Friday, November 07, 2008

A Turning Point

Pivot is a move that has become familiar in my writing career.

Just when I think I'm done with something I learn something new that will make my book better or more marketable in some substantial way.

That happened once again yesterday in my writing group, led by Laurel Goldman.

Fellow member Joe Burgo was struck with a thought no one had had before that would make my writing more accessible to more people faster.

He seemed worried that he'd caused me a great inconvenience. But he's really onto something, and I worked three hours last night on the first page, making tiny non-objectionable changes that I think will welcome a reader faster, especially a more casual reader. (I'm now going to do that for a lot of other pages.)

It does go against my essentially reserved nature (I say that while blogging away, like a pop tart telling a TV reporter she's a private person.) And, if I may delicately say so, it pisses me off that I don't get to speak in the way that comes most naturally to me. I did enjoy expressing myself on that subject yesterday. Writers who match the zeitgeist get a lot more work done a lot faster and more easily. But this exercise seems to be part of my dharma, and so I carry on--and with some fresh interest.






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14 comments:

K.B. said...

Soooooo...what was it? :)

Peggy Payne said...

The change itself? In short, it's to "knit together" the emotional elements of a moment every now and then. I'm inclined to avoid any sort of summary at all, just relying on in-the-instant sensations, thoughts, actions, etc.

The change is a matter of summing up the feelings of a few minutes without stepping out of the character or resorting to a label, which is distancing.

My strategy at the moment is to do it with fragments of thought in which she sort-a sums it up for herself, in the actual ragged language of thought.

K.B. said...

That's interesting -- I think I actually prefer the way you do it, to be honest. I was just reading a "How I Write" in Time Out (pause to go find it) by Chiew-Siah Tei -- she says she is writing from the standpoint of someone with a background in screenwriting, so often she'll follow her character's actions through their thoughts, what they see, their reactions, as if they're in a screenplay, so for someone being stabbed, she would write, "A flash of metal./A splash of red./A scream." She wants the reader to feel as if they're watching a film rather than reading words off a page.

Personally, if I wanted that experience while reading a book, I'd go watch a movie. I *like* the way a book can set things out from the inside out, rather than just through a visual and the sound...

So, do you agree commercially or from the standpoint of others, or can you actually "feel" that this change works for the better?

Peggy Payne said...

I'm willing to experiment with it because I know I'll only make changes that really satisfy me.

I'm in your camp philosophically. But I do want my books published, and I don't want lots of people shut out of reading them because of my intellectual snobbery. I don't want to make a passage difficult in a way that doesn't make it better. At the same time, I'm not going to make it accessible in a way that makes it worse. So, I'm experimenting.

The way I do this is to look, not at suggested techniques, but at what a reader wants to come out of the story with, and then see if I can find a way to get to that which also suits me.

So far in my books, I've been happy with all the changes I've kept. I don't foresee that changing.

However, the changes of this sort I made in my previous novels have not made them bestsellers either.

Curiously enough, though, I'm currently enjoying the process. Like crossword puzzles, you know, but with the stakes higher enough to make it more interesting.

K.B. said...

There are so many factors in the marketing of a book, I think, or of any marketing whatsoever, not the least just being plain old luck. Yeah, largely we make our luck, but it still usually just happens to be being in the right place at the right time.

I remember once attending a conference that was supposed to be about businesses and theatre and how they can help each other. At a moderated forum with artists and business people who worked together, which was supposed to help show how the processes worked, it gradually became clear that what it was really all about was being ready when opportunity showed itself, being able to grasp the opportunities, both in idea and ability to make those ideas come to life -- but that the opportunity (ie: luck and serendipity) had to present itself first...and no amount of work actually truly made that happen. You had to put yourself out there, yes, you had to be open to the opportunity...but it was obvious that for all of them, it didn't happen for any reason but pure luck.

So as you say, it comes down to trying to keep your "own voice", to write what you need to write, but with enough awareness of the marketing involved, of appealing enough to a wide enough mass of the market, that your work is still accessible to those who don't normally "get" that mode of communication as well as others.

If Art is purity of the vision, of the vision of the artist come to physical form, Craft is the ability to execute the Art in a way that makes it understandable, that makes it good work or bad. It's always a tough thing to find that balance of Art and Craft so it works for everyone involved, especially when Luck then becomes involved...

In my personal opinion, of course. :D

Peggy Payne said...

On all of this, we're in agreement, K.B.

K.B. said...

I wonder if it's possible to catch yourself going too far before you do? :)

Peggy Payne said...

Well,I always start a new file, labelled experiment, and can always go back to the old version.

K.B. said...

Smart. i was listening to some BBC program or other the other day, and an author was talking about how he had a laptop that he'd kept his only copy of his novel on. Never made backups or other copies. You guessed it...his wife was reading it recently on the laptop...and managed to erase the file.

Apparently things were a bit frosty for a while in their household...

Peggy Payne said...

I worked with a woman once who had lost her entire novel and rewritten it and she said it came out better the second time. I can't even imagine it.

K.B. said...

I've done that with articles, but never a book -- although never having written a book, I suppose I can't really say about that. I suspect I'd just start on a totally different book and give up on the first one!

Peggy Payne said...

That would take as much fortitude as writing it all again.

K.B. said...

Yes, but at least I'd feel like I was moving forward instead of backward...which is what re-writing a novel would feel like to me, I think. (Or at least, that's what it felt like with the articles -- although I do know what she meant about a better product. The articles may have been, because I was more aware of where I was going.)

I always admire people like you who seem to have so many books in them. I'm not even sure I have enough to say to justify even one. :)

Peggy Payne said...

Feels to me that I spend bloody near forever on each one.