Friday, October 9, 2009

Motley Medley

Well... I suppose Elizabeth isn't Motley. Maybe if I start with her, I will buy myself some legitimacy...

Gentle Cycle- Dry Flat

Elizabeth Spann Craig posted a BRILLIANT metaphor yesterday, Dry Clean Only Books, equating them to laundry. You should all go read it, or what I'm going to say might not make sense. I confessed there in my comments to the Dry-Clean Only books being the ones that stayed with me, but while I am writing, only really having enough brain power left for the Wash-n-Wear.

I should probably confess here to WANTING to be the kind of person who reads the Dry-Clean kind all the time. I just can't do it. I read a lot of Juvy fic (books my kids have loved). I guess that helps me stay a little connected, and maybe I am hoping for the next Harry Potter to spiral through. I wonder if that is why my teen voice seems to be my strongest, even though the content is NOT FOR KIDS.

My point though, is that I definitely don't write Dry-Clean-Only books. I think those are written by the MFAs who've been formally trained and work much harder than I do at thinking about every single word, inserting things like parallel sentences in beginnings and endings for people who are reading that closely (which is mostly other MFAs)--though the Half Blood Prince used it beautifully with Dumbledore and Harry traveling together in dangerous times:

At the beginning: I don't think you need to worry, Harry, you are with me.
At the end: I am not worried, Harry, I am with you.

As parentheses to the book in which Dumbledore passes on so much wisdom to Harry, this was very poignant, and many Harry Potter nuts probably noticed it, no MFA needed.

Okay, so I didn't get to my point yet. I aspire not to be quite so inapproachable as many Dry-Clean-Only books because I want to be read, and I just know myself well enough that I may have a moment or two like that in my books, but I am not OCD enough to write the whole book that way. I write because I LIKE it. I wouldn't like that. But I am probably not Wash-n-Wear either. My plots are complex—several woven together. The stories are long. The relationships and psychological development are important. I think Wash-n-Wear is faster paced and can maybe have one or two of those features (probably not the long part) but not all. Probably right now I am writing Gentle Cycle books and I think I aspire to Hand Wash...

On Self Improvement Advice

I typically have little patience with self-improvement books (or seminars, videos, articles, or suggestions of would-be-helpful family members). After all… what’s to improve? But seriously… this has more to do with a collision of my ‘already know everything’ personality, and a perception that these activities are nothing more than annoying narcissism, and I’d prefer to take my narcissism in other forms.

The notable exceptions are my willingness to soon try acupressure because the stuff I ‘already know’ seems to not be working anymore (hello, 40s), and writing/publishing stuff.

So my coworker sent me a link last week to a writing book, and I thought I’d give it a try. It is ‘Reading Like a Writer’ by Francine Prose and started off very promising. The first chapter was very much an essay on thinking about the words you use, making them all count. I was all set to go back to CONFLUENCE and reconfigure my opening (and still might)… but then I started chapter 2. Sentences. We all need them. The trouble is mostly I completely disagree with her view on the matter. She keeps holding out these long, drawn out sentences as examples of brilliance. She has said (of one of these with 187 words) ‘she could have said this in about 12 words but it wouldn’t have been as brilliant and witty and yadda yadda yadda. Now I don’t take issue with using more words to give a feel rather than just getting across the point. What I am NOT grasping, is WHAT IS WRONG WITH PUNCTUATION? Virginia Wolfe would not have been any less brilliant or witty with about 4 periods in there. So I don’t know if my patience for this exercise in self-improvement will take… I will read a little farther, but it is hard to read someone’s advice when you disagree with them on such a core point.


A friend recently commented on my amazing memory, something I haven’t heard in AGES, since I seem to be in the midst of memory failure, and it got me thinking about some psychological theories on memory that I think might play a role in making books memorable, which, for the first time I am thinking might be important to think about as a WRITER.

Primacy: What comes first holds a special place in memory because it is where all thoughts about a certain thing start to build. There is a reason we remember first loves, first impressions, first times for pretty much anything we come to enjoy a lot.

Recency: The LAST we see of something is also memorable—it is the most accessible for temporal reasons.

Repetition: Anything that comes up several times, eventually makes its way into memory—it is why we use repetition as an intentional memory technique.

These ideas can all be useful in writing a memorable book. I think of A Tale of Two Cities shows both Primacy and Recency brilliantly. Word-wise, that is the best beginning and best ending of any book I’ve ever read. Repetition is useful in a number of ways. Ideas can be repeated so people remember, items can be repeated as clues, themes can be repeated as foreshadowing, and I think repetition can be used to set mood (think Edgar Allen Poe here—he is a master at using repetition to send chills down our spines).

I think I’m going to see what I can do with these thoughts… CONFLUENCE, I believe, has a very good final ending (last couple lines), but it is possible I can improve the start, and repetition is definitely something I can think about there.


Tundiel said...

I'm going to have to read that article, because comparing books to wash cycles sounds interesting. I don't hold with these self help things either. Most of it is a pile of horse manure.*nods*

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Yeah, Elizabeth regularly writes great posts and is one of my favorite bloggers. Top notch.

I think your point about being approachable is very good. Readers have to not be intimidated by your novel before they'll pick it up--and after they've started it--or you'll not sell more to that person, AND, they'll not recommend you to others.

So what I need to do with my WIP is ask, what about this story makes it intimidating. Find that stuff and excise it.

Oh, and yes, they certainly do the Warsh in LA, that’s Lower Alabama. It’s origin? Not sure.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for the plug, Hart! I really appreciate it.

I think we were both English majors? And I always have friends asking me for book recommendations, so I feel like I should be reading the dry-clean only books. I usually have to tell people I'm reading easier genre fic, but that I've heard wonderful things about __________. The nice thing is that I visit a lot of book review sites with serious readers commenting and get a good sense of industry buzz and reader buzz. But it still embarrasses me that I'm not able to put more time into my reading.

I can immediately tell if I don't have time for a book--does it have a map or a family tree in the front of the book? I'll be in trouble.

I get a variety of readers....serious readers looking for a break, genre fic readers, etc. I like the fact that no one is going to have to really work at reading my books. But when I go to book clubs, I still feel really reticent and a bit embarrassed over my machine washable books..

Okay, didn't mean to write a novel here in the comments! :)

Mystery Writing is Murder