Saturday, May 30, 2009

Swill Time & The Suffering Of A Belletrist

I actually like the way I had to distort this piece to get it to fit in magazine format. It helps make the eye move around the picture properly. And note the subtlety of the fill in the Swillogo -- it's a wee bit transparent.

So at this point I've got a solid start on the next issue of Swill. I've got to fine-tune the typesetting and details on the interior, produce five more images, and prepare the interior illustrations. This morning I did this initial version of the cover and went to the store to fetch art supplies.

But I wound up being useless in the afternoon. I've been sleeping poorly (like this is news) and after lunch I wound up with my ass glued to the couch watching Mythbusters and Monsterquest. Bad oaf!

I'm not sure whether or not I'll try to do much work tomorrow, for that matter. We shall see; we shall see.

The novel has been a real... well, I'm not going to say drag. It's moving in the direction I want it to move in. But the revision that I thought was going to be easy-peasy is turning out to be a butt-wrenching nightmare of self-examination and 0h! my aching artistic soulenisma.

My pal Allison has been cracking the whip and as a result the book has started to take on a lot more depth, but it's been forcing me to ponder some of my personal issues in a way that's made me a real pain in the ass to deal with. I've been finding scenes that have been in place for literally years aren't doing what I need them to do.

One of the hardest tasks a writer has to face is going back and re-imagining scenes and characters -- taking parts of an organic whole and radically reworking them without having to rebuild the entire work from scratch.

And I'm facing a particular problem in this book. I have a great deal of impatience with our culture's obsession with backstory -- as an example, in the remake of Willy Wonka, they insisted on giving the audience details from his childhood that explained why he was so cruel to children. I mean, fuck that. That isn't what the story is about. Yeah, the story of Willy Wonka's life would be interesting -- but do we need it inserted into the story of Charlie Bucket?

But one of the criticisms of my novel that I've heard more than once is that people don't understand why the protagonist -- who is pretty much me -- acts and thinks the way he does. Well, that's a pretty fucking involved question. To answer it in full would be to write an entirely different book than the one I've been working on for the last four years.

Still, I obviously do need to provide more information on the protagonist's history than I have so far. My goal is to give a hint here and a hint there, enough to make his current behavior seem understandable.

But I feel that in a work of fiction, you don't see a character exhibit behavior and say, 'I don't buy that because I don't know why he or she is doing that.' As a reader, my reaction is, 'Huh. That was a weird thing to do,' and then to read the character from that point on as the kind of person who does that kind of thing.

Of course that probably has something to do with the fact that I regard people the same way in real life -- I have no idea what would compel someone to have children, buy a car, attend a sporting event, or watch American Idol. The behavior of the average human being mystifies me and all I can do is accept it.

But as a writer it is my job to make my characters convincing. Frankly, I don't care how well my characters are understood as long as they are believed -- but readers seem to feel differently about that. I'll tell you what, someday I'm going to say, "fuck a bunch of readers," and write something without worrying about how accessible it is.

I'll use the full range of my vocabulary and intellectual interests and hideous obsessions and obscure humor and cultural references and scientific terminology and obliquity and if someone doesn't understand that dark matter and dark energy are entirely separate phenomena, if they don't know what a Pristichampsus is, if they don't get the references to the Ramayana and the works of Tove Jansson and Li Po, if they can't make the connections between line twelve on page eight and line seven on page three hundred and sixteen, well, they will be perfectly welcome to go fuck themselves. Hell, I'll replace every comma with the word 'fuck,' so as to duplicate my own mode of speech. I'll produce something with bones and guts and sinew instead of the simple-minded monosyllabic pabulum I've produced thus far.

And then nobody will read it. Hey, it worked for Pynchon and Joyce.

Anyway, I'm hoping things will lighten up after I get the first couple of chapters nailed down and the book starts to become more plot-oriented. We shall see.


robp said...

Have you read Warren's post about Taxi Driver? Did Scorsese give us the Travis Bickel backstory? Or did he give us Taxi Driver?

I like a story that starts in the middle of something and keeps going. You're not supposed to be answering questions early, you're supposed to be pulling the reader in. If people are saying they don't get it and they're deeper into the novel, that's a different issue.

I think one of the issues with your novel is making the protagonist compelling so people want to find out what's going on. And those aren't questions that have to be answered. You have to answer the questions that are essential to the story. Leave the behind the scenes crap to the ignored bonus disc on the DVD after the movie is done in theaters. I mean, I think you have time to get to that.

You have to tell enough to make the character and story compelling. That's all. Don't do more; killing pace and drama is NOT your job. I don't know if you have to do more to pull people in. What I read looked like close to final draft. Keep writing the fucking story, say what you need to say, and if it doesn't feel right at the end then you've probably left something out.

Sean Craven said...

Thank you, sir. That's what I'm talking about. And I'm vastly relieved that it seems as though it's close to a final draft -- I'm eager to get it out into the world and get on with the next volume.

Which has an absolutely brutally bleak ending.

Warren has a blog? I gotta check it out.