Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'BLOTS, Men's Writing Group--no blood tonight! Just laid-back, good time

Dorothy Sayers
INKBLOTS – March 27, 2012
Spring has been here--but now is gone. So we still have a fire on the grate, and 14-Hands in hand. Just four of us tonight.

We opened talking about copy editors. My Toplady biography with Evangelical Press is being copy edited at the moment. Very new experience as it is my first book written with a British publisher. The Brits have their own stylistic conventions so it is odd to see single quotation mark where we would see two, and to see punctuation appearing outside of the single quotation marks. And the paper size and margins are different. Just looks different—and is. Had a good exchange with the English copy editor (who opened his email graciously telling me how much his family enjoyed reading a number of my other books). He then asked if I would give him rein to make changes without tracking them, which I politely (I hope) declined having him do. I had an unhappy experience with Rebel’s Keep when the copy editor made significant stylistic changes without warrant or tracking those changes, introducing inconsistencies in form of attribution. I had to send the manuscript back and asked the publisher to get another copy editor, which they did, and no longer use that copy editor. My theory is that some copy editors want to write their own book over the author’s. Having said that, copy editors are very important people and every good author will admit how important it is to have a good one. Nobody can write tens of thousands of words without messing up. I like to write a note to the editor and tell them how much I know I need their expertise and what some of my common fumbles and blunders look like.

John S read the final chapter of Saving Grace, his pro-life contemporary novel. This is a resolving and happy ending to what could have been a tragedy. Writing these resolving conclusions is very difficult—at least they are for me. It is so much easier to write gritty, dark, evil in action than to write light, beauty, love, goodness. The later tend so much toward sappiness, one of the perverted devices resulting from the Fall and the deception of the Enemy. Show fear and apprehension; don’t tell us it. It sounds like the rape was awful because he was a black man (as if it would not have been as awful it had been a white man)—I don’t think you want to imply that, do you? I know this is connected to the plot of the story itself with Grace, but the wording sounded racist to my ear.

One thing that will help with the difficulty of writing the good is to place meaningful reflections and conclusions in the thoughts of a person. Don’t over-write. In real-world family dynamics we show with a hug, a clasping of our loved one’s hand, stroking a strand of hair from the cheek, wiping a tear, but we say less than you have your characters do in this emotional scene (it needs to be emotional and that’s why it is so critical to that you avoid being preachy and over-writing). Forgive me for the cliché, but less really is more. Understatement is always more powerful than overstatement. This eleven page chapter needs to be seven or eight pages. The final three pages are strong, but would be even better with tightening your prose. Kill all unnecessary words. The emotion will be more authentic when your syntax mirrors the weighty moment unfolding.

I read the opening episode to chapter two of Grace that Works, the chapter that defines the gospel. It is about an ironic encounter I experienced at 30,000 on a flight from Denver to Seattle. I then read a favorite quotation from Dorothy Sayers in her book Creed or Chaos? “The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man and the dogma is the drama. . . . This is the dogma we find so dull this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore, on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him "meek and mild," and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

Dave K read a rewrite of the second to last chapter of his futuristic thriller. Python, Rattlesnake, Cobra, and Anaconda—slithery names, even for assassins. I suspect that the cold, dispassionate shtick probably fits real life assassins, but does it relegate the fiction to the monochromatic? I don’t know. But I do wonder if you might want to go deeper into the moral machinations of human beings who make their livings taking out other human beings. I’ve used this before, but I can’t think of a better analogy: it reads like a super hero comic strip, to my ears. Maybe I’m missing something. John liked this better than before. It is hard to hear only bits and pieces, disjointed from the whole story, as we tend to do in ‘Blots with our ten-minute rule. 50,000 words and we hear maybe 1,500 maximum at ‘Blots.

D McComas reads an excerpt from his WW II original Schultz Saga, written early on and originally rejected by Writers’ Edge (his Return to Tarawa, WW II Pacific Theatre fiction). He’s been recasting things based on what he’s learned in the last several years of writing. Was she talking about a “sacred spark”? It seems like you make a leap in the conversation, though maybe it is something already discussed in a previous episode. Could the aunt be kneading bread dough, or chopping vegetables, doing something that gives us context, German food and kitchen context? Are their smells? Let’s smell the sauerkraut!

John S reads an episode of French Cousins, this one from the fair and going on rides. Then off to car ride (I love the wipers going ‘flip-flop, flip-flop’). The details of the tow truck and praying for the injured people who had been in the large van now in the ditch. Maybe too many ‘large’ descriptors. It is good, but I think it drags a bit before and around the horse. These are told as only a loving grandfather can write for his grandchildren. D Mac suggested more description of what the kids are wearing, smells of French fries (play on this with half the kids being French).   

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good time, Doug. Your copy-editing experience is instructive, and I love the quote from Dorothy Sayers!