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.