An Introduction to the King-dom

59th Trial: Having your significant other read your novel can go either way. If he/she is your ideal reader, than by all means attempt it. As Jamie is not my ideal reader (I say lovingly), I struggle to navigate her critique without losing too much blood.

Weekly Hours Spent Writing: 12hr

Weekly Choice of Tea: Dragon Oolong

Biggest Success: I have read through Jane Austen’s “Emma.” I learned a lot from this novel – it is the first Austen book I read where character development and plot is largely through dialogue. I have never read something so dependent on dialogue – and how each character was so thoroughly understood. I would laugh when Miss Bates would go on for three pages, and then when you thought she had lost her breath, another three pages would maintain her voice; Ms. Austen did not attempt to cut her short. That stamina is remarkable.

I begin this blog with all that I have learned from not just Jane Austen, but dare I say – Steven King. There are many reasons why I have not picked up a Steven King novel: my childhood, for one, would not allow it. I have grown up afraid of him, as I have of clowns. The movie “IT” was enough for me to acknowledge that his stories are of a darker hue, and when picking up new novels, I do not look for those which will turn me blue.

I have taken solace in Jane Austen because I have never had the same desire that Mr. King has to look under the bed, or to follow that noise down into the sewers. He is, however, unavoidable when you begin reading books on the art of writing. From Atwood’s own instructive novel she recommended Stephen King’s non-fiction “On Writing,” and I felt it was due time I was introduced to the man who has truly built a kingdom of imagination – one that I have skirted around for years.

But this is where I was taken by surprise – I am ashamed to admit that I pegged him solely as the author of IT, and had no idea that he was the pen behind “The Shining,” “Carrie,” and “Shawshank Redemption” – all movies that I love and stories that I admire (for their own reasons). I have always known about a rabid dog name Cujo without questioning where it came from. Mr. King’s abundance of stories and the far reaches of his fantasy world was little known to me outside of cinema, and after reading his memoir “On Writing,” I am now more comfortable with him, and therefore more forgiving. I think I could even sit in the same room as him now. Alone – yet still not at night. Nor in a creaky house. He may, however, make my list of people to band together during a supernatural apocalypse. A mind like that will always take good measure when zombies are afoot.

But I digress. Mr. King’s (as I am apt to call him, more likely still out of fear than my hope for respect) novel was fun to read – his humor towards the world of writers is comforting, and his confidence is encouraging. There is no coddling, and you get inspiration in his unwavering esteem of the written word. I appreciated most his unorthodox approach in beginning any story – in his way, you do not start by being plot or theme heavy. You listen to the multitude of stories that come at you everyday and you just start writing those that stick, or that take on their own joyride. Because stories do take on their own momentum, just as characters who start in your voice begin to take on their own. Their actions begin to differ, and the plot, the themes, the symbolism come together in a most natural way. This is important to realize and accept, but can only be realized once you have written a novel. I wouldn’t have understood it if I were not standing on this side of the fence.

I also appreciate the simple definition he gives good writers: to improve your writing, you must read and write a lot. And without shame – just complete indulgence. Your writing is initially done with the door shut and only for your enjoyment. There is no pressure in that, and can be playful. Now, if I lived in place other than San Francisco, where apartment’s here are the size of parking spots (which ironically don’t even exist in this city to us trades-people), I would have an actual door to shut. But alas, my door must be figuratively speaking.

What I learned from Mr. King:

  1. “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
  2. “…prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing.” Prose is not an instruction manual, as he puts it : do not list what is on the table to set the scene. Instead, describe them with meaning that only your story can hold.
  3. On writing: “Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”
  4. “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re a little bit ashamed of your short ones.” I applaud this statement – a simple sentence can cut with the sharpness of a knife. And one of the reason’s I cannot stand Stephanie Meyer.
  5. DON’TS: Passive Tense Verbs. Adverbs.
  6. “…fear is at the root of most bad writing.” If a writer feels the need that they have to spell it out for the reader, then they need to come to terms with their own way of writing.
  7. “…while to write adverbs is human, to write ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is divine.”
  8. Paragraphs control the beat of the story.
  9. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
  10. Mr. King recommends to start with situation rather than a well thought out plot. Not knowing the outcome will allow the character’s to create their own.
  11. Description: it’s not how-to, it is how much to do. Keep the reader engaged, the ball rolling, and your ego in check.
  12. Tell the truth as a writer. Observe how people interact, and how situations unravel. Transcribe it with that same clarity.

Surviving Tricks for the Poor Writer

58th Trial: Learning to structure your writing after you’ve written a novel is a disarming thought. It is the equivalent (use your imagination) of going into battle with only a straight sword, surviving it, and then being told you need to learn how to thrust from the torso before you’re allowed to pick up the sword again. Or that “you are lucky to be alive with the technique you had, but this is how warriors do it.” Needless to say, I have read my novel 4 times by now, and am half way done before it could ever be presentable. Who knew there were so many tricks for the poor writer?

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: 18hr/wk.  Happily work has been picking up, and yet my time for writing is still cherished.

Weekly Choice of Tea: Throat Coat; there is something about it that warms the lining of my entire body.

Biggest Success: Completion of my second draft;  posting chapter one in an online writing forum;  finishing Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’;  and perfecting the pop up technique while surfing. 

 

Having completed my second draft, I have read through ‘Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer’ in an attempt to breath life into a third draft. At first, the instructions from ‘Self-Editing’ seemed basic, and I put it down frequently, confident that I may not need to finish it. That I already had the basics (duh, I wrote a novel), and that my writing needed only the tweaks in its dialogue and its descriptive narrative that would make it chime to the sound of a hundred, sweet and delicate bells.

And yet, I noticed something. Certain do-nots that ‘Self-Editing’ illustrated began to look more and more familiar, and before long, I realized I had made the mistakes of a hot-pressed amateur. I quickly picked up my novel and on page one, I was horrified to see “-ly” adverbs. Page three offended me with verbs that substituted “said” when a character spoke. I had tried to set myself apart, to be unique, to display my voice as a writer — that I made unrealistic and insensible violations to the written word.

Not even in technique, but I began to get feedback that my main character showed less and my words told more. That the beautiful descriptive paragraphs were tossed in there without thought – its meaning not expanded upon. That when you need to explain the shock your characters feel during dialogue, your dialogue is lacking. That poetic and flowery figures of speech steal the stage of your characters. That cliches show weakness, and obscenities a small vocabulary. Repetitions must only be done intentionally, or else you are tripping over your shoe laces.

The third draft will begin soon, as I begin to read Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, and after I’ve had a chance to recover from the ‘Self-Editing’ beating.

Take-aways from ‘Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer’:

  1. Your only job is to engage your reader. (sounds pretty simple, right?)
  2. Show VS Tell:  characterization happens through actions and dialogue. Feelings should be observed rather than told.
  3. Proportion:  make descriptive detail proportionate to the character’s interest in it. Character’s development should be proportionate to their role in the story. Setting detail should mirror the tone of the novel.
  4. Dialogue:  Well written dialogue doesn’t need an explanation. Verbs cannot replace “said.” You cannot chuckle a sentence. “-ly” adverbs show only your lack of confidence in diaglogue.
  5. R.U.E.  Resist the Urge to Explain
  6. Make sure your dialogue reads natural as you read it aloud. No trick spellings that would require a reader to translate rather than be affected by.
  7. Beats:  are actions interspaced in a scene. They should illuminate your character, and match the rhythm of the dialogue. Do not show every movement a character makes – it will be irritating disruptions to the scene.
  8. Interior Monologue:  Do no use dialect for dialogue. Make it match narrative distance. These should be limited to important emotions – the entire novel is not a constant character epiphany. Determine if her state of mind is worth capturing. Certain monologues can be changed into scenes.
  9. Do not use italics. So unnecessary.
  10. Scene length:  dialogue and paragraph breaks help create white space.
  11. Repetitions:  1+1 = 1/2;  they should be intentional. If repetitions exist between words/thoughts/emotions, flush it out by understanding what it is trying to accomplish in a paragraph’s mood, objective, and characterization.
  12.  Use “!” sparingly.
  13. Profanity and Obscenity:  shows small vocabulary and in no way should intimate scenes have anatomical details.
  14. As an author, encourage your voice but do not actively work on it. Notice your flat sentences verses those that sing to you. It will eventually work itself into existence.