4th October 2013
Time passes. Now that we have hit October, it is only five months until the publication of Veil Of Time! The thing about time is, it waits for no man. Nor woman. The point is, it takes no hostages, male or female. The blink of an eye, and you are dead in the water. And before I resort to any more cliches, let's move on. That's the publication part of the blog.
Here's the real topic of this week's blog: Writing. And a few praises.
Praise be to Gandhi who was born 144 years ago this week in India and who is an example to us all and without whom India would still be in bondage to England as Scotland still is, but that's another story.
I have attended many writers' groups and classes over my career (now that I am about to be published in five months, I can talk about the length of my career and how it started when I was twelve. My career has spanned many years, too many to mention. I am middle aged - that's as far as I'll go. It's more than twenty. It's actually more than thirty. That's really as far as I'll go.)
Point is, there is so much standard advice out in the writing milieu: Show, don't tell; kill your darlings; leave out most adjectives; leave out all the adverbs; leave out anything but "said" in dialogue; no rambling sentences, and no dangling anything, male or female.
But once in a while, you hear something that puts a new spin on all of this rhetoric and gets to the heart of the matter. So, praise be to author Ron Carlson in whose class I sat one summer (along with someone else who is currently doing well in the publishing world, Linda Lafferty - in her acknowledgements to "The Drowning Guard," she offers thanks to dear old Ron for a pithy piece of advise which actually wasn't on my list of Carlson pithy sayings, but we'll get to that one, too.) I am going to name three Carlsonisms, because they really are good and have stuck with me (and not much does.) I don't know where he got them. It could have been Wikipedia for all I know, except that this was before wiki leaks of any kind.
The first is: THE TRUTH IS IN THE BODY, NOT IN THE CREDO.
I might be more susceptible to this flaw than most. Ask anyone who knows me - I am always on my bully pulpit, I am the original proseltyser, and I always have an opinion. (I am also a very bad speller.) So I should have been a politician, except that if that had been in America I would currently be out of work (cf. government shutdown.) Everyone has their little hobby horses, and they like to ride them, but Carlson's point is, you don't ride them onto the page. A piece of writing has to breathe, not sputter in truisms. Literature (and especially poetry, you eejits!) buckles and sighs under the weight of ideas. Your story is about people, all the nitty gritty and the quirks and the failings. Get past your ideas if you are going to be a writer. That's not where writing comes from. (This is fast becoming my blog refrain.)
Number two: CHARACTERS ARE NEVER STILL POINTS, BUT VECTORS.
I feel the truth of this statement so keenly, but the mathematical reference throws me into panic. I didn't understand vectors when I was on my way to failing O'Level maths, and I still don't (Lines don't move, silly, they are drawings! Would you have passed me?) I think what he means is similar to the first saying: don't cut your characters out of cardboard. They have to have a life of their own, and they have to be their own force in your story.
Number three: This one is the best, and I carry it around with me in my chest (which is also not a vector.) THE STORY IS THE MOTOR, BUT NOT THE FREIGHT. THE FREIGHT IS THE HUMAN HEART.
So there, Dan Brown and all you plot-driven novelists. No, I take that back - the freight of Dan Brown's books is ultimately the human heart - the loss of the sacred feminine, yes, all doing human heart work. Well, it's something to bear in mind, a reason to quiet the editor in your mind who wants to keep the plot moving at the expense of everything else. That's what makes me cringe about the industry idea of "the hook." The hook has a place in a story, of course, but it is not the freight! It is only the faint rumbling of an engine starting, not even the motor itself. The freight is the human heart - make your work bleed. Who said that you should be able to open a book on any page and catch it bleeding? Good god, I think it was Ron Carlson! Someone canonise that man, will you?
And so to the saying that Linda Lafferty took away from that class - it was the advice to Stay in the room. Writers, STAY IN THE ROOM! Live with a scene, a character, an exchange, and listen to the sound of it breathing. Yes, kill your darlings if need be, hide them behind the couch and mop up the blood stain, but stay in the room and let us join you.
Right now I am going to leave you there, living, breathing, pondering the human heart. You stay - I am going to walk my dogs.