Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Can't Find it Grind it--Writing to Love Your Neighbor (Inkblots)

I'm off today to spend the week with 8 writers in Oxford
Six bludgeoned 'Blots this rainy evening (Patrick told us a horrible story, not fiction, about being attacked and beat with a rock. I hope he mines this in his book nearing completion). Alisa shared with us about the final work on Swiftwater, final editorial work and some frustration and final revisions, but light at the end of the tunnel. The buck stops with the author in an author consortium publishing venture, so we want to see this as an opportunity, one that makes the final book all that much better. Heaps of deleting and rewriting going on around here. and brainstorming. And we discussed stream of consciousness writing (Ulysses) and how much Jonathan and Patrick do not like it. Rachel reads:

Rachel's Russian cheese-smuggling yarn, fascinating and deeply hunger-inspiring. Rachel reads her work so well, with such feeling and unique character and voice. Does the simile of the barrel of a rifle following its target work? Not sure, but worth discussing. On further reflection, I think it is a similar problem as active passive voice, where the subject is receiving action instead of doing it. Rifles don't act. Shooters of guns act. Rachel drops the bomb that guys do stupid things for girls all the time. Mark is bitter, but Trusov just wants his cheese. John commented on the rifle simile, that the hunter should be following. Ingrid is a stick-to-the-man type character. Patrick suggested that Ingrid needs to have leverage on Mark and he is motivated by self-interest, but the leverage conveys to the reader that this is authentic.

Jonathan told us about a book called Story Grid, compiled from an editor's blog posts, from a successful editor. Every story has three acts, using the Silence of the Lambs, which morphed into a movie so easily and needed virtually no change from book to screen (not an endorsement). Patrick shared with us about "finishing" the book and some of the revisions he made and why he made them. His rewriting is like a case study on himself, where he was when he wrote the first draft and where he has progressed. The two biggies that Inkblots returns to (I hope more than these, but certainly not less than these), showing and not telling, and remaining in character point of view. If you fail to do the latter the reader is confused, disoriented, halting and uncertain about whose world they are supposed to be in, which character are they supposed to care most about? An important part of loving your neighbor as an author is loving and respecting your reader; jolt them all over the anthropological map and you are not loving your neighbor. We don't want to read like a young man who asked me to teach him how to drive a stick shift. "Can't find it, grind it" only works on somebody else's clutch; mine was burned up. We do this to readers when we don't write with point-of-view integrity.

It is possible to shift points of view, but it must be done with care and conventionality. All that to say, Patrick discovered that he did not have a clear perspective soon enough for the reader to get immersed in the yarn. Lewis does the shift from Peter back to Lucy, to Susan and Edmond, but even at that there is a dominant character and every reader knows it, Lucy. Tolkien-era Arthur Ransom does it with the siblings in Swallows & Amazons. But beware. The cliff looms precipitously when you do.

Patrick reads from the revised Adam & Steve yarn, a parody on same-sex marriage, in which he creates a sense of the actuality of having the technology to impregnate one of the two males, using elaborate and costly medical research, heavily funded by federal dollars, no doubt, forcibly extracted from gullible brow-beaten taxpayers. I wonder if Patrick gives too much away with the superlatives he uses to describe the monstrous process to pull off this Frankensteinian genetic fiasco. Patrick clearly has had a ball writing this bazaar reality scenario. Be sure to play up the bold social experiment and let the reader feel sick. Humor is a two-edged sword, and if you're not careful you will expose your hand too soon in the story, and the ones you want to prod may see through the ruse and bolt deeper into the wastelands if you are not careful.

John reads some of his rewrite after last Thursday's major revision and critique work with Editorial Director Mary Lynn Spear in the Scriptorium last week. John launched right into the major rewrite. Avoid writing "obviously in thought"; instead show the posture of obvious thought, in facial expressions. This is a weighty discussion between a daughter who is pregnant and has considered taking her own life. It feels a bit over written, too much actually said that would be better conveyed in some thoughts, some inferences, conclusions drawn from the uncomfortable mannerism of the mother or the daughter. Can you show development to the relationship between the mother and daughter, beginning with awkwardness and gradually, with fits and starts, becoming more congenial. I feel like it is too congenial and over stated at least in places. I'll just be in the kitchen if you need me. Kill the word just, seemed, and the other qualifying verbal tics. It is tough writing this kind of conversation. There has to be more circular avoidance, then move in, and blurt it out. Even though the family is undergoing change, good changes, going to church together, nevertheless, everything isn't all okay. It doesn't work that way in a broken world. Show genuine change, yet with the realities of the habits of life, and the reality of abiding sin, still with hope, but not oversimplified, everything is all okay now.

Advance copy of LUTHER IN LOVE just arrived!

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