Monday, July 30, 2007

I Can Always Fix It Later

When I set out to write my first published novel, China Mountain Zhang, I had a couple of things in mind. I wanted to leave out all the boring parts of my writing--the to-ing and fro-ing, the novel equivalent of standing in line. The result of this is that I would leapfrog entire chunks of Zhang's life. He had a job in China, a kind of internship during his schooling, and then bam, next time we see him he has been back in New York for several months, meaning that he finished his internship, traveled back home, got in touch with his family (who we never much see except for one brief lunch with his mother) found a place to live, yadda yadda.

I think there was a lot of merit in that approach, even though my fourth novel is pretty much about all the things that I just described as skipping in my first novel. But the impulse behind that was the attempt to respect the first law of novel writing, Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader. As I am thrashing my way through the chapter I am writing right now, I have just spent several pages getting one of the characters up the driveway and into the house. In ten pages she has come inside, smoked an illicit cigarette in a bathroom of the house of her ex-husband, and after those ten pages, she has just said good morning to her teen-aged daughter who she hasn't seen in a couple of years.

This could be really important and compelling build-up, or it could be navel gazing. It's been really valuable to me, as I worm my way into this woman's skin. But that doesn't mean it won't bore the reader.

So, I figure I can drop back to my personal rule for how to get through a draft. I can always fix it later. I'll make a comment in the text asking myself to review this when I get to the next draft. And if it feels too slow, I can always edit it way back, right? It's just, sometimes I don't know if I can trust myself to throw stuff out.


Blogger tinatsu said...

You know, I was pretty sure that you once told Shawn in class not to worry about boring the reader and to trust that they'll follow you along. (There may have been a caveat that you had to sound like you knew what you were doing.) Am I misremembering that? ;-)

July 30, 2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

A case of physician heal thyself?

On the other hand, a doctor who treats oneself has a fool for a patient.

July 30, 2007 5:07 PM  
Blogger Carleen Brice said...

This is a great reminder. Thank you!

July 31, 2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger Responsible Artist said...

I'm capable of writing some boring parts and the idea that I can always fix it later is what keeps me from writing stuff only my mother would read (instead, I write stuff she never reads).

August 02, 2007 1:35 AM  
Blogger mary grimm said...

I think you should make a dot on your novel-writing line for "I can always fix it later"--it's an essential writerly technique.
I'm afraid that my characters often spend a lot of time looking out the window or putting the groceries away or driving, especially driving, which I then have to go in and hack out.
OF course, we can always keep Harold Brodkey in mind, who spends I think 50 or 60 pp in one story describing one orgasm. You can be the HB of SF.

August 03, 2007 12:14 PM  
Blogger Shon Richards said...

I put this graph as my wallpaper on my computer till I got out of my writing slump. It worked like a charm.

August 22, 2007 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved your diagram. I always get stuck at the "it sucks and it's boring' part, I guess you just have to work through them

David Wyatt

August 29, 2007 10:48 PM  
Blogger Jim Van Pelt said...

This is hysterical and right on!

August 28, 2009 11:09 AM  

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