Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Rules -- Yet Again

I keep swearing I'll never mention politics (especially Scottish politics) again and then fall off the wagon. So visualize me climbing back on the wagon and getting back to the topic of writing.

I was going on a bit about Heinlein's Rules and his first two were pretty straightforward. You write and you finish what you're writing. But his rule three tends to make a lot of people choke. The one where he said to only revise to editorial order.

I suspect that he meant that pretty literally considering what I've heard about Heinlein. I once was told that when another well-known author complained about having to edit, Heinlein remarked, "Why didn't you do it right the first time?" I'm not sure if the story is true--but it seems right for Mr. Heinlein.

However, most of us don't get it right the first time. At the least, we have to do some clean-up, and I assume that he wasn't referring to that. I try to get it down in a fairly coherent manner the first time though and I think that may have been what he was getting at. We don't improve our writing, I suspect, without working hard at that first draft to get it as close to a final as we can. I've known writers who can send out a first draft and I'm aiming at that, not that I'm there.

That, I suspect, is the only way to really improve. Then look for the faults, get it as clean as you can and go on from there because picking over the same manuscript for years isn't going to improve your writing or get something new written.

So that's my theory on that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blogging and Censorship

It has come to my attention that several bloggers in Scotland have recently come under attack for openly criticizing politicians and journalists. They have even had their jobs threatened for their remarks. This is absolutely blatant censorship.

Mind you, none of their remarks have been proven untrue, although I suppose it might be hard to dispute being called a c*nt as a certain journalist was (more on that).

Consider that, while rude, this is something one might hear in any bar or political meeting in this country OR the UK, I have to say it causes me a lot of concern. I don't often post about politics, but freedom of speech is IMPORTANT.

We tend to take it especially for granted on the internet and in blogs. This may be a mistake. If you have or express an opinion that isn't mainstream, it isn't that hard to find out who a blogger is. Most of us make no secret of who we are, really.

It's a good idea to remember that what we say can be watched. We can be judged for it. And if you are saying something controversial--which we have EVERY right to do--you'd better be careful.

I am concerned about political bloggers such as Wardog and The Universality of Cheese being deliberately silenced by major newspapers so as to silence their political opinions. That both bloggers support independence for Scotland was NO accident. I rarely use an obscenity but I will repeat what was said by the Universality of Cheese.

This is a major assault on both freedom of speech and on blogging as a political tool.

As for independence for Scotland, that isn't really my business but I have great respect for the SNP and their leader the honorable Alex Salmond. As for their nationalist aspirations, I'll repeat H.D.S. Greenway from the Boston Globe on 11th March 2009:

"The SNP’s nationalism is based on citizenship, rather than on ethnicity, religion, or language..." National independence is an honorable goal shared by nations all over the world.

I only wish my Scottish friends the best and for their nation--whatever they want to make of it. And free of intimidation and trickery.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Was That Heinlein Said?

I posted a few days ago (ok... ok... it was a couple of weeks) about how to succeed in writing and mentioned that you actually have to write.

Afterwards, I realized that, of course, I was merely echoing the great Robert Heinlein in his Heinlein's Rules from his classic essay On the Writing of Speculative Fiction, published in Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. The master was being less than honest, however, in that much of what he says applies to all fiction, most especially his "rules". The essay is available in Google Books and I recommend reading it. But I'll quote one particularly salient paragraph. He said about his rules:

...they are amazingly hard to follow--which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket! But if you follow them, it matters not how you write, you will find some editor, somewhere, sometime, so unwary or so desperate for copy as to buy the worst old dog you or I, or anyone else, can throw at him.

Times have changed a bit with most slush piles about ten feet deep what with word processors and email submissions, but most of that is still true, in that you will sell if you follow his rules and that very few people will.

So I said the first rule: Write.

What's the second? FINISH. A hundred half-written stories aren't going to either improve your writing or get published. But that one is a hard one. Right this second I'm procrastinating on a novel. I'm 35,000 words in and the thing has turned into pure drudgery. But I have to finish it. I WILL finish it. (*gives self kick in the rear*)

Will you finish that piece you've started? Because if you don't... Well, I think Mr. Heinlein said it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rules of Writing

Some say that there are no rules for writing. Someone recently told me that. It happened that Mark Twain disagreed and he gave an interesting list. On my "if you're going to steal, steal from someone great" theory, I'm stealing the good Mr. Clement's rules, which are:

Twain's Rules of Writing

(from Mark Twain's essay The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

An author should

12. _Say_ what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

(I've always been particularly fond of Rule #3)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The real secret to writing--BIC

I discovered that I'm leaving the subject of historical novels. I love them. I write them. I have a strong opinion opinion about them and that is this:

The should be about history and not fantasy. If you want to write a fantasy, I think that's what you should do. There are plenty of blank spots in history. Most of history is either a blank spot or debatable. Make up stuff for that, but don't change the real history. That's my opinion. If you disagree, that's your right but please don't ask me to read your novel.

Ok. So about writing. I've been thinking about what we have to do be writers. The hardest part for many of us is the writing part. But if you're going to be a writer you have to write. And for writing, doing research, making up outlines, talking about writing, and thinking about writing doesn't count. Neither does posting on blogs. *rolls eyes*

Only writing counts.

I'll tell you what works for me to get those words down. Maybe it will work for you too. I think it should work for everyone. I write on my computer. The first thing I do is disconnect the internet. (Aha! Back foul procrastination!)

Then I write for two hours. But sometimes nothing comes and I stare at the screen. So I sit there for two hours. Sometimes to keep from going crazy and to try to prod things along, I type my name... over and over. And eventually, knowing I'm not going to give up, my mind decides that it might as well give me some words to put on the paper.

Is it painful? Well, not most of the time. Usually I write 2000 words during that time.

Sometimes, when the words aren't flowing, yes. It is. But it gets novels written for me... And even an occasional short story which as far as I'm concerned is much harder.

Next time, I'll talk about some of the other daunting tasks we face as writers.