January submission: Done!
- 2,700 wds. long
Sent out two copies of my picture book manuscript today. This means I have fulfilled my "one submission a month" requirement for January. Nyah.
I'm very pleased with the latest rewrite--the story's a lot tighter now, all extraneous elements removed, each remaining Thing tying setup and ending together in a neat little bow. OK, well, it's probably not that perfect. I can think of one Thing still in it that serves no purpose except 1) to establish the main character's physical setting in a "Damn That Television" sort of way, and 2) to establish a Saturday morning routine for the family. But I do think a certain amount of extraneous detail of this sort is necessary; otherwise, your characters might as well be floating in front of a blue screen.
What do I mean by "Damn That Television"? Well, it happens to be the first line of a Talking Heads song, and it got stuck in my brain after reading a forum post by James D. McDonald. Who's he? He's the "Uncle Jim" of "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim" fame. The forum post I'm thinking of addresses the issue of Point of View, and quotes an instructive article by Rob Killheffer. (Notice that the link in the AbsoluteWrite.com forum post no longer works; the article had moved sometime since December 2003. My link does work. Please click on it.)
Here's the relevant excerpt:
Interlude: The Voyeur CameraIn my picture book, the main character wakes up from her dream and takes in her surroundings. While the sensory data is relayed in a manner true to third person limited point of view, my conviction that the data is needed probably comes in part from a cinemagraphic visualization of the scene. Sunlight: check! Breakfast smells: check! Saturday morning cartoons audible in the distance: check! But there's only so far, I think, that you can push the rule of "everything must serve the plot." These details might not actually serve the plot, but they do establishing setting, and they do it from the main character's point of view rather than from the camera-eye perspective decried by Mr. Killheffer. I can only hope that my prospective publishers (cross your fingers for me) agree.
It’s television’s fault. Television and movies. Visual media. In so many of these indie publications the narrative point of view slides around like a hot rock on ice, and observations intrude without any clear viewpoint at all. Consider this, from Thoughtmaster: "a skeletal face…whose shifting features left the viewer confused." What viewer? Or this: "The voice was surprisingly strong from such a diaphanous figure." Surprising to whom? Surely not to the only other person in the scene, who knows the speaker well.
These writers’ imaginations have been shaped by visual storytelling, in which there’s always an implied viewpoint — that of the audience, the camera, the peeping lens. They conceive their scenes as if they’re presented on a screen, and when they commit their prose, the camera remains, lurking outside the frame.
There’s no other explanation for scene shifts like those in Exile. As Jeff Friedrick and his pal Carl leave the bar where they’ve met, we’re told: "At the bar, a man turned his head and watched them go. He was tall, and a brief flare of light revealed reddish hair. Before the spotlight moved on, odd points of light deep in green eyes gave the impression of motion.…" Gave the impression to whom? The viewing protocols of film and television help us make sense of it: The two men who have been the focus of the scene get up and head for the door, and the camera pans aside to settle on this watcher. His reddish hair is "revealed" to us, the audience. We’re the ones who receive the "impression of motion." It’s as if, in these moments, the authors are not crafting prose but working out a screenplay. I recall the oldest and most basic advice offered to the aspiring writer: Read! Read! And read some more! If you want to write a novel, don’t draw your skills from the big — or the small — screen.
In other news, if you can read this, it's because I've finally gotten around to making my blog less NaNoWriMocentric. From here on out, this is my writing blog. I'm allowed to talk about stuff what ain't a November novel now, and I will, dang it! And there's nothing you can do to stop me! Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaaa!