In advance of NaNoFiMo I dug out that long ago novel from 2006’s Nanowrimo, about Slate the ninja accountant and the paladin with the dead demon in his head, and started re-reading it, editing as I went.

Huh.

Reading something six years old is odd.

Most of it is…serviceable. Which is an ugly-sounding word, but I think undeservedly so. Writing has to be serviceable to do the job. There are long stretches where the writing gets you from Point A to Point B and I don’t know that I can come up with a better way to do it. And parts of it really work well.

So, serviceable with flashes of great. Maybe not as good as I’d write today, starting cold, but it hangs together.

And then there’s the dialog.

I have long maintained that dialog is a separate skill from writing the Point A to Point B bits, and I know perfectly well that I’m much better at one than the other. The dialog has points that have me actually laughing at the keyboard. I couldn’t do those better. In fact, I start to think “This would be a good line–” and two lines later, there it is.

It’s just odd, because the contrast between “serviceable” and “awesome” is so much starker. I have gotten better at writing Point A to Point B, but my dialog was as good then as it is now.

The editing at this point is mostly hacking apart over-long sentences and sending sad commas to their eternal reward. Occasionally I skip to the end and make a note in the file.

When I get to the end, though, I have to decide whether there’s enough going on with the plot to make it worthwhile to actually finish the bloody thing.

Plots are my weak point. I can write you a scene all day long, but my plots tend to consist of “Let’s go the long way around, and then perhaps there will be self-actualization/torture/spectacle/cake.” My only hope is that readers come along, scene by scene.

This is why I like fairy tales. Somebody already did that bit.

And there’s a lot to be said for “A fun ramble with good conversation,” but that won’t necessarily sell the book. And there are such potentially big things going on—dude has a decaying demon in his head! Ivory clockwork golems destroy the city! Fatalistic accountant ninja learns to love life again! Tattoos eat everybody!—that having the point of the book STILL be excuse-for-witty-banter-between-assassins becomes…I dunno, a bit bathetic?

I think I know the plot of this one. I suspect that once I get to the end of what I’ve got, I can write down the damn synopsis, go back and chop out a few chunks that do nothing much, and cram bits of plot into the resulting holes.

Just not sure if, on this one, the game is worth the candle.

  • reply Liddle-Oldman ,

    Someone once wrote that plot consists of — get your character up a tree. Throw rocks at them. Get them out of the tree.

    Not that that’s any help, but I find it succinct. 🙂

    • reply Wolf Lahti ,

      Do you think about theme at all while writing? I know a number of writers who tell me they discover the theme of a work once it’s finished and they re-read it. And Those Who Tell You How To Write say that any scene that does not directly address theme must be excised (or at least rewritten so that it does).

      • reply Escher ,

        If you mean by “theme” the point or lesson or world-view that the author is trying to present, I think that’s complete bull.

        Novels rarely address their theme directly at all, much less in every scene. It might work for some writers, but to me that sounds like they think any instant you aren’t banging the gong, you’re doing it wrong. Reminds me of Ayn Rand, who I don’t think anyone ever accused of writing brilliant narratives.

        I just don’t see how every character moment or fight scene could be made to be in service to a particular theme. It sounds crippling.

        • reply Smitty ,

          Sounds awesome. Your dialogue is my favorite part of your writing, so I think I’d read it anyway, even if the plot was slightly lacking. But you’ll most likely probably be wanting to sell more than one copy, so publishing it just for me probably wouldn’t be the /best/ business decision.
          Anyway, I’ve heard that Terry Prachet’s early novels were pretty devoid of plot, and it didn’t hurt him too much.

          • reply larksilver ,

            Firstly, some of my favorite books are books where Not Much Happens, but man the people, relationships, and conversations are grand!

            Secondly, I’ve read books (sadly, many of them) where “theme” and “the author’s message” were central to the book, and even superceded any sense of narrative. In a word: B O R I N G. Also, insulting. If you as a right think I’m such a moron that I need you to not only spoon-feed me your message but in fact lavage it down my throat as if you were preparing my liver for pate’, you are not only insulting me, but I stop reading the book because it’s going to be painfully dull.

            Not that Ursula does that; I love her wild rambles through the crazy universe. The remarkable thing is that sometimes her meandering through the universe feels more “true” than those “I Am Telling A Story With a Message” books could ever be. Not to mention more fun. And beautiful in a very special way.

            • reply larksilver ,

              And… tired brain meets tired fingers, evidently. That is supposed to read If you as a WRITER.” AUGH.

              • reply fairyhedgehog ,

                It sounds like something I’d like to read, if you can find enough plot to give a satisfactory ending.

                Good dialogue is great fun to read.

                • reply heather ,

                  “Let’s go the long way around, and then perhaps there will be self-actualization/torture/spectacle/cake.” is the story of my life

                  • reply Owlor ,

                    >”If you mean by “theme” the point or lesson or world-view that the author is trying to present, I think that’s complete bull.”

                    No, “theme” is usually just the particular idea the author is exploring. For example, power and responsibility is a common theme in superhero stories, but “with great power comes great responsibility” is a moral, not a theme.

                    So when someone tells you to remove a scene that doesn’t relate to a theme, they don’t mean get rid of everything that doesn’t reinforce a moral (doing so makes for completely dull and terrible stories).

                    So for example, spending several chapters of a superhero story having the main character chill with friends might just be useless padding… unless it’s used to reinforce this idea that even tough he has all this great power, he’s still just a normal guy that wants to hang out with his friends, and that can be used to reinforce the theme.

                    I write a lot of slice-of-life stories where the plot’s usually very mundane or barely there, and as such, I tend to use things like a central theme a lot to get some structure in the stories, even if it’s just in my head and not obvious in the story itself.

                    That’s the best way I can describe it, a theme is what makes a story feel like a coherent whole as opposed to jsut things that happen one after another, even if that’s actually what IS happening.

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