Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Common Errors #23: That's Not How It Happened

Sometimes authors dig in their heels and resist editorial direction, even when they agree the suggested change would make it a better story. Then why not make the change? Occasionally, they'll admit they just don't feel the piece is worth the additional effort— fair, it's their story/book. Usually, however, their reluctance to make any changes is, "that's not the way it happened."

Drawing on their own life experience, they've written this scene or that character down exactly as it was in real life, just adapted so it's now set in the old West, or Space Station 29, or whatever. They forget that they are writing fiction, not memoir or autobiography. Whatever meaning that scene had in their own life, however great a resource for generating ideas and engaging their senses, such experiences cannot be incorporated too literally. We get to change things in fiction. Have to, really, if we want it to make sense in the context of the new story that's being written. It's not about capturing reality, it's about understanding what meaning the scene could have for the reader.

Or, sometimes the scene is entirely fictional, but that's the way the author pictured it doing their first draft and so that's the way it has to be. This one usually manifests as 'bloat': the scene may be off message or completely unnecessary, but cutting it strikes the author as a betrayal of the vision. That's okay for the first draft, and maybe even the second, but by the third draft it's not about your needs, it's about what the story needs. As one author put it, the first draft is 10% the book, and 90% the author (i.e., about the author's ego), draft five is 50% author and 50% the book, and it takes to draft 10 before it's 100% about the book. If the editor says a scene has to go for the story to remain on message or to skip over the boring bits, listen to the editor.

Of course, one can go too far the other direction, fictionalizing what actually happened so that it becomes not just unrealistic but outright self-indulgent. Sometimes, recalling what that bastard said to you at that party that time, and editing that scene so the "what I should have said" reply you thought of two days later becomes instantaneous clever repartee in the book, works. Maybe that traumatic experience can be rewritten in your novel to include a suitable revenge scene that provides catharsis for readers with similar traumas. But, um, you can see how constantly rewriting life to be perfect can easily go off the rails so that as the hero of your own story, the protagonist is too clever, too powerful, too lucky.

That's why one has editors. If the editor says, "I love your protagonist's repartee", you're good. But if they say, "Really?" then maybe go back to having the hero embarrassed, deflated, and beating a hasty retreat—the way it happened.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Do You Keep Writing? Three Lessons
by Lauren B. Davis

Guest Post. Lauren B.Davis is a critically acclaimed Canadian writer. Her latest novel is The Grimoire of Kensington Market from Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd (ISBN13: 978-1928088707)

Every day I hear from writers who tell me how impossible it is to keep going, how they are broken by this ‘business’ and they see no reason to continue. Often this means they see no reason to continue living, since being a writer/creator/artist is so deeply embedded in the soul as the archetype by which we make meaning in our lives. Without it, the world crumbles.

I understand.

I also understand that hearing these words from someone who has had a modest amount of success as a writer might ring hollow. Easy for me to say, right?

No, not easy. Hard won.

I didn’t publish until I was over forty. So there’s that. All the young people who think if they haven’t published yet, let alone won the Booker or the Pulitzer or the Giller indicates they will never have fulfilling lives as writers are just plain wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

How do I break this down?

I dance. The Bear watches. Maybe that’s not the widest audience, by he is the Bear of my Soul.

First, almost no published writer wins prizes. This has nothing to do with the quality of your work. If that’s what you’re hoping for you are setting yourself up for unending disappointment, based on the entirely unpredictable, arbitrary, often political whims of a tiny group of people you might not even like, or respect. I know people who’ve won these prizes. They had some fun for a while and then, well, life went on. I’ve been on prize committees, and trust me, try as we might vote for the BEST BOOK EVER, it generally doesn’t turn out that way.

Lesson 1) …take care of your LIFE first, for it’s all you’ve got, and your life is not about winning prizes. It’s about where your feet are, at this moment. The writing life is a metaphor for being in co-creation with the Source-Of-All, if you know what I mean. So, right now, jot down five things you value about your life that have nothing to do with prizes… lovers, ice cream, dogs who sleep on the bed, growing tomatoes, making snow angels, creme brulee, the smell of roses after a rain… come on, you can do it.

Second, almost no one publishes, and for those who do, it is as much the luck of timing, relevance, and politics, as it is talent. By which I mean, a lot of really great books never see the light of a bookstore window. How many books (both good and bad) come out in any season? It’s insane. Especially with self-publishing (but that’s another blog). Why am I telling you this? Because it’s true, but also because publishing doesn’t necessarily mean success. Sure it’s nice and I’m glad I’m published, but the truth is that even though I have, for a moment or two, poked my head above the turbulent waves, ultimately I sank out of sight again, while Atwood and Winterson and Franzen and a thousand other writers rose to the tip of the swell. Maybe they’re better writers than I. Fair enough. Might be. So what?

Lesson…2) See lesson 1.

Third…maybe you and I will never publish, let alone win prizes. Maybe we’ll never publish again, let alone win prizes. Maybe we’ll be dumped by a publisher we thought had our backs. that happened to me. Should we keep writing? Should we? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t please us any longer. Maybe it doesn’t bring us sanity or joy or satisfaction. If those things are true then, hell, I’m done. I’ll save feral cats and abused dogs. I’ll garden. I’ll work for environmental protection and for justice…you know, all the thousand things that make the world better. Not that we can’t do these things while writing, we can and many of us do, but if writing isn’t doing it for us, isn’t filling our souls, isn’t inviting us to surrender to the purpose our souls have for us, then for the love of what-ever-we-find-holy, let’s not do it!


If, when we sit down in front of the computer, or the page, we feel our hearts filling, our spirits settling; if we feel the top of our heads opening and something entering us and wanting to be born, without expectation; if we feel ourselves filled with the wonder of this story’s becoming, this image’s becoming, and if after we have written 500 words or 1,000 for the day we feel elated and elevated and full of satisfaction and peace… then come on, let’s DO that.

Lesson 3… see Lesson 1 and 2 above.

What do you think? Shall we keep creating? Keep writing? Or is there another way you’d like to walk through the world? Tell me.

Reprinted from The Lauren B. Davis blog with permission of the author.