Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Book Doctor's Little Black Bag: Prescription for a necessary section with a pedest...

The Book Doctor's Little Black Bag: Prescription for a necessary section with a pedest...:
First of all, some largish majority of fiction readers—I'd guess at least 2 out of 3, and would not be surprised if it were as many as 5 out of 6—want their fiction to read fast.

Admittedly, this appears to be merely a long-running fashion change, the way that men's powdered wigs have never come back and it's hard to imagine a future where women never wear trousers. Some literary effects can only be achieved by text that reads slow, and if you need one of those effects to do what you're trying to do for the reader, you (and they) will have to tolerate slowness.

Nonetheless, unless you've figured out a way to sell your stories in 1830, today's audience is the only one you can work for, assuming you don't want to bury your work in time capsules. So if you want to write fiction, you'd better know how to pick up the pace and keep it up, all through the book. And no matter what you do, some readers will still complain that it's slow, usually meaning that they didn't get exactly what they wanted, right on this page, right now. The fastest you can go will never be fast enough for everyone.

Newest post is up at The Book Doctor's Little Black Bag. I talk about detecting and fixing single-duty scenes. I'd say I've seen around ten new writers who got all the way to the brink of publication with this problem, and I'm not sure why editors and agents miss it; once you know what to look for it jumps right out at you. Perhaps it's because it's less common than ordinary slow pacing, so they tend to just say "pick up the pace" without asking what made it drag.

If you're not a professional writer looking for a high-end technique, you might be interested for one of two reasons:

1) if you liked the Giraut books, I talk about how fixing the single duty scenes in A Million Open Doors caused me to make huge, beneficial changes to the book.

2) if you are following Father Lucifer, you may notice that  Chapter 1, where I need to both introduce a large cast and show that Hal's life is dull and predictable without much prospect of being different, has a tendency to slide into single duty scenes, and consider whether I won the fight with them, or not. (I am not at all sure I did).


This particular piece for the Little Black Bag prompted a couple of other thoughts:

1. What is the horrid attraction of younger writers for characters who are slightly older than themselves and have become cynical and jaded? 

I wrote too many of those in my first dozen novels, and even today it's always very tempting.  I could probably have produced a version of A Million Open Doors with Aimeric as the main character, but it would not have become a series, probably not one of mine and the reader's favorites, and in general would have been like a trip to the moon on gossamer wings with your seatmate being a flatulent guy complaining about the food and telling you why this was boring.  Yet I am far from the only writer who likes old, tired, been there done that characters, despite the fact that they are artistically sterile (describing their inner lives is basically a demonstration of how easy and stupid snark really is) and of course commercially only workable if they turn out to have hearts of gold (but would have been more interesting if they'd either displayed them from the first, or had a heart of hollow tin but still done the right thing).

2. There was a generation, now in its twenties and early thirties, that really didn't get the mystery reading habit, and mysteries died for a while.  (Judging by the number of successful YA mysteries, this is going to reverse with a kerPOW in the next few years).  Mysteries were always the quintessential immersive (as in, you mentally move into the landscape of the book) reading experience, but mystery writer friends tell me that in the last few decades, editors tended to push a get-to-the-action agenda; they really wanted thrillers more than mysteries.  (Technical difference: in a thriller you and the hero know who's going to try to do it, and the book is as much about foiling the criminals as catching them; in a mystery you and the hero don't know who did it, and the book is oriented to catching.  Thrillers are like pingpong, mysteries are more like hide and go seek or scavenger hunts).  Yet the younger readers -- and by that I mean under 35 -- are the Harry Potter and Twilight generation, and those are immersive if any fiction is.  And immersion demands a certain slowness -- you're halfway through the first Harry Potter book before you really get any idea what's going on other than "cool stuff," and further than that in Twilight before it's more than atmosphere.  
Or am I just rationalizing my slow-starting mystery?