Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Better Novel

The physical format of a novel has been largely unchanged for centuries.  It shares most of that format with other printed matter of similar length:  a series of double-sided pages bound together in a durable cover.  Normally the author is named, and page numbers are provided as are a title page and chapter headings.

It wasn't always that way.  A reader used to have to cut the pages after purchase.  Chapter breaks were a crazy new invention at some point.  Works were copied by hand.  There was a time when it was considered gauche for an author to claim credit for his work.  There was authorship before paper.

And if you've spent any time reading older literature (certainly anything pre-1700) you've noticed differences in the style and pacing of those stories compared to what's produced today.  The novel is not a fixed-form; it continues to evolve.

We've become very comfortable with the format of a modern-day novel, both its physical presentation and the story itself.  But is there a better way?

We're seeing physical format changes in the e-readers, but they try to mimic paper books to a large degree.  We still have to page forward and back, even though there are no longer any pages.  The text sits still while we move our eyes, rather than the other way around.  We are still shown covers even though these books (which are not books at all) have none:  the protective purpose they used to serve is unnecessary.

The novel itself is changing, as it has changed throughout history.  The physical format the novel is presented in is changing too.  Are we making too many concessions to what readers are accustomed to?  Do we really lack the imagination required to make reading a better experience in more than just a token fashion?

Aside from instant purchase and downloading of books, and the ability to carry a large number of books with us on our e-readers  (note that none of these changes the reading experience itself) what have we done?  We've provided a way to change the font size.  That's about it that I can see (no pun intended).

Shouldn't we expect more?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Time is a Writer's Friend

We often think of time as an enemy, or at least as something that's working against us, something we'd always like to have more of.

But let's remember this:  time isn't our enemy -- time doesn't care about us.  We each get our share, no more and no less.

Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once.*  Time gives us history, perspective, second-chances.  Ah, second chances....

Time is my helper; I shall not want.
It alloweth me to lie down in green pastures:
It leadeth me beside the still waters.
It restoreth my muse:
It headeth me on the paths of rightness for my novel's sake.

Yea, though I wade through the rivers of my story,
I will fear no false step:  for Time art with me;
My delete key and my backup, they comfort me.
Time preparest a plan for me in the presence of my doubts;
Time annointest my manuscript; Creativity runneth wild.

Surely writing and revision shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in my house of cards forever.

[Okay, that was corny, but let's hear a big shout-out to that oh-so-poetical King James Bible anyway.]

I'm back on track with my writing.  The commitment I made last week to (re)make writing a priority paid off.  I started writing from the very first day, but on the fourth day I found my groove and the words began to flock to my fingers.  I'm working on the outline like I promised myself, and it's fun and flowing like the regular writing (when I pantsed it last time around).  I am so excited.

Time is on your side if you want it to be.

* Attributed to Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (who coined the term "black hole").  He continued on to say "Space is what prevents everything from happening to me."  That guy had a way with words just as he had with theoretical physics.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Struggling to Be a Plotter

I'm still struggling to plot my next novel.  I'm not sure what the problem is, but I have an idea.

I've never plotted before, not like this.  I pantsed my way through my first novel, and while I had a blast doing it and learned a lot, the story suffered from the lack of a blueprint.

I know how to plan.  I plan all the time at work, at home, in the car, out for a walk, mowing the lawn -- you name it.  What's got me blocked with plotting out this novel is fear, and the way I deal with that fear is through creative scheduling.

I fear two things:  that I'll plot everything out and then my story will leave my intended path, or that on the other hand I'll be unable to make my characters come alive because I'm writing inside the bounds of my plot-box.

The creative scheduling technique I use has effectively kept those fears at bay.  What I do is promise myself every day that I will work on my plotting, and then find other things that have to be done before the writing.  Or other things that can be done before the writing.  Or I just let myself get distracted.  I know that some people would call this procrastination, but that's such a nasty-sounding word.  I like the term creative scheduling better.

What to do?

I know I want to get back into the writing phase.  The plotting is wearying and scary to me, but the writing and revision is fun.  The only way I'm going to get to the writing is to get through the plotting process (or just abandon that process and pants my way again through this next novel, but I'm not going to do that).

And the silly thing is that the plotting process should really only take another week or so -- two weeks max.  (I tend to be optimistic in my scheduling, so maybe it will be twice that, but still that's not very long.)  It isn't getting done by itself.  What I need to do is make my creative scheduling work for rather than against me.

That's why tonight, instead of sending that email I've needed to send all week, and instead of making my Amazon order, and even instead of writing this blog, I worked on my plotting.  First.  Then I did those other things that needed to get done.

The writing has to come back to first place in my priorities for my evenings, the way it used to be.  The other things still have to get done (well, most of them, anyway), but I need the energy and time to write, so now the writing will happen directly after dinner instead of at some indefinite time slipping into "later".

I feel some progress coming on!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Synergistic Writing, Anyone?

Last week I wrote about reading more than one book at a time, but what about writing more than one?  Some people do.

If you think it's a challenge to keep to books that you're reading together straight in your head, how much more difficult must it be with two stories you're creating?

I haven't tried writing two novels simultaneously, but it definitely has an appeal.  I probably wouldn't go with working on both each night, nor would I schedule alternating nights (or mornings or whatever -- I write at night), because scheduling is a sort of tyranny I despise.  No, I see simultaneous projects as a way to have an alternative when one of them has me stuck.

Other positives are a reduced risk of boredom, and chance for cross-fertilization between novels, maybe bragging rights....

The difficulties are numerous and, I think, of no significance at all.  I could get characters / plot / setting confused between the stories.  Oh, come on.  Do I get confused between multiple characters in a single novel?  Of course not.  Do I get confused between these things in my story and real life?  No again.  [If I watched television, would I get confused when watching two different multi-episode television programs over a span of a month or two?  I don't think so.]

One of the novels could fall by the wayside, and the effort I'd expended would have been wasted.  First off, I have to say that effort is never wasted.  Effort is how you learn.  Second, the novel that fell out of favor must not have been up to snuff -- otherwise why would it have fallen?  It's loss of status may not be permanent (snuffiness is relative, after all).  It may just be the right time for the other novel, and after that one is done it may be the right time for the dropped story to be picked back up and finished.

Schedule difficulties abound with writing multiple novels simultaneously, but even the worst of these is not a real problem. The simplest problem is that it takes twice as long to finish a novel because I'm working on two.  That's not a problem at all.  The worst problem, I think, is "I need to produce one book a year:  not two books every two years."  Maybe so and maybe no.  The key is to understand that the books don't have to be written in lockstep.  I don't have to start both novels the same week and end them together.  It makes more sense to start one, and roughly halfway through the writing process start the second one.

Many writers have an affinity for either writing or for editing but not for both.  I enjoy both sides, but they are very different processes, and that is why it makes sense to double-up.  Any time I sit down to work I have my choice to write one novel or to edit the other.  It should help to mix things up and keep me fresh.  On the other hand, if you have a strong dislike for editing, then the knowledge that on any given day you are guaranteed to have editing to do might be a discouraging thought.

I haven't tried writing two novels at once, but (if I could only get back into the habit of writing at all) I'd like to try.