Don’t buy stock this week.
Another tip, this one about writing.
Sometimes the best conventional wisdom gets recycled, all dressed up in different verbal couture.
This is a good thing. Sometimes a golden kernel of proven writing wisdom doesn’t resonate (a two dollar word for sink in), and then, when heard differently, it suddenly goes clang in your head (a two cent word for clarity).
Hoping this is a clang moment for you.
I’ve often quoted William Goldman (major screenwriting dude) when he advises us to enter our scenes at the last possible moment. Pure gold, just as true for novelists as screenwriters. Here’s a different take on it:
Try to compress time within your narrative, especially when the moment within a scene isn’t critical to exposition.
Two guys go into a bar. They have a few beers, then suddenly another guy shows up with a gun, shoots one, gets paid by the other. A set-up. Godfather style.
You could spend four pages on those beers. Back and forth, chit and chat. And you may need to – this variable is always the writer’s call, and becomes the difference between too much and too little – because that chit-chat may be germane to the forthcoming betrayal. Or not.
Or you could say, “After the fourth beer the tone of the conversation shifted into a darker gear.”
That’s 90 minutes compressed into one sentence.
Look for opportunities to do this and your story’s pace will improve, and your readers will thank you for it. Cut the chit-chat. Cut to “the moment” that is the scene’s expositional mission.
A little piece of advanced craft, yours for the taking.
And like all nuances, look for it in the books you read. You’ll see it clearly, and often. Seeing is believing, often leading to that clanking sound in your skull.
The Update – Deconstruction on the way.
The deal was this: if enough folks buy my newly republished novel, “Bait and Switch” in July, I’ll do a deconstruction series on it. The goal was to move 1000 copies.
Good news and bad news: it didn’t happen. Got about halfway there (counting the other two republished books this month), which folks are assuring me isn’t bad. Not sure I buy that, but it is what it is. But it’s just the beginning of a longer road.
So I’m good to go. Deconstruction of “Bait and Switch” is happening, look for it later in August. If you haven’t read it, there’s ample time.
By the way, a reader posted the first review of the republished version, you can read it HERE (scroll down). Please do.
I’m doing a two-day workshop for the Oregon Writers Colony (a world-class writer’s group) on “The Six Core Competencies,” with specific application to your WIP. This is a hands-on, interactive, walk-out-with-a-better-manuscript workshop.
It’s happening in Portland, Oregon on October 29 & 30, 2011. The fee is only $190, which includes a one-year membership in the OWC (no, you don’t need to live in OR… but you might want to after coming, provided you’re waterproof from November through June).
A Little Irrelevant Rant
A few words about wasteful government spending. About the lack of oversight and accountability, and the sheer magnitude and omnipresence of the problem.
Not sure why, but I need to get this off my chest. It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to. Relevance to writing craft: zip. Other than hopefully applying it.
But it is a true story, a classic example of the problem. It involved the U.S. Post Office. The year was 1985. If you’ve ever wondered why the price of stamps goes up every other year, here you go.
I was a copywriter with a small training company. Our client was the Northeast Division of the Post Office (we were in Oregon, they were in Boston… go figure… this was perhaps the first clue regarding the forthcoming cluelessness). The assignment was to develop a comprehensive safety training program for mail carriers, using visual media and workbooks. The objective: learn to lift properly, carry things safely, drive that little truck without hitting anything that breathes, and avoid the occasional rabid neighborhood dog jonesing to take off your leg.
It was that last one that caused the problem.
Our “content expert” was an experienced mailman, a veteran (dare I say crusty) carrier who had spent his career going door to door with a heavy satchel over this shoulder and a pair of dull blue shorts worn with knee-highs. Very old school. He’d seen everything, survived it all, and had the bad back to prove it.
One of the safety tools of the trade was his “dogbrella.” His word. And just what it sounds like – an umbrella that doubles as dog-protection weaponry. Nothing special about it, just click and open.
Unless it was a dog you were worried about, in which case you used it like a Louisville Slugger.
Dogbrella. I asked him if he was sure. He said yes. So it went into the scripts and was used in the training manuals.
All 35,000 copies of them.
It was approved, produced and distributed.
And then we got the call.
Somebody in the U.S. Post Office version of an ivory tower got his hands on the program and wasn’t happy with the word “dogbrella.” Which, again, had been vetted and approved by someone on a lower floor of that ivory tower.
Not official-sounding enough, he said. And the U.S. Postal Service is nothing if not official.
So we re-did the whole thing. Re-recorded the audio and reprinted all the books. Never used the old ones, not for a day. Just a huge pile of recyclable paper, which they no doubt didn’t recycle.
The bill? Significant. Almost as much as the original contract. A year’s pay for a mail carrier, and then some.
That’s how it happens. Nobody was watching. Nobody was accountable. Somebody who didn’t care had the power to spend a truckload of the government’s dimes because of a single word of slang.
Thanks for listening. Back to the writing stuff.