Structure

Apr. 28th, 2016 02:18 pm
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
So there are a lot of ways to talk about narrative and fictional structure generally, a lot of ways of mapping it all: scene and sequel, rising and falling action, hysteron proteron, many more. I used to read about them avidly. Long ago when I was in college and struggling with short stories, one of my English professors suggested that I write a play, because the structure was predetermined and you could just plug elements into the template.

None of this has ever been of the slightest use to me except as an intellectual exercise. Well, that's not quite true. It's very useful for enhancing the experience of reading other people's finished works. It took me years to be even moderately good at using theories of structure for that purpose because my brain does not do that and in fact tends to dig in its heels and specifically refuse to do that, but I did manage it after the fact with other people's work.

I can't write that way, though. It will not happen. Everything just turns to water and runs away. I've stolen plots from ballads and Shakespeare, but even then, they warp and twist, and I write what I can write and then move it around and try to make it approximate the structure I thought I was using. I can more or less do thematic structure or emotional structure, but actual plot structure, the arrangement of the incidents, as Aristotle called it, is still opaque to me. It has to proceed from character, setting, theme, and mood and then get nudged around until, if you stand at the right angle, there is a plotlike arrangement of things that happened.

I know a lot of people who can see structure and write with it initially set up like the skeleton of a new building, but I cannot do it.

I'm not exactly asking for advice, though I wouldn't mind it. You'd have to be prepared for me to say, "Nope, won't work" or a more polite equivalent. But I'm curious about how other people, readers or writers, perceive or create structure in stories.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
The most common remark I seem to be making, possibly excluding, "Aren't you cute!" or "I hate this kitchen" seems to be, "I don't know how it got to be [whatever day/month/year it may be at that moment]." Theoretically, I know how it probably did, but my journey through time seems to be quick and irregular.

Last Sunday, when it was brutally hot, Eric and I had just brought Lydy's car home after running some very necessary errands. B, for Behemoth, has a perfectly good air conditioner, but it was not keeping up with the heat index at all. We had collapsed in the media room air conditioning with an attendant young black cat (Ninja, who is very fond of Eric) when my phone tweedled. Raphael had sent a simple message, "Dishwasher just died."

Cut for boring domestic detail )</lj-cut The new dishwasher seems to work fine, and it uses less water and less energy than the old one. I am also pleased to have a cleaner staircase and a good light at the top of it so that I don't feel either than I'm losing my vision or that something is going to reach out and grab my ankle as I go downstairs. But this all happened in very hot and/or humid weather and seems to have taken a long time. I now simultaneously want to Clean All the Things and work on my short story. The Things are probably more cooperative. The story thinks it is a novel and keeps putting guns on the mantelpiece, and I keep taking them off again and sequestering them in a notes file for use later on. Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
I have, not exactly in my hand right now, but very near by, and honestly I think I might sleep with it under my pillow, the termination paperwork for The Dubious Hills AND the cancelled and as-yet unpublished sequel to Hills, that is, the work sometimes known as Going North.

This has been imminent for some weeks now and I have been trying to figure out what to do. I will let you guys know as soon as I have.

What I can say is that Going North needs to be re-expanded, not to its former two-volume length, but by perhaps 20,000 words; that probably not all of them will be words that I have already written; and that I am very well, indeed painfully, aware that people have been waiting for far, far too long for this book; so I will do my best to be expeditious.

One might well ask why I didn't do the revisions while I was awaiting the paperwork, but I can only say that they had not come properly into focus, and in fact I needed to write a short story first to get things to line up or clear up or whatever this analogy thinks it is doing just now. I would apologize for my creative process, but that wouldn't make it any less annoying.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Diversion Books just sent Pat and me an email to say that Points of Departure has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. I will spare you the phonetic rendition of what I uttered when I read the review. It was rather high-pitched and most of the words were somewhat random. Not only is the review enthusiastic, the reviewer truly gets what we were doing.

I feel that some of the praise at the end of the review should go to everyone who worked to create, expand, and edit Liavek, and I hope that any of you other Liavek writers and contributors, particularly Will Shetterly and Emma Bull, who may be reading this, will take a glow of credit to yourselves as well. I personally am especially indebted to John M. Ford, who immensely complicated the history of the House of Responsible Life and very kindly critiqued "A Necessary End," providing in some cases more insight into my characters than I had myself.

Here is the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62681-555-1

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Elise is having a large sale for various noble purposes, and it will be the last one for a while because she will be starting her convention season. Here is the link:

http://elisem.livejournal.com/1869278.html

Well worth just admiring at length, even if you can't afford to buy anything. And bear in mind that Elise discounts things dramatically from time to time, so "can't afford" might change.

Elise also asked that people who have some of her shinies talk a little about one that we have, or that inspired us. I'm glad she didn't ask for a favorite, because I couldn't.

The necklace I'm about to put on to go to the MinnStf party tonight is called "Strategy and Tactics Among the Mermaids." It is purple and green and iridescent and structured and it brought back to me all the times that I visited Eric in California and we went to Moss Beach to look at the tidepools and be stared out of countenance by the harbor seals. I started a story based on it. The story is now either trying to become a novel or just being annoying, but I'll get to the end of it one day.

I could not, in fact, afford the necklace, but I admired it in Elise's comments section and an extremely kind friend got hold of Elise and bought it for me, which made all three of us happy.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
I don't always sleep very well. Last night was pretty good to start with. I went to bed around 1:30, petted the purring, kneading, face-patting, wrist-licking, belly-showing Saffron, and was asleep before I looked at the clock to see how long it was taking me to go to sleep. I woke up at six and used the bathroom and actually got back to sleep rather than lying awake worrying about things I can't do much about. Into this unusual sleep, after two and a half hours, came a strong sound of music. I sat up groggily. Saffron was sitting on a stack of storage tubs, swiveling her head around and looking inquisitive. Cassie was sitting in the middle of the bed with her ears back. It was a rather pleasant piece for violin and flute, and I thought that under other circumstances I might recognize it. I got up and went into Raphael's office, since that was, I believed, the closest possible source of music. All was dark and quiet there, however. Both cats followed me, campaigning for breakfast.

I went back into my room and there was the music. I finally remembered that the clock on top of the dresser, which Raphael and I got long ago either in Arizona or in Bemidji, I can't recall, because we needed better weather reports than the Weather Channel could provide when we were planning on being outside all day hiking, actually has a regular radio in it as well. The button that turns on the weather radio is on top, and Saffron has stepped on it before. But I did not awaken to the automated voice describing the weather. I hit the button, and there was the weather radio. When I hit it again there was supposed to be silence, but the music came back. I finally had to turn the volume down all the way because I could not figure out what Saffron had done. The time-setting controls and the weather radio button are on the top of the clock, but everything else is on the sides. She might have been sharpening her face on the sides, I suppose.

I didn't feed the cats, partly because it was only 8:30, but mostly because I didn't want to encourage whatever it was she had done. I wouldn't put it past her to remember what it was.

In other news, we got the final digital files for Points of Departure from the publisher, and I'm going over my stories looking for errors. There is an error spreadsheet one is supposed to use to locate and describe what should be corrected. I had to ask the nice person in Production how to use it, but it's simple enough.

By this time I am extremely tired of "The Green Cat." It being the oldest of the stories, the digital version had not survived translation from format to format and repeated backups, so I ended up typing it all in again not really that long ago. I was a little impatient with "Two Houses in Saltigos" too, but am both pleased and abashed to admit that "Paint the Meadows With Delight" still makes me laugh, even though I wrote it. Then again, Silvertop is not my character, but Emma's; so perhaps that explains it.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
The copy-edit of the Liavek collection, which Pat and I decided (with the agreement of the publisher) to call Points of Departure, arrived a couple of weeks ago. Sunday evening I emailed my version of the file to Pat, who had agreed to merge the two and make sure that my unfamiliarity with Microsoft Word and, indeed, with any kind of electronic editing and copy-editing arrangement whatsoever, had not created any horrors that needed fixing.

There were some editorial remarks and changes as well, but very minor ones, the editor having thought that we had done a good job on the stories the first time around and knew how we wanted them to be.

I had forgotten the stages of dealing with a copy-edit, which, in my case, go approximately, NOOOOOOO, Are You Kidding Me, I Cannot Write For Toffee Not If It Was Ever So, Okay I Can Fix That If You Insist, Bored Now, Thank Goodness Somebody Noticed That, The Rest of This is Nonsense and I Will Not Do It, Really Bored Now, Really Why Did I Think I Could Write, Oh All RIGHT, This Is Very Annoying But You Have A Point, and I Am So Done Now.

I believe that copy-editors cannot catch everything that is actually wrong without also pointing out a certain percentage of things that are not wrong at all, and the writer just has to deal with it; but I had almost forgotten this, because it's been so long since I had anything published.

It was interesting to me that all the changes I balked at came down to either voice or viewpoint. The first and last of my Liavek stories are in the first person, and I was really not at all willing to change much of anything. The middle three stories and my sections of the new collaborative story are in third person, but there is in each one a particular viewpoint that dictates word choice and style generally. I was not altogether aware of this when I wrote them, but when I tried to make changes that on the surface seemed perfectly reasonable, it always came down to viewpoint.

On the whole I feel that all of the stories have held up remarkably well, and actually found myself becoming weepy both over the end of my last one, "A Necessary End," and Pat's last one, "The Levar's Night Out."

I am so pleased that this collection will be available as an e-book. I think the release date is in May, but I'll keep you apprised as things get closer.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
David went around the yard a week or two ago and took some splendid photos. You can look at them here.

I had a lovely time at Wiscon and managed not to bring any horrible viruses home with me. Raphael and I went to Murphy Hanrahan Regional Park earlier this week and saw clouds of dragonflies, mostly dot-tailed whitefaces with a leavening of frosted whitefaces, common whitetails, and at least one twelve-spotted and one four-spotted skimmer. Over the weekend Eric and I went to Eloise Butler, where we saw dozens of four-spotted skimmers and a goodly number of whitetails; not to mention two large and extremely oblivious wild turkeys browsing under the birdfeeders. We also went to Lebanon Hills Regional Park, where we were too late for dragonflies but delighted to see fireflies twinkling and flashing in the vegetation next to the fire road.

Also, I had a writing date with Pat WINOLJ, made copious notes, and wrote 500 or so new words on the Liavek novel. The style of the novel as written so far pleases me a lot, but it's rather mannered, and getting back into it will be interesting.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
David went around the yard a week or two ago and took some splendid photos. You can look at them here.

I had a lovely time at Wiscon and managed not to bring any horrible viruses home with me. Raphael and I went to Murphy Hanrahan Regional Park earlier this week and saw clouds of dragonflies, mostly dot-tailed whitefaces with a leavening of frosted whitefaces, common whitetails, and at least one twelve-spotted and one four-spotted skimmer. Over the weekend Eric and I went to Eloise Butler, where we saw dozens of four-spotted skimmers and a goodly number of whitetails; not to mention two large and extremely oblivious wild turkeys browsing under the birdfeeders. We also went to Lebanon Hills Regional Park, where we were too late for dragonflies but delighted to see fireflies twinkling and flashing in the vegetation next to the fire road.

Also, I had a writing date with Pat WINOLJ, made copious notes, and wrote 500 or so new words on the Liavek novel. The style of the novel as written so far pleases me a lot, but it's rather mannered, and getting back into it will be interesting.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] sartorias and [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija have an essay up on Genreville (a site well worth the attention of readers of sf and fantasy in general) about sending a collaborative YA fantasy novel to an agent and being told that the agent would represent and expect to sell it if they would just remove a gay viewpoint character, or make the character, at least apparently, heterosexual -- one suggestion was that, should the series the book is part of be a huge hit, the character could be revealed to be gay later on. Ugh.
I am frankly astonished that anybody should have such an experience in 2011, but that just shows my naivete, and my enormous good luck in having an editor who told me that the same-sex relationship in my forthcoming novel was one of the things she liked.
The article is set up so that other authors who have had similar experiences can comment pseudonymously if they like. I am curious but alarmed to see how many more writers have had this happen to them.
Pamela

ETA: The agent not named in the original Genreville post has responded:

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2011/09/guest-blogger-joanna-stampfel-volpe.html

[livejournal.com profile] sartorias and [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija have responded in turn:

http://rachelmanija.livejournal.com/969918.html

And Malinda Lo, who has published YA novels with gay characters, produces some statistics, which demonstrates that really, there is a serious problem here:

http://www.malindalo.com/2011/09/i-have-numbers-stats-on-lgbt-young-adult-books-published-in-the-u-s/

Having known [livejournal.com profile] sartorias for the better part of 25 years, and having known [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija for a much shorter but non inconsiderable amount of time, I am inclined to look askance at the agent's version of events.
pameladean: (Default)
I had meant to mention, my book is due on October 15th, and that is a real deadline. I am really not sure if I'll be about as quiet as usual or post madly when I get stuck. I sometimes think that I should have gotten something like a garden-design program for this book so that I could stick things here and there to see how they looked before committing to any given order of events. I think I have only one more major alteration to make before the end. I think.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
This year Fourth Street left room to drag people onto panels at the last moment. I had an hour and a half's warning of the first one, but missed completely the moment when I was put on the Sunday afternoon panel about how you know when to stop revising. [livejournal.com profile] skzb reasonably felt that, given the situation my book and I are in, I should be on this panel. I didn't have any preparation time at all, however. Furthermore, everybody else was talking about revision driven by the writer or at most by beta readers. What I had to say about that wasn't really different from what the other panelists [livejournal.com profile] truepenny, [livejournal.com profile] matociquala, and [livejournal.com profile] skzb himself) had to say.

Unfortunately, at the time I was in the foggy, foggy middle of formulating what was making me most uneasy about the project of cutting the 375,000 words of Going North and Abiding Reflection down to 100,000 words. I was over being grieved that I had to remove half a dozen characters, and had at least become calloused to cutting a lot of scenes that I loved madly and wanted other people to read. But I hadn't yet realized what was still making me twitchy. I kept thinking, though I didn't think of saying this on the panel, because I don't do well in realtime, that what I needed was to recognize at what point the book was no longer like a book that I would write. This isn't very useful advice to beginning writers in any case, because they don't know yet what the books they will write are going to look like. Every time I cut down a description, or removed a convoluted section of dialogue, or started with the action rather than moving into it crabwise, I would wonder if I had reached the point where the book didn't sound like me. I've always tried to keep all of such tendencies under control, not wanting a book entirely composed of them, but I thought I could go too far.

The problem was elsewhere, though. It was thematic. This book is about a lot of things, but among the ones I am aware of are such diverse elements as family, whether chosen or biological, and in particular mother-daughter relationships; identity, including both disguise and misidentification, and in general the matter of what I've heard Graydon describe as "being present as oneself in the world"; how community is formed and maintained; how romantic relationships are formed and maintained; and how all smaller relationships fit into communities. I just deleted a long conversation between Frances and Arry about why they never visited Arry's paternal grandmother. It's not directly pertinent to the plot, though it acts indirectly on the plot by informing Arry's actions. Her actions are somewhat overdetermined anyway, so that wasn't an issue, but I suddenly saw through the overt structure of the book and into the thematic underlayer and became seriously worried that I was doing a lot of damage to it. I manage that layer primarily by intuition rather than painstakingly thinking it out as I do plot (such as my plots are), and I felt that I might have done something crazy that would result in an earthquake.

I guess we'll see.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
No, this entry is not about the spring, but about my Amazing Expanding and Shrinking Book. Unfortunately, no book or any other prose work of mine has ever been adept at shrinking, and this one is no exception.

Partly at Eric's behest, I'd made some impromptu decisions about where I should be in the revisions when, so that the project, being without external deadlines, would not languish too long. I actually did finish up with Chapter 12 (formerly 16) within a few days of when the calendar said I should. Eric had been strongly urging me to do a word count at this point, so I did.

Sixty-seven thousand, eight hundred and eighteen. What this demonstrates is that, if I had only to cut the book down by half, I'd be doing very well. But since I have to cut it by nearly 75%, this is Not Good Enough. I am taking a few days off to sulk and also to ponder, two states that often come together with me.

I have removed five characters and four subplots, as well as a lot of incidental repetition and indulgent description, but there is no way I will get to the end of this story in another 23,000 words. I haven't decided exactly what to do. There are a lot of intractable and sometimes contradictory requirements. This book is a sequel to two others, and the incluing I already did for the story-so-far was not sufficient, so that has to be done, and it is not exactly simple and straightforward, because simple and straightforward is not what I do. The characters remaining are heavily entangled still with those no longer present, and I'm not proposing to warp their personalities and the past by removing references to the missing. The plot is somewhat ornate, and there is only so far one can simplify it before it becomes simply silly. I use description for characterization, to distinguish points of view, and for pacing and thematic pressure, so I'm not sure how much of that I can get rid of or whether getting rid what I'm willing to sacrifice would even be sufficient.

David asked, when apprised of this dilemma, whether I didn't need to mow the overgrown lawn at one height and then again at a lower one, and this is in general how I want to proceed. However, I'd like to have a few principles in mind as I go through the rest of the book for the first time, even though I know a second mowing will be necessary. The only thing I have thought of so far is to significantly pick up the pace (I hate that a lot) so that what's missing won't have time to make itself known. However, even at the glacial pace of the original, readers complained about not seeing enough of characters who will be offstage for much of the second part of the book, so there are some limits to this approach. Still, at the moment, it's what I have.

I'm planning to save a copy of the first pass through, though, just in case.

P.

P.S. Hey, Jo, the LJ spellchecker thinks that "incluing" should maybe actually be "uncling." As in "uncle me no uncles," I assume, though it could also be a command to let go of something, to peel oneself off.

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