Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review On-The-Go and More!

Generally I prefer to avoid exclamation points, but I figured the one in the title is justified this time. I've decided to start a new segment of the blog: "Book Review On-The-Go." Instead of reading a book and the presenting you with a review, I will provide updates on my impression of the book as I read it. On the whole, I'm a busy reader with four magazine subscriptions (one weekly, one bi-weekly, two monthly, all of which I read extensively) and usually a couple books going at the same time. Therefore updates might not be as frequent as I'd like, but maybe this will speed me up.

The first book up for an "On-The-Go" review is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King. I had seen this book mentioned and praised on other blogs, and seeing how I'm editing myself at the moment, I decided to pick up a copy. An intro and three chapters in, I'm not entirely impressed. In general, I find their advice and explanations to be over-simplified. Occasionally they'll strike a chord and I'll have one of those, "I haven't thought of it that way before" moments.

Browne and King have a nasty habit of taking a classic like Lonesome Dove or The Great Gatsby and suggesting 'better' ways certain passages could have been written. Maybe this is to make the young writer feel less over-shadowed by the greats. Maybe this is to simply use well-known examples. Or maybe this technique rose from over-grown editor egos. (Disclaimer: I love editors, have served as one myself, and believe many great journalists and writers had brilliant editors.)

Chapter One, "Show and Tell," focused exactly on what you might think it. You've got to show the read what's happening rather than tell it to least most of the time. Of course some narration is necessary. This is their point. It's a great chapter to open with, because it's a problem we all deal with and definitely something that beginning writers might not even think about. If you've taken any creative writing classes you're not missing much by skipping this.

Chapter Two, "Characterization and Exposition." It's almost a continuation of chapter one and therefore its logical successor. Again, minimal help here for those who've had training, but it did hold some nuggets. The writers do a good job of stressing that characters should be defined and described mainly through their actions, rather than an introductory narrative description.

Chapter Three, "Point of View." Browne and King stress that the only points of view that need to be discussed or even considered are first, third and omniscient. I have always been taught that you should find a point of view (first, second, third) and a distance (how omniscient) and stick with it all the way through. Sure, there are great examples where authors broke this rule; Faulkner did it in As I Lay Dying, where each chapter was presented from a different character's perspective. However, these editors seem to say that as long as you don't get too confusing or intimate with one POV than another you can jump around. Sounds dangerous to me.

More general details and brief chapter reviews to come.

On that note: I have completed small revisions for the second draft of "Red Truck." But, having read it over a couple times and discussing the few others who have also, I have decided to re-write the whole thing in third person rather than first. I've only dealt with the intro couple of pages and things are already looking up. This story might have a future after all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Let the Editing Begin!

So, I have begun the editing process on "Red Truck." I printed out two hard copies, one for me and one for my wife, and have started marking up the pages with relish.

Today, however, I have yet to pick up the manuscript. But, I've been busy. I followed up on two job applications and am hoping/praying for a call or two. I did a bit of a recap on all of my submissions of "Gullible Jack;" I found out that one journal rejected me without notification and I sent a query to another that has taken its time. I have six submissions still pending. Also, I heard back from Benjamin Percy who had some good advice to give. It's encouraging to talk to published short story authors. On that note I also have attempted to contact an old fiction professor of mine in hopes that she will be willing to help me edit "Red Truck."

In other, somewhat related news, I came across the blog Words on the Page written by Lori Widmer. She has declared tomorrow, May 15, as Writers Worth Day. The goal is to express that the work writers do is worth more than the little, if any, compensation they are given. Low pay pay for news, reporting and freelancing is a problem that the journalism and publishing communities are facing now more than ever. Going beyond raising awareness, Lori is posting career tips and information for writers all month. Please check out her blog and show your support as well.

Now, I'm off to do some editing, maybe a little reading and then hitting the hay.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rough Draft Complete

Over the past few years I have written five or six short stories that I can consider mostly complete and a number of others that are still in early drafts. Out of all of those I'm only proud of a couple of them. "Red Truck" draft #1 is officially complete. I love the way this story is going, but man do I have a lot of revising, rewriting, and just editing in general to do. It is rough in the truest sense of the word. But, I'm excited. Now that the framework is down I can really start get at the meat and the details of the story, thereby making it truly beautiful. Beauty, that's what all artists strive for in one way or another, right?

There is a lot in this writing blog community of ours about self-editing and revision like this post at The Blood-Red Pencil. I think this will be my process of editing for now:

1. I will get my wife and maybe one or two others to read it and have them give me their honest thoughts on the story as a whole.

2. Print out the manuscript and mark up the hard copy with micro-editing and notes on larger issues. I might even lay out pages at a time on the floor to get a bigger-picture view.

3. Take notes in my notebook about scenes and details that need addressing.

4. Read and re-read the hard copy.

5. Begin making changes.

But first, I think I'll take the rest of the weekend off and give my brain a break from the story. How do you self-edit and revise? I'm interested in any tips or suggestions.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The "How Could I Not See That Coming" Moment

Subtlety is a difficult thing to accomplish in writing. How do you convey something important about a character by showing/not telling and be sure that the reader will catch on? How do you hint at a disturbed past without going into detail?

A use of subtlety that I'm most interested in is foreshadowing, a common technique in mystery fiction. I was reading the short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J.D. Salinger last night and was struck by the simple, but impacting construction of it. He made it clear early on that something bad would happen. Then mid-way he stilled my fears by a delightful, heartwarming scene. But the third part happened quickly and made me feel foolish for forgetting about the first scene. It was a "how could I not see that coming" moment. While this is hardly the best or most complex example, it still worked.

The key is to not trick the reader. This should not be a deus ex machina. There should be an element of shock to the reader, but also an "Ah HA" aspect as well. They should then remember past elements of the book/story and realize that you planned this. "Bananafish" would not have worked had the first scene not been there. There would have been no reason for the end to happen the way it did. (I'm trying not to give away too much, but everyone should find this story and read it.)

That kind of foreshadowing is what I'd like to be able to produce in "Red Truck." Actually, I'm trying for two types of the subtlety. In parts, I want the reader to be aware of things that Margie, my tragedy, is not and later her feel foolishly for not seeing it. In other ways, I want the traditional type of foreshadowing, where I leave hints here and there to lead up to the end. I'm going to try to keep my eyes open for this kind of subtlety in my reading here on out.

I'm so close to finishing the first draft. I'm quite a slow writer. I think I'm thinking too much about revision to finish. There is just too much going on: job applications, working, magazine reading, other reading. Hopefully, the next post will be about the finishing of the first draft and the beginning of revision. Oh, how I love revision!