As some of you know, I am taking a brief break from social media due to Lent. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or… gasp… watching any TV or movies for 40 days. Well, technically 46, but who’s counting? (I am, I am counting each and every day.)
This fasting has obvious and specific religious implications which you may or may not share, but it also has had some fairly odd side effects for my writing. Specifically, I have been able to read so much. I’m up to five novels thus far. I had a dozen more that I might be able to get through, assuming my budget allows. But beyond that, I have been able to really study my own writing in a more objective sense. That sounds arrogant but I have been attempting to ask myself exactly what I lean on and where I am weakest. I finished Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series. It’s a fantastic series, really, even though the ending was a theological train wreck. I still love Dean, I still love Odd, and I think there are few characters I have ever enjoyed following more. That said, I noticed a few things about Dean I consider moderate weak places and great heaping strengths.
His weakness, if I an unagented, unpublished peon of a writer might venture to say so, is that he makes big assumptions about what his readers know or don’t know. The Odd Thomas books could have filled in a few more key details for me. Did I/Do I love them? Absolutely. But I think there are big things that needed to be said that he never did.
His strength, if I an unabashed fan and excited hand-clapper might also say so, is that I don’t think anyone can touch him with regard to writing an endearing character. He can make you love a character in five words. And can make you connect to them so effortlessly that I just stand in awe of it, at times.
So this sort of critique led me to examining my own work and I came upon some odd things I think are definite weaknesses and maybe, possibly, some pretty okay strengths.
My weakness is often that I rely on the twist, the shock, the reveal a little too much. In terms of one of my favorite quotes,
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course…it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.
I tend to lean heavy on The Turn. I want you to marvel at the oddity so I tend to blast you with shock and wonder at something. And this isn’t the worst thing, but it’s definitely where I see myself falling short. Because I tend to structure my stories as 10% Pledge, 80% Turn, and 10% Prestige. And no, not all stories have to split it evenly, but I think my writing often sufffers because I feel scared in the Pledge and the Prestige. I am comfortable in the Turn because I feel strength in showing you the strange, the unusual. But when it comes to setting up the beginning and ending? I suffer from a too quick, too shallow sort of malady.
My strength, if I have one, is probably voices. Once I hear one of my characters speak, really hear them (no I am not insane(that’s just what an insane person would say)shut up) I could write you an encyclopedia in their voice. I could tell you what they ate for breakfast and how they felt about it and what kind of shoes they like.
So what I am trying to work on, right now, is the Pledge of a new book without rushing into the Turn. I want to build it, slow and easy-like, and when the Turn comes I want it to pack such a punch. And I want it to pack that punch for exactly the right amount of time. I don’t want my readers weary of it. I want them gasping, but able to catch their breath.
So that’s what I am working on. How about you?