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Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars

Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me

Friday, January 25, 2008

Because the Sky Is Blue

First off, it's damn bright outside. I normally don't notice, but as I walked by a window (I can't see one from where I work, I have to go visiting) I was nearly blinded by the sunshine reflecting off the snow and salt encrusted road. Need to get out of here on-time today to squint my enjoyment about it being sunny. Those of you from other parts of the country may be thinking, "What's he going on about?" In NE Ohio, what would be a partly cloudy day to you all, is an enormously bright clear day to us. No, really. I did a photo project in art school on clouds. I had to wait days for most shots so you could see individual cloud formations and constellations. Mostly we just have overcast and measure our sunshine in liquid inches.

Secondly, epiphany from the clear skies. Sclazi's new cat must be farting lighting bolts, 'cause one just struck me. I've been thinking about my writing (and editing stories), and how to get the word count down. Then there was a comment by Matt Jarpe (who, BTW is blogging about strategies for marketing his book, what worked or not) in the "Plot" panel about versilimitude ("Real life is no excuse for poor fiction," Mary Turzillo once said about a plot point I had). After the panel I questioned Matt about his comment (you can see my note about it in the scan I made of my notebook). I work hard to make the supernatural feel real in my stories and I thought he was trashing all over that. Turns out that he wasn't, it's just we don't need to hear about the character's bathroom activities or "broccoli in the teeth" moments unless they're relevant to the story/plot.

So I've been thinking about a passage in "My Favorite War Stories" where the SEAL tosses a flash-bang (grenade), but I describe his instructions to the others in the team in detail. Well, it's what happened (in my head) and I thought it was grippy detail, real bring the reader in, let them know what's happening. See, no-longer-neo-pro author Tobias Buckell sometimes skips things. I'm reading his stuff, and then something happens that makes me go, "wait a sec, where/when the heck did that change/appear/happen?" So I go back, thinking I just went brain dead from sleep deprivation and missed a crucial piece of info only to find that he hadn't included it. So I tend to include it in my stories.

Now I'm listening to Stephen King's On Writing (which I do from time to time, it's on the iPod) and he's talking about using adverbs and his theory that the newbie writer uses them because of fear. The fear that they're not going to be understood by the reader.


Suddenly it all starts to make sense.

Yes, I over-describe because I'm afraid my readers won't know just what the heck is going on (an early and persistent critique of my writing). I can shorthand, I don’t' have to describe every fart in the bathroom (okay, I never went that far). It's a liberating thought. It really is. I stopped the iPod right there to let it sink in.

I can just say, "He used his hands to tell us what he was going to do," and then get into the action.

There's a weight off.


Camille Alexa said...

I don't know. There might be a taste issue operating here. I often find myself bored stiff by "action", and riveted by descriptions of characters' clothes, or shopping lists, or what they used for toilet paper in 1733 Scotland. For real: don't take the opinion of one writer (or even ten) as holy gospel. Diana Gabaldon is an extremely successful author, and part of the fun of reading her (insanely lengthy) books is getting details exactly like what you describe (bathroom details, for ex, or herbal ingredients used to treat different maladies). I think that like all things in writing, judicious editing is the key.

Steve Buchheit said...

Camille, well you're the first. I'm still working on reducing word count, so this awakening I think will still work. Although much of the criticisms I've received were that I wasn't putting in enough detail. Maybe I've gone overboard or am putting in the wrong detail.

In the blog post I did for the MU contest I went back and forth about how much I needed to describe. I think I did a pretty good job.