Sep 15 2010

Writing as entertainment

Published by at 1:34 pm under Writing

The other night, more like 3 o’clock in the morning, I was working on expanding “The Chara Talisman” to a more-publishable length. (Whatever happened to those 65K-word novels I grew up with, anyway?) Making the novel richer and filling in details that I’d skipped. In many ways I’m a “adder-inner” writer rather than a “taker-outer” (see Dean Wesley Smith’s blog post on rewriting (or not) for an explanation of these terms), so there’s nothing surprising there. But what I added in that night would have pushed the novel in a completely new direction.

In this case, what started out as a scene where our intrepid heroes arrive at a planet and visit its only settlement, an isolated agrarian colony, before going off after their main objective turned into a scene where they find the colony deserted, with strong parallels in my mind (not necessarily the story) between that and the colony of Roanoke whose population vanished sometime between 1587 and 1590. Fascinating, but completely derailing the current novel. I could make it work, at another 50,000 words and a total change in emphasis in the story. That’s better saved for a different story, I think, so next day I backed up a bit and headed that plot thread in the correct direction.

But where did that Roanoke parallel come from? Well, sure, the parallels between small isolated colonies that have been out of contact for a few years no doubt dredged it out of my subconscious. Now my inner reader is saying “this is a neat idea, what happens next?” and my inner writer is trying to respond. Which kind of gets in the way of what my inner project manager is telling me to do, which is finish up the novel I’m working on before plunging into something else of that magnitude.

A lot of writing, at least in certain genres, is like that. It’s an intellectual puzzle game – toss up an idea and see where it leads. Endanger your protagonist and then see if you can figure a way for him to save himself without “cheating” by going back and writing in the seeds of the solution into an earlier chapter. It’s a real thrill when you find a solution that depends on something you just happened to put in several chapters back, which you did not (consciously) intend to be part of the solution to a problem you hadn’t even thought to throw at the protagonist yet. When it’s a surprise to the writer, odds are it will be a surprise to the reader, too. Of course with a skillful writer the reader will never know if he put the solution in before or after he created the problem. (And a less-skillful writer will just throw in a deus ex machina solution that doesn’t depend on anything that went before. How unsatisfying.)

Writing is a solitary occupation. In many ways its also like a game of solitaire — or better yet, like one of those “choose your own adventure” book games where the pages are blank and you get to fill in what happens. How cool is that?

And now I need to go fill in a few more pages in an adventure. I want to see what happens.

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