Tuesday, October 23, 2012

INKBLOTS -- How to make fiction read like reality

Not this Tito

INKBLOTS October 22, 2012

Fire on the hearth, South African Syrah (thanks, John, very nice). Four of us tonight; welcome, T2, not the Tito pictured!

Doug talked about Reviewer #9 (without affection). Particularly offensive was the certitude that an eighteen year old would not know who Knox is or anything about the Westminster Standards. Grrrrrowl (to quote roughly  Dougie).

We talked about how to portray thoughts in fiction. Italics and punctuated as if it was a speaker instead of a thinker. Doug Mac read from his Monte Casino campaign WW II historical fiction. We learn that the Brazilians fought in this campaign, and we learn that Tito is named for the Dictator of Albania, named for a Marxist when his dad used to be one himself.

Are you continuing in present tense? I say, he asks, makes my stomach tighten... Make sure you attribute early for a new speaker. Dougie Mac is intentionally writing in present tense. I missed the anticipation of the incoming ordnance and the death of the German. Protagonist is willing to compromise his theology principles to please the mother of Sophia, the Italian girl he thinks he is in love with. The relic is the cross of St. Anthony, the patron saint of marriage. Dougie's overall objective is to adorn the unity of the body of Christ. 

John commented on the overuse of the word "wall." Do you hear shells incoming? You hear that you never hear the one that gets you. Writing historical fiction sometimes means doing some pretty detailed research to get things accurate. Fiction is contrivance, and the best fiction is detailed and accurate, contrivance that is authentic and convincing.

John is preparing his submission of Saving Grace to Writers Edge. He read his synopsis which reminded me again of the great potential this books has. Dougie wonders if it ends too abruptly without actually telling how it resolves. Which brings up whether a synopsis in this context should tell all or withhold the final conclusion. Obviously the synopsis on the back cover of the book should not tell all, but what about when submitting a manuscript to a reading service or publisher? My theory is that we’re also trying to sell the publisher on the story, as we hope they will want to do to readers. Therefore, I’d recommend telling enough in the synopsis so they get the idea, but leave them wanting more, tease them into wishing you had given them the end, but don’t do it. My opinion, for what it’s worth.
T2 is working on a book of sermons turned to book chapters. T2 is editor of the project, to be published by Reformation Heritage Books, Joel Beeke. T2's testimony is a thrilling story of the power of the gospel to transform a life, the clear highlight of the evening. His dad, a well-known South American neurosurgeon, with no time for the gospel, disowned him. Named by his Marxist father for the Albanian dictator, Tito has a degree in chemistry and another in accounting, but his calling is to preach the gospel and shepherd his flock.

I brought up the rear with reading from chapter seven of my 14th century tale set during Wycliffe’s life in England. When I finished Dougie Mac’s comment went something like this: “When I listen to you read you seem to show so much more than in my writing, atmospheric details like birds, but specifically eider ducks and what they are doing on the banks of the river, and then your protagonist heaves a rock at one…” It went something like that.

Based on that observation, we discussed knowing when to throttle back the pace of the story so that there is room to flesh out the local color and ambiance, make things authentic, real-to-life, but still not lose the forward motion, the energy, the rapid pace so essential to a fascinating and compelling read. There are times when I feel that I need to slow down and flesh out authentic details in the narrative, but always in the context of the details effecting my protagonist, never dangling description. It always must be landing, creating a reaction in my characters, otherwise it doesn’t need to be there, and it will stall the pace of the story.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CBC feature on hymns, God's Greatest Hits, asked me to consult for the series

I had a recent contact from a fellow named Jason Charters, one of the producers of Canadian Televisions series on hymnody. Here's what he wrote. "I am one of the producers of  a Canadian television series called God's Greatest Hits that airs here on VisionTV.  I am currently researching hymns for our second season and I  came across your websites.  We are planning a trip to Ireland and England  to do some filming for three of our episodes.  One is on British hymns,  one is on Irish hymns and one is on Maritime hymns.  We are looking for people to interview about some of the songs and for local performers as  well. Would you have a bit of time to talk on the phone with me?"

After our telephone conversation, he asked me to review their list of hymns and hymn writers for the series and make recommendations. Whether or not they will use any of my recommendations remains to be seen. Their selections feature jazz and pop singers singing versions of classic hymns (and some not so classic ones). One Canadian posed the question in the Vancouver Sun: "Should U2's inspiring song, ONE, be a contender for the Canadian series, 'God's Greatest Hits?'" You get the idea. Nevertheless, it was interesting to be asked to offer some input to the second season of the series.

INKBLOTS: Rejection, editing, sanctification, and point of view

INKBLOTS October 8, 2012

First fire of the season, though it was blue sky and full sun today, there is a definite autumn snap in the air. Somehow INKBLOTS seems like a cooler weather activity. We're back at it. John brought a nice French Bordeaux, and a home vintner-ed rose... ahem... cough

Five ink blotters and their efforts. Dave's book with Winepress, just signed off on the text and waiting final approval on the cover art. Dougie Mac is reading Essentials of English (Barons).

Carl is speaking at a conference in North Carolina, White Unto Harvest Conference, and they nixed his idea and offered their topic. "What is true conversion--Fruit." He wants input. John posed the question, what is the minimum requirement to be saved. I offered Larger Catechism 73 and WSC 35, "...a work of God's free grace..." and the Scriptural proofs as a good starting place. A good discussion of grace and sanctification followed and how we know we are converted, the pitfalls of making fruit a contingency proposition. I mentioned Finney who made sanctification a condition of justification, and thereby did violence to the gospel of free grace in Christ alone. John 6:28 ff says that the work of God is to believe in Jesus, in justification and in sanctification. I want to be in conversion mode first, not assurance mode.

Dougie Mac got another rejection from Writers Edge after getting their highest accolade, "publishable potential," on another manuscript. He read the rejection which says it is a good story, but has copy editing issues, and has too much doctrinal material going on. Signed by reviewer #9 (they want no hits put out on their reviewers). Improve mechanics big time, they recommend. This is helpful. A great tale communicated with marginal grammar is not going to fly. Publishers like clean manuscripts. Hence, Dougie is reading Essentials of English.

We talked a good deal about copy editing and the problems when copy editors try to write over the author's book, or altering the stylistic preferences of the author for their own. These things really do happen. It happened to me with Rebel's Keep, Accidental Voyage, and there can be out-of-the-blue glitches introduced by zealous copy editors sincerely trying to "fix' things, but inadvertently introducing a big problem (as happened on page 170 in Hand of Vengeance when the copy editor omitted part of a simile they didn't like but never told me, so there dangles a lonely "like"--the rest of the book works very well, in my opinion, but these glitches can be very frustrating). Then we talked about offensive language. Winepress made David change a scatological euphemism to something else. He thought it was a bit unreasonable. Why do we use it, if we do, and is it productive, useful, edifying, fitting in its context? I like to be guided by: Would I write it or say if Jesus was in the room? If not, write not.

John shared with us revisions he is making to Saving Grace, a role for an existing character who will be instrumental in helping Grace when she is suicidal and needs support and encouragement. Not a lot of body language in this early version. Get your attributions up early in the dialogue so the reader is absolutely clear who is talking in this conversation. Placard God's will not man's, in my opinion. Your discussion of the gospel is well done, but showcasing free will seems odd to me. It derails us a bit from the centrality of Christ and his will, which you otherwise seem very concerned with. John referred to Lewis and how God can attend to everybodys praying at the same time (not as daunting a prospect as it ought to be given how poorly many of us pray). 

We talked again about point of view and sticking with one. Next I read an excerpt from my Wycliffe novel wherein I very intentionally switch points of view!

David read his newest fiction work, wherein he switches points of view! Protagonist is the assassin, plotting to kill a man and his daughter. Uses the word 'prey' far too often. Hit man is cold, unfeeling, without human feeling. Probably switch to third person in next chapter.