Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Specificity

In writing one decision that the writer has to make is how specific to be on something. There are people who hate specificity with the heat of a mainstream star of O9 classification. (The heat of a million suns.)

This topic came up when someone looked over my book where a plot point had the Nazis trying to crack the human genome with the latest Hollerith Tabulating machines. I took the speed of the machine and the number of calculations it would have to do and came up with the time, 3 trillion years. Instead of saying 3 trillion years it was suggested that I just mention it would take longer than my character wanted.

Naturally after doing the calculations to find out how long it would take I wanted to leave the result in there. But I also looked at it from the reader's side. Anything over 50 years was too long, so the exact number didn't matter to the plot. However, when I read science fiction I like it when there is a grounding in real math.

I ended up compromising and having the Nazi tell my character that it would take a long time, and my character responded, “According to my people longer than the life of the sun.” Most people can't really grasp the difference between 5 billion years and 3 trillion years. It is still an awful long time.

I'm wondering how do you feel about specificity in fiction?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The dreaded Sixth book

I've heard a few writers talking about “problem” books. The big problem book is the second one. Most writers never finish their second novel. I didn't. Mine was about a half-vampire who didn't know his wife was a werewolf. I took everything I learned from writing my first novel and made a horrible mess of 15,000 words (the entire first and second act).

The next problem book is the sixth. After writing five novels the sixth one should be easy, right? Nope. It's just as hard as the others. Harder in fact, as now you should know what you are doing and there should be a higher good to crap ratio. But there isn't.

You also think about all problems in your other books. One of the problems with my books is depth. In all my books a change in one chapter means going back and changing five other chapters. It's a pain when it comes to editing. It's a style I like and want to keep, but I run the risk of each novel becoming more and more complex.

Even AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR which is a light comedy had this problem.

So for my sixth novel I turned back to my martial arts training.

A big problem in martial arts is as you learn more and more complex sets of skills that build on each other, you hit a wall and try as you might you just can't learn the next set. The problem isn't that the next set of skills is any harder to learn, but any flaws in your basic skills are amplified so much that they drag you down.

The solution is to go back to the basics and hone the skills you thought you had down pat, then try again. It is totally amazing how easy the advanced stuff becomes after doing that.

So for the novel I've been working on for the last 10 days, I've gone back to the basics. It has a very simple 3 part plot. The characters have very simple clear motivations. Everything moves forward naturally in a linear order. As simple a book as I can write.

It's strangely liberating writing this way. Knowing that if a reviewer says, “The book is simple and unoriginal...” I can say, “Thank you, that was what I was going for.”

The only thing I want this new novel to be is enjoyable and entertaining. I'll use the conversation from MIND THIEF when Howie and Vivian go on their first date to sum it up:

“Shall we.” Howie held out his arm.

“This just might be enjoyable.”

“Nice vote of confidence,” Howie said.

“Would you rather I had impossible to reach expectations?”

“No, I’ll shoot for enjoyable.” He laughed.