Saturday, March 13, 2010

Simmering a Book in a Year w/setbacks & backdrops & Dialoguing It

We're not going to allow a few setbacks to cripple us; we must talk to ourselves...keep up positive feedback to that portion of the artistic mind that says we are frauds and that any day now, somone is going to call us out for our fradulent behavior.  Yes, I get this nag in my head just like you do, and I have written over fifty novels, a goodly number of which have pleased people out in the world. Even so, I am bombarded often with nagging questions such as "Who do you think you are anyway?  Are you that arrogant that you presuppose anyone or someone out there will want to read anything you have to say?"  I have to fight back such negatives of course.

Then such is compounded by foolishness as in LOSING 75 pages of polished work (as I polish a scene before I go much further along).  I got tired of trying to recoup the pages from my PC and opened an earlier rough version, and so started from page one on rewriting AGAIN...polishing once more the apple. I typically nowadays use this process -- reread up to where I am, write the next scenes, say one to three, maybe another chapter or two, and then I go back and rewrite and polish. As a younger upstart, I just rammed through and raced to the end to get the whole manuscript out of my head at once and then put it aside for a time and then begin rewriting this stack of papers, as I would print it out. But more and more, over the years, I began this parobala approach - two chapters, go back, rewrite to four, go back, rewrite to six, go back, etc.  It works for me these days. The bad news is I am behind time-wise and page number-wise at pg. 50 rather than 75 and am still facing dredging up twenty five pages from my memory bnaks.  That is my next job.

However, the setback has had a silver lining or two.  In forcing me to rewrite and polish again, I located a better center of gravity for each of the various settiing both the Past story and the Present story require. While the ship Titanic itself with its splendor will be the main, primary setting, requiring a great deal of reseach and thought, there are also several minor sets from staterooms to mine shafts and shipyards; same in the case of the Present story, while research salvage ship Scorpio is the primary set, a number of other sets come into play like the busy galley, the cramped quarters for the dive team, the submersible later, and the pancaked in on itself interior of Titanic in 2020.  So I was reminded that even minor sets require that there be an intimate interplay between them and the characters who stand out before these backdrops and that the research and backdrops cannot be allowed to overwhelm the characters and the human story out front and center stage.

But even more of a gift or Phoenix from the foul error and stench of flames!  OK, sorry for the drama....but out of the loss of pages, I was also reminded in having to go back to page one and rewrite from there how very important that I steal as many "lines" as I possibly can from the 'omniscient' voice of the narrator and put those lines into the mouths of characters or into the minds of charcters as thoughts, or smells, or tastes, or touch.  To in effect stop the lazy writing of letting the narrator do all the heavy lifting and turn it over to your characters. Let them do their own walking, their own thinking, their own talking and sniffing and kissing and caressing.  Rather than have a narrator tell the reader that David caressed the iron derek, his eyes filling with a sense of admiration at the power of this ship, SHOW David doing the caressing and have David speak his mind by putting another character on deck beside him.

BESTest way for me to illustrate what I call "Dialoguing It" (it being narrative prose/snore time) below find the initial writing so filled with narrative followed by the self-same scene but "Dialogued" instead.  Showin' rather than Tellin' if you will.  As you read each scene, notice how once you get to dialoguing and showing, more characters come into play, more action occurs, more character is revealed, and the story is moved along with a great deal more visual components and use of the five senses.  Here are the two sample examples from PlaugeShip Titanic:

THE REWRITE using Dialoguing It:

Buckland and the five other divers, including Dr. Irvin, reported to the tough-minded, former naval captain, Lou Swigart, head of the team on Scorpio. It’d been Swigart who had hand-picked David from hundreds of applicants for this mission. David had been told early on by Lou, some fifteen years his senior, that there would be no headline grabbing crap as he put it then. Lou didn’t mind repeating it for the group now where they sat in a cramped operations room.


“Nothing in the way of news or reports is going out to the press about this mission to Titanic; that means nothing about you either—no interviews, no phone calls—nothing. Consider it top secret. Got it”

Lou, a big man, filled the space where he stood beside a lectern. “Nothing said that isn’t cleared by the Woods Hole Institute PR machine. I put it to you now…simple and direct: There’ll be no freaking headline-grabbing cowboys here" He paused, taking them all in. "Not on my dive team!” He’d warmed to it, pacing now, adding, “It’s a purely scientific and salvage operation this…this expedition, ladies, gents…and so to the scientists go the spoils—whatever’s dredged out of the belly of the wreck down there. But make no bones about it, the entire structure is unstable, and what we’re proposing…well it could easily—easily turn into a suicide mission. You need to know that going in, and if any one of you decides this morning it is time to back out, your replacement is waiting in the wings to be flown out by chopper once we’re at sea, understood?”

“I do…completely, sir,” Buckland replied, feeling certain that Lou was talking about him the entire time thanks to the press that he and National Geographic had gotten on the botched salvage operation in the Sea of Japan. Despite Buckland’s opinion to not air the program, the producers had overruled him and other divers who felt as David did that it should not air on network TV, given the dire turn it had taken, costing Wilcox—who figured heavily in the program—his life.

“You don’t go into this thinking you have something to prove, people,” continued Swigart, ignoring Buckland. “This is now, and it’s hardly the Sea of Japan. Trust me, these are great depths we’ll be working at, beyond anything anyone has ever accomplished before—the real reason I suspect you’re all here, willingly…” He let this sink in before adding,“And this series of dives will prove the new technology right or wrong.”

“In other words,” said Will Bowman, grinning, “live or die.”

The room erupted in a quiet chorus of murmurs.

“I need the bread, Lou,” said Buckland. “Not here to prove anything to anyone.”


NOW here is the same scene BEFORE Dialoguing It -- wherein the narrator gets all the lines:

Buckland reported to the tough-minded, former naval captain, Lou Swigart, head of the dive team overall on Scorpio. It’d been Swigart who had hand-picked David from hundreds of applicants for this mission. David had been told by Lou, some fifteen years his senior, that there would be no headlines going out about this mission to Titanic that were not cleared by the Woods Hole Institute PR machine. That there would be no headline-grabbing cowboys here. “Not by my dive team!” he had shouted. “It’s a purely scientific and salvage operation this…this expedition, Dave, and to the scientists go the spoils—whatever’s dredged out of the belly of that beast down there. But make no bones about it, the entire structure is unstable and what we’re proposing…well it could easily—easily turn into a suicide mission, you understand?”


“I do…completely.”

“You don’t go into this thinking you have something to prove, Dave. This is now, and it’s hardly the Sea of Japan.”

“I need the bread, Lou. I signed on for the hundred thou.”

The rewrite using more Show and less Tell will be longer, more fleshed out, understandably so.  True I changed the scene from one of a private meeting between David and Lou, but in rethinking the scene it demanded that Lou meet and say these things to all his divers at once at this tine as they ar about to set sail for the shipwreck.

That's what thinking in terms of dialoguing the moment, allowing characters to state things and feel things as opposed to getting it from a faceless narrator does--makes the scene!  Makes it work because the author has put far more effort into it. I am floored when I see bestselling novels chockfull of Telling, a lazy man's method and quite often it is a dyed-in-the-wool professional tired of his job same as you might have a burned out teacher tired of the job and ought to step off, reflect, seek out something else to do and not cause the suffering of others as in students or readers as the case may be. How often do readers, not sure why or how but they know Author X has lost that flare s/he had in the early books in a series but gone in the later books?  This is the problem--allowing the Telling, Narratives to stand whether than doing the back-breaking work of fleshing them out and allowing the play to go forward without the chorus in the corner (or the Wizard behind the curtain coming on stage) and Blatantly Telling us what to think.  It is a lazy man's method, a lazy author at work--and all of us are given over to it as our brains just want to take the path of least resistance, which is TELL the story.  Show the story, now that takes pick and shovel.

Thanks for dropping in and hanging with me as I write PlagueShip.  I have gathered in a number of alternative titles and the contest continues until end of March.  Get your suggetion in by simply commenting here.

Rob Walker
PS - my highly acclaimed Instinct titles are going up as Kindle books this month beginning with Dr. Jessica Coran's first FBI ME case - Killer Instinct.

4 comments:

Debra St. John said...

What a bummer to have lost those pages, but I'm sure what you come up to replace them will be even better.

Great post on the dialogue. It really strengthens a scene.

Seriously, can't wait for this book!

Morgan Mandel said...

Yikes, better start emailing your manuscript to yourself every day you work on it, but sounds like you'll have a stronger manuscript anyway.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

P.A.Brown said...

I suggest: Fatal Voyage or Deadly Fate

Rob Walker said...

I will put Fatal Voyage and Deadly Fate into the hopper and thanks PA Brown for your suggestions. Contest goes on thru March....one more week. Everyone is on the Short List as it is SHORT....

rob