Archives for July 2009

What has Ken got against adverbs…

…she asked sternly, slowly shaking her head from side to side…

That was a comment made by the wife of someone who is currently reading the second draft of Night and Day – well, the part about me not liking adverbs.

Actually, I don’t have anything in particular against the adverb – it’s just that they can end up overused, which really makes the writing seem…overwrought. And if you’ve read anything I’ve written, or even this blog, you know that I’m not much for overwrought writing – I get wordy, occasionally (maybe more than occasionally), but I try to keep it simple and relatively straightforward.

Much like what I prefer to read…

Right now I’m in the middle of a couple of books – Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess and Risen by Brian Keene. Both zombie novels of a sort, though very different in their take on the subject matter and even more different in the writing.

The Keene book is written in a relatively direct manner, and though I haven’t found the writing to be especially memorable, it’s functional and serviceable, and does the job of telling the story. The Burgess book, on the other hand, is better written, but more…ornately written. Not heavy on the adverbs and adjectives, to the point where you want to scream “Stop!”. But the writing and imagery are very complex, which makes it more difficult to read – at least for me.

I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of “The Great Books” – those classics of bygone ages that delight the souls of spinster English teachers and young pseudo-intellectual girls with their involved descriptions of everything, their stiff, formal writing (but using only the very best words for your reading pleasure), etc. Call me plebeian, but it’s just not what I want to read for pleasure.

I select a book for the story, the concept, what it’s about. Read the flyleaf, read the back cover, whatever. Tell me what it’s about in general terms. If it sounds interesting, I’ll give it a go. Then I judge how the author handles the story and the characters, and finally, the writing.

The writing isn’t the draw for me – if it’s competent, and it tells the story in a way I can understand, I’m good to go. If not, then I fling the book across the room (or stop reading it on the Kindle) and move on to another one – my to-read pile is very large.

So I write the kind of writing that I like to read. It’s not elegant (though I do have an occasional good sentence or line of dialogue), but it tells the story. Adverbs optional.

If music be the food of love…

…I should probably be looking for a window in Amsterdam.  But never mind that….

I’ve got a gazillion songs on my computer.  That’s right, a gazillion.  Okay, a gazillion and seven.  I listen to a lot of music, both for the whole internet radio thing (though we’re not a “music” station, I usually play a couple of hours of music before shows begin) and more importantly for this particular slideshow of my life, while I’m writing.

It started back when I was a kid, typewriter on the kitchen table, pounding out whatever childish crap I was pounding out in those days – in a house with a couple of parents, and three younger siblings, things could sometimes get a little loud, and I value my concentration when I’m writing.  Music provided a kind of white noise to filter out distractions.  Living in the environs of New York City, my music of choice was a radio tuned to WQXR, one of the country’s premier classical radio stations.

Why classical?  Though I’m fairly conversant with classical music (more so now than then, of course), I rarely find myself stopping to “listen” to a particular piece of classical music when I’m writing.  And that’s important.  If it distracts me, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to.  Moving to Florida after high school thrust me into an art-free environment, where you could maybe, at the time, get a Miami public radio station if you were lucky, and catch some classical programming.  For years I had to write in silence.

The advent of streaming music over the internet made it possible to listen to music again while I write – in some of the earlier posts, I mention listening to WCPE in North Carolina via the net, and later listening to a classical station in Hamburg, Germany.  I had a couple of others I listened to regularly, including KING FM in Seattle.

Sometimes I’d switch it around and listen to jazz – preferably bop, if I could find it – for much the same reason – I would listen on some primal level (like an animal!) but it wouldn’t distract me from writing.

Satellite radio has been the next stage of my “writing music” journey – in the car, I usually listen to classical or jazz, and lately some new agey/ambient stuff as well.  Again, it allows me to drive, think, and not make me want to start singing along, or go looking for something to jot down a song title or artist name so I can track them down later.  Not that I don’t do that, when I’m not in writing mode.  Always gotta find new, interesting music.  And I can stream the sat radio music at home as well, which I did through much of the Night and Day rewrite process – mostly the ambient, switched off with classical when the ambient would irritate me and make me feel like a Yanni-lover.

Right now, as I write this and half think about my Bleeding Sky mystery problem, I’m listening to Shiva in Exile, which is sort of arabic-themed electronic/world/ambient/whatever, as it streams out onto the internet from my computer.  When that’s done it’s time for The Infrasonics, which is an analog instrument rock/electronic/drone/ambient/whatever band.  It won’t distract me either.  Last will be Elvis Schoenburg’s Orchestre Surreal, which is some bizarro stuff that I’m playing for the audience as they arrive for tonight’s show.  I doubt most listeners like a whole lot of anything I’m playing, but hey, I’m not playing it for them, I’m playing it for me.

I should be able to get a little writing type stuff done until Elvis Schoenburg begins – then, like everyone else, I’ll just listen because I have a feeling I’ll be too distracted to do anything else.

Housekeeping

So this morning, I decided to spruce up the blog a little bit – make it more my own than “put content here”.

I still have more to do – I guess I’ll eventually do the “about” page to some extent, but I don’t think it’s all that necessary at this early date.  However, I did want to get rid of the default links and put something a little more useful there – plus I added a who’s on widget thing, just to make me feel special when I’m the only one on the blog…

The links fall into two categories – Machinima, which are the blogs of friends and collegues who make machinima movies and Writing, which are some of the sites/blogs I check, mostly for entertainment value and the occasional worthwhile hint.  There are other writing blogs and other machinima blogs/sites, and I’m sure if you’re interested to exploring further, all of those links will lead you in many directions as you search for knowledge.

Some interesting things….

Since I have nothing interesting of my own right now – catch me later after a couple of pints of Arrogant Bastard…let me share a couple of writing related interesting things…

11 Types of Bad Writing Advice

Advice I may be following soon…

An interesting take on plotting a novel

Ch-ch-ch-changes

So a few days ago, I mentioned that Night and Day had gone through some changes in the rewriting process.

A lot of the changes were relatively minor – slightly expanding some things, trimming back others.  Somehow, in the process, I managed to add approximately 5000 words to the second draft…that’s (reaches back into the typewriter past….200 words per page on average….5 pages per thousand words….) an extra 25 pages.  I’m not really sure where those extra 25 pages came from, but obviously they’re there.  Never argue with word count.

Two things really stick out in my mind, though – one that I changed “fairly” well, and one that I didn’t.

Let’s start with what I consider the success.  As I mentioned to my co-host on my internet radio show last Sunday, I had a situation where a relatively major character dies.  The character’s death is essential (I don’t spend a fair amount of time with a character to capriciously kill him or her just for fun or to have “something happen”) and comes somewhere around the 2/3 mark in the book – it propels the story into the homestretch by answering some questions and introducing the new character who answers those questions.

So, we have the original version, from draft 1 – the character dies “off screen” – Charlie Welles hears about it, off he goes, new character is introduced, questions are answered.  A description of the character’s death comes later, from another character who witnessed it (it’s a mystery – deaths are usually murders, or at least murder-like).

If you’ve read back through the original posts, this is the same death I was thinking about on December 16th of ‘03, when I was considering the fact that the death was kind of glossed over and the story had moved on without much reflection on the death – which stank of “plot development”, i.e. “I need to get from here to there.  Lemme kill this character, then introduce this one to explain the death and answer some of the questions that are piling up.”  Which isn’t to say that the character’s death isn’t exactly that – he had served his purpose, I didn’t have a whole lot more to say about him, and by killing him off, it allowed me to make the jump to the final sequence of events.  I just don’t like being so nakedly obvious about it.

But while in the rewrite, well before I got to that particular part in the book, the whole “off screen” death thing was bothering me.  It was a combination of the showing vs. telling thing, for one, and for the other, killing off the character that way potentially wouldn’t resonate with the reader (or wouldn’t resonate much, assuming that any of this stuff does…)

Fortunately, while waiting to fall asleep one night, I came up with a sequence that allowed me to:

  1. Kill the character as I needed to.
  2. Show the character’s death as it happened.
  3. Get Charlie Welles involved in the death (rather than hearing about it later)
  4. Add a little more to the “setting” of the story, while still getting it to the place where I could introduce the new character and answer some questions.

Played with it a little in my mind, visualized it, went through 3–4 different ways it could happen – then, when I got to that point, I looked at what I had, and how I could modify it to make it all work.  And did so.  Is it perfect?  Probably not – it’s “first draft material”, and I really do have to go over it and see how I can fine tune it.  Does it work?  I dunno.  I obviously think it does, but that’s one of the things I want to ask those who are currently reading the second draft (if they don’t mention it on their own).

So I’ll count that as a provisional success for now.

My less successful change was in the characterization of a small, but important character in the final chapters.  This character is deeply involved in everything that has happened, in the “mystery” that fuels the plot.  He provides many of the final “answers” that Welles needs.  In the original draft, he was kind of bland – a little whiney, a little abashed at being involved, but not really a dynamic, interesting character.  He was, in some ways, a plot device character – there to provide the information that was spurting out of his mouth.

I wanted to beef him up – I wanted more from him, to make him as distinct as, say, the guy in the Sister’s of Mercy garage, who seems sort of Wilford Brimley-esque to me.  I don’t think I quite got it this time around.  He has so much information to impart, that he ends up answering questions, and then we’re done with him.

I think he’s going to be one of the things that I plan to concentrate on in the third (and hopefully final) draft – I’d like to capture an unholy mixture of fear, defiance, arrogance, and obsequiousness that I see in him and apply it in the dialogue so the reader sees him as I see him.  But that’s to come down the road.  I didn’t get there this time, but I haven’t given up on him.

And that’s it for today – time for some chow, the news, and then see if I can get through the second half of Knowing – it’s not as wretched as I feared it would be, and I already know the “twist”, but it’s really not keeping me glued to the screen either.  I was going to rewatch Vertigo last night, having discussed it with Richard on Sunday’s show, but this arrived, just released, and I was suckered by wanting to see the cool new thing I hadn’t seen.

I never learn.