I’ve been writing for fifteen years. Since I was thirteen. My first story was Animorphs, Dinotopia, Power Rangers fanfics. Don’t laugh. They were perfect daydream fodder. I moved up to slightly less fanfic-ish “group of five friends with superpowers” writing, which was a big milestone for me because my writing turned serious. I evolved then into a scifi about a boy “coming of age” (and watching the world end, emo-style), then devolved into a high fantasy with 250 main characters. It stretched into seven books, then fifteen, then I stoppped the project(s).
Went to college and dabbled in poetry. Went to college a second time and turned into a “BS machine” and wrote some of the most syrupy-slow introspective “fantasy” I’ve ever written.
I spent so much time desperate to get everything right, from square one, I forgot about the story. What everyone teaches you in college about writing, what everyone shows you as “Good writing” like Faulkner and Rilke and Shakespeare and Joyce and Morrison and Adams, is an end result.
I slathered over Faulkner. One of the few in my advanced writing class, actually. Even academic writers hate Faulkner. In many ways the education system taught me to write in reverse to how these greats ended up: go big. Learn as much as you can. Then simplify. I learned about sentence structure and all the punctuation marks and everything from tildes to elipses and I ended with a dearth of knowledge.
Dearth, yes. See that’s the problem. When learning all you want, you end up looking at a word and asking yourself, is this right? You spend precious minutes distilling the words to make everything as succinct and/or poetic and/or complex as possible. After all that training, after I’ve forgotten half of what I learned, I come to this keyboard a different person. It’s like, in a distant way, you learn all the possible ways to kill a man with your bare hands, but don’t know how to get your hands to where they need to be.
David and His Shade was supposed to be a novel of fundamentals. My writing has always been a kind of inaccessible to the general audience because of my complexity (or as my brother calls it, “poetic license;” as my wife calls it, “psychoanalysis crap;” as the average joe calls it, “slow going”).
Broad strokes. I read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and, somewhere between his collecting religious stories and developing a legendary everyman, something clicked. Broad strokes.
Nobody taught me that. Nobody sat me down and said, “you can write a boring day about a character in a sentence or two. You don’t need to have him gaining insight.”
It sounds dumb as hell. Maybe I knew this back when I wrote my first non-fanfic. It read fast, aggressive, and I left out all the pointless crap about school studies and the like, unless it was important. I don’t know this now. I picked up some dumb habits along the way to writing like Faulkner.
Don’t be afraid to write away the slow spots. In fact, don’t be afraid to write away some of the fast spots. It makes the reader work in a way the reader likes.
Two beta readers (one of which is a professional editor/journalist) told me DaHS is slow because of my MC’s “insights.” He talks about otherwise pointless stuff the reader would collect without a thought. Symbols and the like. He tries explaining, through florid prose, things he sees as important. I apparently don’t give the reader enough benefit.
The reason I say this is I decided to copy Rothfuss’ writing style and simply speed through days and weeks of a character’s life, only slowing down to reference important conversations, or encounters. It’s my latest project, a project I’ve dubbed Acorn King Revisited, or AKR (it’s set in the same universe as my previously stated syrupy-slow fantasy). The editor read my second try at a story and said she nearly told everyone around her to shut up because she enjoyed the read. It’s a good thing. I might finally be on the right path.
I’ll return to edit DaHS, and even though I thought it was a finished product, it’s far from done. It needs a facelift. Characters need to talk differently, and my MC needs to stop caring about every leaf of grass that blows sideways to the wind.
Broad strokes. How’d I miss that?