Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Woo hoo! I'm baaaack (for now at least)

So I never thought it would happen ... I was beginning to doubt I'd ever be writing new fiction again. To recap: I was clipping along beautifully on a book last winter and spring. I was very excited about this book. Then I got a request for revisions on an older book, which sent me underground all summer. I finished the revisions and decided to shop a nonfiction book, and I got a request for a proposal that took another month to put together. And guess what? I dropped the proposal in the mail this morning.

I've had a zillion writing-related thoughts all this time. I suspect, in a weird way, that I'm a totally different writer now than I was a year ago. At least I certainly hope so, considering that I've now rewritten the same two books over and over and over and over. If I didn't learn anything in that process, then hit me with a frying pan. Also, I don't know how else to describe it, but my writing has gained a certain sure-footedness as of late. I think being exposed to fairly intense criticism, and working REALLY hard to answer that criticism, has sharpened my senses. So as I contemplate picking my book back up, I'm in a good place. My head is on as straight as it gets, I think I'm working on a pretty solid concept with a good start, and I'm generally just really excited about it.

Now, to writing. I drive my oldest son to school every morning, so we spend about half an hour in the car together. Lately, I've been paying attention to how often we talk about school. In total, I'd say it's about 15% of the time. The rest of the time we're talking about everything else -- ideas mostly, but also people and histories and stories.

If you think about it, people almost never talk about what they're doing. Because they're doing it. Who narrates their every activity? Boooring. This is true in books, too. Having the characters talk about what they're doing, or just did, is just flat out redundant. Because the reader was there too, they already saw it happen.

I've been working on this lately, on writing dialogue that isn't about plot as much as it's about the flow of thought stimulated by the events covered in the plot. Like my son and I going to school, people rarely talk about what they're doing. They talk about what they are thinking, the ideas they have. People's thoughts are tangential, and they're often self-referential. So that's my challenge now, as I finally start writing again ... every time I find my characters talking about the plot, I ask myself, "Really? Is that really the way it works?"

More often than not, the answer is no.


Heather Lane said...

Hmmm. I've been focused on cross-conversing and each character's unique perspective. You just elevated my thought process regarding writing conversation. Thanks for this observation! I can tell I'll be thinking about it for a while...

Melanie Avila said...

Welcome back! That's so great you're finally "finished" (because we're never really finished) with the other projects and you can get back to actually writing. Aside from flash, I haven't written anything new in a year.

I love your thoughts on dialogue. I think I handle it pretty well but this is a perfect reminder as I'm going through my edits. Also, I can tell I've improved after working on several drafts of my first novel. The first draft of my second novel started at a much higher level -- it's great to see that improvement in yourself.

Mark Terry said...

Complicated story techniques you're thinking about there, dude. It's dangerous to get too internal, although so-called "literary" and/or "mainstream" fiction uses an awful lot of it. I suppose it goes back to balance and what it is you're trying to achieve.

LurkerMonkey said...


Glad you stopped by! I'm working on the same thing...

LurkerMonkey said...


Isn't there another word for never being finished? Oh yeah ... insanity.

And yeah, I love the feeling of growing, except when it hurts.

LurkerMonkey said...


Think Pulp Fiction. At one point, the two hit men are walking down a hall, before they go into a room with guns blazing, and talking about ... foot fetishes. Just before they open the door, Samuel L. Jackson says, "Let's get into character." That whole movie is one giant off-topic conversation.

Personally, I think the trick is to get the dialogue to be inspired by the action—but ultimately illuminative of character, rather than plot.

Mark Terry said...

Right, but if you were writing it as a novel, rather than as a movie, you've got to get them down the hallway and through the door. You've got to describe the action and the scenery. But I agree about dialogue being too plot-oriented. You just have to be careful about it (like everything else).

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