Thursday, January 28, 2016

Do You Feel a Draft in Here?

If you write a draft of a scene in a hurry, without thinking, you will learn a great deal about habits you were need to unlearn. If you write a scene with thoughtful care and deliberation, you will be made aware of all the things you were urged to consider in English Language and grammar classes.  Don't, for instance, begin sentences with And or but.  Try not to split an infinitive.  Don't end a sentence with a preposition.  Instead of writing Go home, consider You go home, to make sure the reader has awareness of the subject.

The dedicated, habitual writer will sooner or later arrive at the awareness of how, regardless of whether the scene is written with dispatch or in a more thoughtful mode, even the habitual writer is screwed, placed between the Scylla of wired-in tropes and the Charybdis of grammatical constraints.  Said dedicated, habitual writer has come to realize, as you had to ascertain, how integral revision, rewriting, and some sense of being removed from a project for a time are vital to the process of composing story.

A major issue is the sense of plausibility necessary to bring the story and its denizens to life. Accomplished writers--to quantify that, let's say writers who've written at least a million words--are alert to the way one word, carelessly chosen, can sink what, up to the moment, has been a plausible narrative.  

Sometimes the word is one the narrator would never use, a whatsoever or recollect (instead of remember).  The reader hits it as though encountering a speed bump while driving at a speed of fifty.  Other times, the word is more ordinary, a that or even an and, in extreme such a word as just (for only), or a lazy word such as somewhat, when a more effective trope such as more or less would not jar the reader out of the narrative.

Plausibility may be purring along, carrying the reader from paragraph to paragraph, causing an intake of air at the end of a scene or chapter, where the principal of the withhold or cliffhanger leaves the reader dangling in suspense, suffering from the curiosity of finding out what happens next.  How can things get any worse?  A lovely place to contemplate, both for the writer and the reader.  The writer knows the reader will continue reading.  The reader is already beginning to make excuses for the next responsibility due, breaking off an obligation in order to continue reading.

Funny then how plausibility and engagement can be broken by what amounts to insecurity on the part of the writer or, even worse, a sense of entitlement.  Stories require research, beginning with at least this minimal round of research related to every character who sets foot on stage.  Who are they?  What do they want?  What are they willing to do to accomplish their goal?  Why do they have an impatient yearning for the goal, as in, why do they want it right now?  Suppose they do get what they want; what are the possibilities of buyer's remorse?

We're talking research here.  The writer needs to know X amount of information about Y story. If the story is about something, say an argument engaged on a golf course, the writer needs to have some sense of what a golf course is like, how the game is played, and with what implements. But the author must be careful to put in only as much of this information as required to maintain the sense of plausibility:  these are actual golf players, who know the rules and customs of the game, and understand the use of the implements.

Beware the tendency to explain what the reader already knows.  The fact of having researched golf and golf courses is not a carte blanche for putting in all the research.  Doing so can become a deal breaker of a speed bump.

The things characters say--or do not say--to one another becomes relevant here.  With piles of unused research on hand, radiating its mischief, the tendency arises to invent so-called "As-you-know" dialogue.  "As you know, Bill, golf is a club and ball sport, where the goal is to hit a ball into a small hole, often more than three hundred yards from a starting point."

Another thing to watch for is the potential for characters to make speeches, expressing their political, romantic, gender-based, and career-based agendas.  Arbitrary as it may sound, exchanges of dialogue running over two sentences per exchange tend to sound like speeches.  Let the record show:  Speeches are not dialogue.  They are tendentious, apt to be boring.

Second, third, and subsequent drafts of narratives are attempts to remove all the boring elements from them, including the speed-bump words, the overly long explanations, and the speeches.

The more you engage redrafting and revision, the more you are freeing yourself from your grammar and English classes, the older books you read as a youngster, and the great effects you thought you were employing, all the while erecting speed bumps.

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