

I agree that a good hook asks a question--or, more precisely, gets the reader to ask a question, or a series of questions.

As for the Pullman book: a lot of what threw me was the distanced and selfconsciously Victorian style. But I'm picking up his rhythm....


Fwiw, I put down the Pullman book pretty early on, too. Likewise the Gabaldon. Likewise, alas, post-King Rat China. So y'know.

punk kid with no attention span?


Sure. I'm more suggesting that not everybody's hook is the same, I think.... and there's this model that you need to start a novel with a bang, which I more and more think is a lousy hook. Because explosions, when you don't care about the people being blown up, are just explosions. A good hook is somthing that intrigues.

My issues with the Pullman book were mostly stylistic: I found it really stiff, and external. Either it's relaxing as I progress, or I'm getting into the style--or possibly I'm skimming a little instead of reading every word. So anyway, now I understand what you were talking about. :-)



For me, a hook is any situation that derives interest to make the reader read on. I prefer to create a question in the reader's mind most times.

But I really think that starting hard and building is just fine, if you handle it right. After all, if you do it right, they'll read it right through and never realise just how long they've been tense, just that they want to get to the end.

The real trick here is just like you mentioned, though. The ending must be worth it. Otherwise, the reader will be really pissed. And we can't have that.