Friday, November 6, 2009

Looking for a Hard-Headed Novel.

This is a point-of-view post at its heart. I wanted to say that up front not only to make it clear where we're going, but also to remind myself. Because I've been reading a few novels of late that are challenging. The good ones, because of violence. The bad ones, because of show-don't-tell issues. What I've discovered is that they're giving me the same sort of trouble, and it's POV trouble.

Let's look at show-don't-tell first, and why it's a POV issue. Here we are, the happy reader reading a scene, and let's say our character is painting a fence. We're told how hot the day feels, etc., etc., and then we're told our character has a smudge of paint on his cheek. Well, the way this was handled in this particular scene, the character had no idea. The writer just told us. I wasn't in the character's head anymore; I was in the writer's head. POV. Lazy writing.

Now for the violence. Every reader has different tolerances, and if you read enough good fiction you should rub up against your rev limiter once in a while. If nothing is ever too violent for you, perhaps a long vacation in a country far away from me? Okie-dokie.

Violence can cause another kind of POV problem, because rather than being ejected from the character's head into the writer's head (where I'd rather not go in these cases), I'm being flung back into my head. For most violence I can go along with the character, no problem, especially if he or she is reacting in a way I understand. But there is a line where the violence is so egregious or the character's reaction so unusual that I'll pull back out of mental self-defense.

There's the challenge with writing violence. First, it can't be arbitrary. Second, it needs to make sense in the context of the story. And third, I need to be able to get into the head of the POV character, whether that person is the one inflicting the violence, the victim, a witness, or an investigator. Somebody needs to react to the violence in a way I can understand, or I'm sitting back in my living room trying to figure out how I would handle that situation. That is true of all writing, which is why show-don't-tell is so important, but violence has such a high visceral charge that it is more critical. You can easily blast a reader out of your writing.

Just give me a head I can get in and stay in, and I'll stay with you through all manner of extremity.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Where Was I?

A funny thing happened on the way to The End of my current work. I stopped. Now, there are about fifteen major Real Life reasons that the writing, it ended. And about fifteen reasons related to the novel itself. I've solved a few of the latter and none of the former. But I have found a reason to get back to writing.

I had tried luring myself with the idea of a hoped-for next book tour. I know writers complain about them, but my parents went with me for the Northern California dates, and we had more fun than you'd believe. We might go back with no book at all!

What was the hang-up? There was the existential problem of what is the point, exactly, to writing novels? Beyond the fact that they are not a critical item in human existence. No, really, they're not. Not like food and water and football. Then there is the fact that in a few billion years the Sun will swell up, consume the Earth, and even the best novel will have only the quality of flammability.

And then something odd happened. I've mentioned before that I rail against a number of vanity-press-in-disguise companies, most singularly PublishAmerica. Want to see pain? Hear from a writer who has just figured out that they have sold their book to a phony publisher for one dollar. And I've had occasion to speak to such writers on many occasions.

That is what happened. A writer got in touch who had discovered the PA scam too late. This person hurt. A lot. They also, and forgive me, but it is the truth, had very poor English usage. In every respect. When asked, no, they don't read much.

That's when it came to me: why I need to keep going. Craft. Because I do read, and do try to use language well, and it means something to me. Because I can do it well.

And so I shall.