After completing the draft of Indestructible in November, I’ve been focussed on other things, but due to an offer from a friend to read it, I needed to tidy up my 1st draft a little. I re-acquainted myself with it, did a few edits and sent it off.
This project is noir, and it was always my intention to write the draft as it came and then “noir it up” in 2nd draft. After reading it through, though, I wondered if it was already noir enough. As my reader is a fan of noir, I guess he’ll tell me his view, but I realised I didn’t know what the definition of noir was!
Funny how you can know something when you see it, but not be able to describe it succinctly.
Apparently the definition is: a genre of crime fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. So, how does Indestructible fare with all of that? Crime – tick. Cynicism – tick. Fatalism – tick. Moral ambiguity – tick. I think it’s doing okay!
For a few weeks now, whenever I’ve taken a break from writing/editing, I’ve been playing around with figures of rhetoric. This is a) because I have a cool book on them and b) because I’m looking for ways to play with language in one of newer novels.
The thing is that I write plain, sparse prose. That’s my natural style for fiction and I think it generally suits the type of sci-fi I’ve been writing. Just occasionally though, I play with dialogue. Usually because it makes no sense to me that characters from different planets all speak the same way. Sometimes I keep it subtle – like a character who never uses contractions – and sometimes I go the full Yoda!
But I’ve used up most of the simple approaches over my existing short stories and novels. So, now, I’m looking for new patterns that work in English to try out, which leads back to rhetoric.
The Ancient Greeks spent a lot of time sitting around thinking about language. They broke it down into all sorts of patterns that have different strengths and weaknesses and put a name to each one. Thus the title of this post, because honestly the names of the figures of rhetoric are almost harder to wrap my head around than the definitions!
You can tell I didn’t have a ‘classical education’.
My favourite for thinking “Yep, because that was totally obvious” is the pronunciation of zeugma (zyoog-ma) and for thinking “Stop with the syllables” was definitely epanalepsis.
Aside from struggling to pronounce and remember the names, the thing I’ve realised about many figures of rhetoric is that they work really well for applications where language is heightened, like poetry a speech, or types of theatre. They are a bit trickier to deploy in naturalistic fiction.
Ah, the fine-line between world building and annoying the hell out of people…
From xkcd – of course!
A friend who is currently teaching script-writing asked me the other day if I use diagrams when plotting, or in any other way in my writing. It was an interesting question to be asked because I do, but not as a planner would. (Being a pure pantser, I don’t map stuff out at all before I write.)
Where I often find diagrams useful is in the process of editing a draft – particularly a scratch draft or a first draft – and I use them to examine logic. It might be that I know there’s a logic problem, or – as with PAR in recent weeks – I’ve got multiple sets of motivations feeding into movements and interactions, so I have to explore each set independently to check they hold up on their own and aren’t just serving the plot.
I also sometimes diagram to check how much time has passed over a sequence of chapters, as I lose track of how many days have gone by about as easily as my characters do!
Credit to my brain, it does a good job of getting logic and the passage of time right in the pantser chaos it prefers. I rarely find any big things wrong when I do my diagrams. They do, however, get me thinking about other things – probably because they get me looking at the story from different angles – and I find that interesting and often very valuable in itself.
Sometimes I laugh at the application of the “scene must have conflict” idea. Sometimes I weep! Particularly in TV shows where excellent writing can be ruined by someone ramping the conflict up to ridiculous levels.
Exhibit A from my recent watching was the penultimate season of a legal show, in which every scene in every episode was either a break-up or make-up. To achieve this, characters who were on the same side of the greater narrative conflict kept suddenly turning on each other. They then, of course, had to make up the breach so a few scenes later they could have another fight!
I found this absolutely exhausting. It was just such ‘shouty’ writing.
Also, you quickly realised that none of these conflicts were real conflicts and none of them would influence the narrative in any way. They were conflict for the sake of having conflict in the scene, so why was I watching them?
Possibly this would have been less annoying if I’d watched it weekly on traditional TV, instead of episodes back-to-back, but even then I can imagine the result being the same – I’m never getting to the final season.
Sometimes a scene needs to be there for a reason other than conflict.
I have had a hellish two weeks with the PAR! After being sooooo excited to start on a second draft, I hit a total go-slow in my writing brain (not sure what Mr Daemon has been imbibing!) and it’s been damn painful. What I needed was a completely new chapter to slip between existing Ch1 and Ch2. That turned out to be way more challenging than expected!
The reason? When I read the draft, I was jarred by the large time-gap between them and it needed a ‘bridging’ chapter. This was a better way to show the aftermath of Ch1 and the protag’s change through to the time where the bulk of the novel is set too, so it seemed simple. Totally not.
I discovered it was hard to:
- pick a point in time between the existing chapters that made sense
- decide what to cover in terms of aftermath/growth without completely gutting the existing Ch2
- choose events which gave the new chapter a good justification for existing, beyond the simple time-jump-bridging.
I think I may have written 7 different scenes. Some were variations of the same scenes and some were alternate scenes. The result was a new chapter that is about a thousand words too long! Sheesh.
At some point I’ll get that word count down, but for now I moved onto re-working the original Ch2. Also painful! Editing so it fits with the additional chapter has turned out to be its own hell.
For some reason that chapter just wants to be all dialogue. I don’t know why (secretly suspect a certain winged beastie has been watching too many movies) but it’s done my head in.
Maybe it’s a good thing to get the really tough stuff out of the way at the beginning? I’m pretty sure nothing else in this 2nd draft will be as tough.
You know, I wrote the title for this post and thought that’s actually a cool idea for a story! But no, I haven’t (yet) run off on another project. The black hole I’m referring to is a narrative one I fell into at the end of last week. Because there’s a gap in my story. A dark, deep hole that I’m still dangling a plumb line into to work out the depth.
It always strikes me as funny that the width of the hole can be quite small (I just need to get my character from here to there), but the depth – all the stuff you have to work out to fill in this gap – can be brain-bending!
The good thing in this case, is that I feel like I’m filling in a few further holes that were between here and the end as I go. How do I fill in holes, I hear you ask? I write out lists of questions like:
- If character z knows that the well is poisoned, then when did she find out and does she have an antidote?
- Could character p suspect z knows the well is poisoned? Could they be wrong?
Sometimes I scribble in an answer. Sometimes all the questions that follow indicate I’ve picked an answer. Sometimes they just stay as questions.
I don’t know if anyone else takes this approach, but I find it effective. It stops me from obsessing over finding answers before moving on to developing a new question and strange left-field things tend to pop up as a result. That or my brain suddenly goes “huh! that’s why we have the tame bobcat in the lake scene”.
It would be nice if my writing brain cells could put up hazard barriers or warning signs before I step into these holes, but then I guess the writing daemon and I wouldn’t be having so much fun thinking up new stuff!