it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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across the icy world with polar bears it's mostly uphill

So I haven't been doing a lot of posts on writing skills lately, and I think in some ways that's because my learning curve is flattening out. Perhaps I am nearing the end of my journeyman studies--in any case, I feel very much as if I've been making some sort of transition from considered knowledge to intrinsic--to just knowing how to do many things I used to have to stop and figure out.

I'm trying not to breathe on it too hard, lest I break it.

Of course, the last couple of pieces of short fiction I wrote (The White City, "The Forty Times Forty," and "The Romance") have been complete messes, structurally and thematically speaking, and I'm going to have to go in and sort them. But the difference is that I'm not panicky about it: I'm confident that when the time comes, I'll be able to go make them tick.

I'm hoping this is a sign that my brain is working out some kink of narrative breakthrough down there in the bushes, and it'll tell the linear and linguistic centers about it sooner or later. (I'm one of those people who has to derive theory from practice: my learning pattern is bottom up. This is endless loads of fun when I'm trying to teach something to or learn something from netcurmudgeon, who is a totally bigendian learner.)

But it does mean that as a blogger of writing ideas, I'm kind of falling down on the job lately. So I thought I would talk about common pitfalls encountered by the first-time novelist, because I can.

1) Page 1:

The first sentence. Seriously, by the time you have a finished draft, you need a killer first sentence, but you do not need to figure it out right now. You can come back to it. No, really. You can be like me, get 150 pages into a book, and realize you started it three chapters too late and you need to go back and tack 60 pp onto the beginning. (Undertow, if you are keeping track.)

It doesn't have to be perfect. It's a draft. Dare to suck.

2) Page 50:

You've introduced the characters and have no idea what happens next. Well, you probably either didn't give them enough problems, or enough agency. Give a character enough problems, and the plot tends to take care of itself.

3) Page 150

The dreaded 30K wall. Oh, this one is legend. What's happened here is that you have finished the setup for the story, and now you have to develop it. This is known as "writing the middle," and it's one of the hardest parts of the job. Many of us consider this a good time to get a character laid, send in a man with a gun, or sit everybody down for a nice meal and to convene a Royal Commission On The Plot.

4) Page 200

...I'm never going to fill up 400 pages...

Breathe. Keep writing.

5) Page 300

...there's no goddamned way I can wrap this up in another 100 pages!

Breathe. Keep writing.

6) Page 350

...These people have too many problems! I'll never figure this out!

Sure you will. You're just not being ruthless enough. Chances are, if you've caused them enough problems, somebody's not going to get everything they want, is all. Or maybe any of it. Like staying alive, or keeping all of his limbs and loved ones intact.

What I do is I go through the manuscript and write every unresolved plot thread on a 3x5 card. Then I shuffle the 3x5 cards into some sort of semi-logical chronological order, and I write until I have solved the first one. Then I move on to the next.

But that's just a tactic.

There are no rules; only techniques that do or do not work in any given circumstance. Page count may vary dependent on length of work in question.
Tags: writing craft wank

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