August 14th, 2006

bear by san

You must be at least as tall as this sign to ride this ride.

"The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words."
--Ursula K. LeGuin

Like so many other things in life--and literature--concern with accessibility is a tension rather than an absolute. Transparency is an ideal, of course--but then again, there are things it is not suited to. Things that can be handled best by telling our truths slant.

Things that can't be said because they have to shown, because language has limitations and one of those limitations is that it tends to be absolute. I talked a bit about this a while back, with regard to thematic arc.

It is not the job of a book to appeal to every possible reader. Specifically, there will always be readers who are too stupid for any given book, to whom it appears opaque or incomprehensible. And readers who are too smart for it, for whom it appears transparent and trite and obvious. (I am too stupid for much of crowleycrow's work, for example.)

And sometimes, the author is too stupid for the book. Or just stupid enough, as the case may be.

And there will be readers for whom any given book is just right. From a writer's perspective, of course--assuming that one is an honest craftsman and an honest artist, rather than a cynical hack--one writes to the best of one's ability the book which one needs to write, and once tries to make it accessible to the broadest possible audience while still maintaining the integrity of the book.

This is, as insinuated above, a balancing act. Every book has a sweet spot, I think--a place where it is as transparent as it can be to do the work it's trying to do. The more work, I would guess, the harder that sweet spot is to hit--and the more difficult the book may be, anyway, even in the writer pulls it off. (For the same reason that King Lear is a more difficult play than As You Like It.)

I'm thinking about this now because there's some unintentional opacity in By the Mountain Bound that needs training out, and it's hard work. Things that seem apparent to me may not be apparent to as many readers as they could be. Things that I would like to make apparent are not amenable to exposition or illumation without becoming heavy-handed, and are left in the subtext to sink or to swim. I mean, ideally we'd be beaming our Jesus sex thought rays into the skulls of every science fiction fan, but that only works for warren_ellis, as far as I can tell. So we're stuck with language, and if we're trying to write about things that are not amenable to simple explication, slippery difficult-to-consider things, things there isn't language for...

...indirection and example and interstices are what we've got.

The only advice I can offer here is for any given writer to hold to his integrity*, and remember--in writing as in baseball, just laying wood on the ball a third of the time is pretty bloody good. This stuff isn't easy.

*holding on to one's integrity does not mean proclaiming one's unpublishability as Misunderstood Genius. It does mean improving one's craft to whatever level one can and honoring the core of the story (I still believe accessibility is a literary virtue; it's just one that must sometimes be traded for other worthy but often inimical things, like depth and revelation), rather than selling your art down the river of Dumb for a fast buck.

bear by san

Why mid-career authors suddenly begin writing books full of random smut.

Because it's easy.

I wrote a sex scene that I ducked in the first draft of BtMB, and boy, I gotta tell you, that was fun. (There was a good deal of people doing what people do in the earlier drafts, but none of it was exactly spelled out. I have discovered upon reread and revision that this is because I Was Chicken.)

Anyway, it came out all rough and nasty and elbows and knees, and I'm quite pleased with it. And looking forward to all the other smutty bits I'm going to have to write between now and then (where then is the end of the revision pass.) This is the book with the (originally very glossed) somewhat nonconsensual erotic asphyxiation scene, after all. I may have to get somewhat drunk for that one.

(See further explanations: why so many writers wind up hopeless alcoholics.)

Anyway, I think from now on I'm writing lots of sex. It's fun writing sex; it's just character and voice, and conflict, and you don't have to worry about such fiddly details as plot.

In fact, perhaps I will just write books that are nothing but sex. Thinly diguised soft-core porn! Then I don't have to worry about theme and accessibility and craftsmanship and all that noise.

In fact, I think I'll start a literary movement, and we can claim it's an artistic revolution driven by honest appraisal of humanity (let's face it, most of us are motivated at base by food, sex, and baseball) and a rejection of hackneyed patriarchal narrative values.

Objective measures of literary quality are a tool of the patriarchy! Bring on the smut! Sex by page 30 or you can't sit at my lunch table!

...God, I'm bored.
bear by san

You want it. You take it. You pay the price.

Progress notes for 14 August 2006:

By the Mountain Bound

Pages revised:  49
Total pages:  418
Things cut or added: Still weaseling out bits of that plotline that needs to be put into The Sea thy Mistress. There is this problem with a set of books that span about two and a half millennia in narrative. It is the fact that there's a lot of stuff that needs dealing with, and if one was clever on the first draft and tried to tie the book set in 500 in with the book set in 2400, one finds one's self a bit tangled up.

Still, it gets me from Ragnarok to shoggoth main battle groups, with room to spare. What's not to love?

Also, wrote a three page sex scene, and a bunch of expansion bits.
Deadline: nothing but self-imposed ones.
Reason for stopping: bedtime loometh.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
49 / 418

Stimulants:  sparkling water
Exercise: walked a mile to get to a pizza.
Mammalian assistance: Mebd is still ignoring me in favor of stillnotbored, who is the Best Toy Ever!
Mail: Lots of blogreviews of Blood and Iron.

almeda was underwhelmed. I lost her in the bushes somewhere.

oursin liked it much better, but at lesser length.

As did etumukutenyak, though sie thinks my plotting is hackneyed.

Today's words Word don't know: borning, sharped, cocooned (every time I get a new HD, I have to teach it the same old words.), scree,
Mean Things: Strifbjorn just committed an act of good Samaritanhood that will be haunting him through thirty incarnations. Moral: If you find a half-drowned goddess on the beach, finish the job.
Darling du jour:  All the good ones are spoilers or make no sense out of context.
Jury-rigging: I may have the voices down, though Strifbjorn's remains tricky. At it's base, it's that he's less formal than the other two, far more direct that Queen Circumlocution (a/k/a Muire), uses more complete sentences and has less of a tendency to drop unnecessary words than Mingan. Mingan's voice is almost enough to be called an accent. Also, he gets present-tense. Muire has a better vocabulary than the other two. Strifbjorn breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to his percieved audience, and he is a bit self-mocking. Muire's too big of a stiff to laugh at herself. The problem is, Muire and Strifbjorn are brother and sister and live in the same house, so the actual voices can't be too different. Rather, I have to show the differences in perception, what they see and what they notice.

That's harder than funny voices. Funny voices are a snap.

So Muire tends towards elaborate metaphors, and she's more detached/analytical. Strifbjorn is visual; that's where he always goes with his description if he can. He's aware of people as people, and he gets why they do stuff, and he's on to stuff they keep secret. Something that shocks Muire because she never sees it coming is, for him, an "I'm not supposed to know that, and I hope nobody finds out about that who would make it a scandal." Muire is socially awkward, and teased. Strifbjorn is socially careful, and respected.

It's a technical challenge, especially since the POV sections can be as short as three pages.

Also, when writing the zipless fuck in a medieval setting, it's important to remember the sword harness.

There's always one more quirk in the character: Mingan has a nasty tendency to run away from his problems. And an unsettling taste for really rough, messy sex.
Other writing-related work: Wrote the back cover copy for New Amsterdam.
Books in progress: Hal Duncan, Vellum
The glamour!: work, dishes, the usual.