This Says It All

Kristine Kathryn Rusch says something here that describes my reading habits perfectly:

I read fiction for entertainment, relaxation, and enjoyment. If I want to work, I read the history, literary essays, biography, science, and legal books that grace my shelves.

I’ve never been able to put into words why I prefer genre fiction when reading fiction, why, if I’ll read dense histories, I won’t read dense fiction. The above explains it brilliantly.

I am a happy woman.

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At Last…

Etta James is playing in the radio in my head, triggered by the title I’m giving this blog. I think, I think, the scene that’s been giving me fits is on the right track. The thing I like best about it is that nothing’s settled by the end — it’s just an agreed-upon point of stasis between the two characters. I can see all kinds of complications rising out of what I have, and I hope the reader will, too. If I do this right, the big difference between my feeling of, “Stuff will happen because of this,” and the reader’s feeling of it, is that I know what happens as a result and the reader won’t. But she’ll want to…and she’ll keep turning the pages.

~*~*~*~*~*~

One of my favorite blogs is agent Nathan Bransford’s. I like his attitude and his style, the way he approaches his blog posts. He’s just a pleasure to read.

He’s also informative. Today, he had a great post on first paragraphs, one I recommend reading. When he talks about the first paragraph’s three functions, he puts into words something I’d understood but had never tried to articulate. In three brief clauses, he liststhe things I look for when I open a book, trying to decide whether or not to buy it (or borrow it, as the case may be). I just hadn’t named those things.

As a reader, it’s cool but not key that I now know what I’m looking for. As a writer, this information is essential.

Go read the whole post. It’s short, and it’s excellent.

February 10, 2009: You Never Know, Part 2

When I was writing that post last night, I knew there was a second example of “found it in an unexpected place”, but I couldn’t remember it.

I found it this morning. It comes from Phil Rickman’s The Wine of Angels; he quotes the poet and religious writer, Thomas Traherne:

And till the ends of things are seen
The way’s uncertain that doth stand between.

If I don’t know where the story’s going, I don’t know whether or not I’m on the correct path. So knowing the end is key.

Which I now do. It came to me yesterday, so beautiful and perfect that I had my doubts. I’ve been so frustrated by not knowing the end that it was entirely possible that I was euphoric with relief. So I decided to sleep on it.

And it’s still beautiful and perfect. I can see the shape of the story as a whole in my mind’s eye, and the ending just finishes it all off beautifully. Ideas are spinning off it, ideas that tie back to what I already have, and that just makes me happier than I can say.

So, this whole thing reminds me to be alert at all times. Because you never know.

January 20, 2009: Writing For Myself

This evening, while I was waiting for the bus*, I was thinking about writing the next bit of the scene introducing Kerlis. Last night, I wrote down what I knew needed to happen next, which helped me know what to focus on. It gave my balky, wayward imagination some direction, something it desperately needs.

As I was thinking about writing the next bit, I start tensing up and getting anxious. This is the thing that stops me, more often then not: that anxious tension. I can’t write when I feel that way. Today, I imagined I was writing this next bit just for me, something that no one else would ever see to judge**. I relaxed immediately, and the ideas started flowing.

So I need to remember this: write for myself. Always write for myself; otherwise I don’t write.

* Apparently the bus stop is second only to the shower as a place I get insights and ideas. Writing them down is as easy. Which is to say, not.

** I guess I always assume judgments will be negative, even when I have experience that tells me otherwise.

January 14, 2009: Laughing at Myself

I’m laughing at myself today.

In the last day or so, I’ve been trying to figure out what Ilsabet, Kerlis and Narthé want, as a way of untangling the mess that is Dragonfly. Ilsabet and Narthé came quickly, but I was having problems with Kerlis, because I kept coming up with the same thing Ilsabet wants.

Then on the bus this morning, listening to my iPod, I got the answer. It dropped into my head like it fell from the sky.

But that’s not the thing that makes me laugh.

I was thinking about Kerlis’s desire, and all the ways I can use it in the story, and a little voice in the back of my head said, “Once you know what someone wants, you have your story.”

How many years have I been hearing that basic message? Seven, eight? 10, 12? However long it’s been, I never really got it until today, not the way I understand it now. I understand it in my diaphragm, which is where I understand all the really useful things.

I’ve probably said this before, but right now I feel like I might actually know what I’m doing. I’m feeling a great deal of confidence in my tool box and my ability to use my tools effectively.

And that all makes me very happy. Today is A Good Day.

September 19, 2008: Never Mind the Plan

Yesterday, I wrote a new opening for Dragonfly. I was able to figure out what Ilsabet is doing when she gets the letter that upsets her: reading her mail. My original thought was to have her doing something when Lady Zella Urlakot’s letter arrives via messenger. The something was making me crazy.

I’m not sure why I finally decided to just have her reading her mail, but I really like it. I wrote the new beginning, stopping when she opened Lady Zella’s letter because I’d run out of ideas formed enough to write. Later that night, in the middle of reading in bed, Ilsabet’s reaction to the contents of the letter came to me, almost fully formed. I keep pens and paper in my nightstand, so I pulled writing materials out and wrote down what I had.

My plan was to add Ilsabet’s reaction to the rest of the new opening, then fill in the gap between them with the contents of Lady Zella’s letter. But when I made the addition, I realized it works as well — if not better — not to show the letter. What the letter actually says doesn’t matter nearly as much as Ilsabet’s intense, unhappy reaction.

So never mind the plan, go with works on the page.

Necessary Distortion

Since my last post, progress on writing the synopsis has been slow but steady. The slowness comes from having to boil what happens down to its clearest essence, while retaining the heart and spirit of the story. I have to think hard about what’s truly important and what relates most to the central storyline. And this is only a draft — I may finish and realize that I’ve been too ruthless in paring things down.

One thing I’ve realized is that a synopsis is inevitably a distorted version of the complete, full story. It has to be. In condensing a novel in all its complexity to a narrative that’s as short as it can be, a lot of stuff has to be jettisoned, and that changes the shape of what remains.   More