One of my favorite poems is Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar.” I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately for several reasons, and it’s just occurred to me that it might be a great metaphor for teaching the impact of identity in characterization. It’s such a slippery concept, and I’ve never thought I was particularly good at getting it across, but then I recently went back to the poem for the reasons and thought, “Oh, it’s right there.” So let’s try this again (waving to McDaniel students).
Last night I made stirfry because I had a bunch of food that was about to go south, and you can put anything in stirfry. So I did. It’s not bad–just had some for lunch–because it turns out if you pour enough tamari and sesame oil and garlic on vegetables, they always taste good. But it was lacking direction. There’s so much stuff in there that I just added chow mien noodles and concentrated on the tamari and the crunch. I mean, it has to be healthy–green beans, peas, mushrooms,bok choy, celery, scallions, half a tomato left over from my sandwich, garlic–but there wasn’t any there there. I’m thinking that’s what happened with the first draft of Nita.
I am wondering where the word count requirements originate. Is that an industry standard? Is it what you yourself have developed as the best structure? A mix of the two?
A mix of the two.
Word count is usually stipulated in the contract. In this case, my contract says 100,000 words, which is my natural length anyway. Legally I can go 10,000 words either side of that, so 90,000 to 110,000, although as I remember Fast Women was 116,000.
The act counts are mine because I write in acts to arc the plot. And because I want the plot to escalate, I try to make sure each act is shorter than the last one so that the turning points/big moments come faster together as the plot progresses. That’s just my thing, nothing contractural.
Here’s the problem with Act Two: It’s 45,000 words long. Even with allowing it to go to 30,000 (usually my second and third acts are within spitting distance of 25,000) that’s still 15,000 words I have to cut. That’s sixty to seventy pages. That is not something you can do by just dropping scenes. That’s rewriting. And because a book is like a machine full of cogs, every time you delete/change/add a new scene, another cog in the book moves somewhere and changes something else. Acts One, Three, and Four are in good enough shape that once I get Two done, I just have to read from the beginning and find out where all the cogs slipped in the rewrite. But Act Two is being a PITA, so I must go in and rewrite now. (You can stop reading now because the rest of this is just a description of what I’m doing, mostly so I stay on track. Do not expect brilliance.)
This outtake used to be a lot longer, Then I cut it down. Now it’s out. I don’t think we’re gonna miss it since (a) it’s not very good writing and (b) it’s kind of all over the place. So 6500 words down (I cut some other stuff besides this), 8500 to go on Act Two. (Acts One, Three, and Four are done). Argh. Continue reading
One of the things that happens as I work on a final draft is making notes about the little stuff, like Button pushing her glasses up her nose in Act One and Two and then not again. It’s not major rewrite, just making sure that I hit everything I’ve set up, repeat motifs, that sort of thing. So I use sticky notes on my desktop (all virtual) and at the end, where I am now, I go back and try to make sense of them. Most of the time, I can, but there are always a few puzzlers. So in the interests of getting a Monday blog post up here, here are some of the notes I’ll be processing this afternoon. I’ll be finding them stuck all over the place and on pieces of paper strewn through out the house, but for now it’s this. Talk about whatever you want in the comments. Have a nice Monday!
Have another Max and Button outtake where they do nothing to move the plot or their subplot or develop character or do anything of worth or note. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, but let’s look at the glass half full: It’s a blog post:Continue reading
I’m spending too much time having fun with Max and Button. and not moving the story. So this scene has to go because it does absolutely nothing to advance the plot. Here you go, Argh, have an outtake from Act Three, which I am pleased to say is now 29,000 words which is close enough to the length I need. This scene died in a good cause.:
Krissie has gone home and I’m talking to the dogs again, but for five days. we talked books, mostly our work-in-progress books. We’d read drafts of each other’s books so we knew enough about them to talk about them, and we discussed different problematical aspects of each WiP, arguing over some points (she was right on some, I was right on others, bless Google how did we ever work without it?) and taking apart some ideas. It was tremendously helpful and now we have to get to final rewrites.Continue reading
I’ve finally got Nita’s soundtrack down and realized that I soundtrack in acts and arcs, too. The first pass (discovery soundtrack?) is just songs that seem to fit, not sure where or why, so there are usually a couple of dozen. But the more I zero in on the characters and the plot, the more songs fall off the list, and I start looking at what’s left in terms of character and plot arc.Continue reading