Thursday, 14 May 2020

Project Transformation Four - Imperfection Everywhere

So much for back to fortnightly.

The big thing about this project isn't just me trying to finally finish another manuscript for once, and using publicly committing to the process to make me do so. There's a second side to the coin and that is me using a different method to try and become a better author. These blogs aren't just public commitment, they're me sticking down what I am learning so I can clarify, understand and remember the lessons I'm going through. Much as I'd prefer to do this fortnightly, if I'm learning weekly, weekly it is. And it's probably better if it is weekly.

So. Begin. I said better author for a reason. I think I'm a decent writer already. No false modesty, no false pride. I've bullied enough authors into looking at it and got enough good feedback to know that my best is in the rough area where getting published is more than a remote fantasy. That might seem bizarre to people reading these hastily put together, rambling, unedited, straight from the sleep deprived brain to you spewings, but trust me. Obviously I'd like to be better than decent but it's not the first priority anymore. As an author though? Someone who can see projects through, who can devise the plots and maintain the consistency of character needed to turn decent scenes into the coherent narrative of a decent book. Nyet, comrade. 

Part of that is not being the world's most natural storyteller. I do not grip narrative instinctively. That's something I've had to study and learn and study and learn. The idea behind doing so has always been to learn the rules that benefit me so thoroughly they become my new instincts. Something that's become brutally clear while doing this is that they are not yet my instincts.

In a somewhat tangential note, I have been compiling an index to the Writing Resources section at SFFChronicles. It's involved going through a lot of writing advice, albeit scan reading. One particular article by Terry Rossio has brought home a major failing to me: I write lots and lots of scenes that do have a clear and interesting situation. I write lots and lots of scenes that are waypoints that are not strictly necessary. I have a deep and abiding love of slow moving, through examining books and I have taken some bad lessons from them, accepting their excesses and not realising their strengths. The start of this book is weird and weak because I've not been writing situations.

There's a number of other weaknesses and observations. I haven't really used Butcher's scene and sequel model, which I find very useful. I have been spending too long trying to establish the story and not enough telling it. Part of me is considering whether I need to use a lot more PoVs; it feels very old school to have minor PoVs step in where needed and never be heard of again, but if I can get it past agents and editors, would it make my story stronger? Maybe. Have I been starting scenes late and finishing them early? No.

I'm now up 5.7k words on the week, my fastest to date. Why? Cutting the chaff and concentrating on scenes that tell only what needs to be told, and allowing myself to write introspective sequels that get to the point far quicker. This project is gathering momentum. The prose writing is getting better, although frankly it's still rather bad.

That's because I don't know this character. Just like I don't know this plot, or this world, or a number of things. Having to grasp them as I run is helping with how I think about these too, particularly characters. I'm also beginning to realise my understanding of plot is better than I have given myself credit for, just I can't always do it in one. I know I'm better as a headlight planner; I've tried doing heavy plotting and I learned a fair bit doing so, but it's not the way forwards. Time to adapt.

What I'm planning to do some time this weekend is write down 20-30 quick fire tips for good prose and plot. Then once I've got my own personal primer, I'm going to read it over and over. You can't forge instincts if you're not hammering them home all the time. Well, lesson learned.

As part of this journey, I am relearning and refining my ideas on what actually matters. And that'll be more valuable than the finished manuscript providing, slightly paradoxically, I do actually finish it. And I will.

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