Walking Through Novel-Writing: The Next Step


Hi, everyone, thanks for being back for the next part of this novel-writing walkthrough. You remember last time my leads had gone off down the wrong street. It’s so hard to keep a book on track when the characters drift off like that. Plus, there’s the risk of them doing something that a reader knows is wrong, and the reader then tweets something snotty about you. So what, you say? Well, how do you know that the tweet isn’t going to go viral? And you aren’t going to wake up one day underneath an Internet Dogpile of people mocking your naivete? The public pressure grows until the publisher recalls and pulps every copy of your book, and then goes after you for the money. You’re left with no choice but to escape your home, leaving behind all your loved ones and all the belongings that don’t fit in your cargo pants. And you have to flee to some obscure Canadian province where you eke out a bare living by working as an off-season basketball hoop. Then things get dire the second day.

But. Here’s how I’m going to double down and turn this accident into bonus points. See that? Second lead mentions how, you know, this is the part of town where Jonathan Lethem set most of Chronic City. Main lead didn’t know that but admits he never read it. Second lead reflects how he never read it either, he just heard this was the area. They shrug and get going back to where they should’ve been. Little detour is good for, like, 125 points total.

Why? First the obvious stuff. I get to mention a more popular author’s book, but not in any way that makes me look envious or sour. Readers who’ve heard of him now know I heard of him too, and they like me more because they figure we’ve got stuff in common. Even if they hate Lethem, that’s OK, because I point out the characters didn’t read him. More subtly, now, the story looks like I’ve used its specific setting. Major bonus in making the events feel grounded in reality. I get that even though if you look you realize I haven’t actually referred to any real details.

And if I have the reference wrong, I have a built-in excuse right there in text for getting it wrong. Even the most hostile reader has to agree, characters can get wrong details about books they haven’t read. Doesn’t say anything about what I screw up. Finally, having them talk about a book they haven’t read makes an echo of their talking about quantum mechanics they don’t understand. Almost nobody reading it going to pick up on that. But it adds this nice extra underpinning of security to the story.

You know, I bet this is all good for up to 150 points. Well, that depends on your scoring system. I use the one I’ve always used, some algorithm that was built into emacs back in Like 1994, because it’s too hard to learn another. Some madman exported it to a separate PHP script in 2002 and I’ve been using that ever since. And yeah, there’s this patch that’s supposed to let you use the 2009 revisions to standard story scoring but I’ve never gotten it to work reliably. You can score by whatever your word processor uses, or a web site if you’re doing this competitively. I mean my points and that’s enough for me.

So we’re getting near the end of this installment. Before I go, the Comment of the Week is a special one. In subthread BlooPencil had the happy discovery that Cat Rambo is a well-regarded editor and writer of science fiction and not a novelty tumblr full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. I want to thank everyone for whimsical comments on that. And for the novelty tumblr you put together full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. That’s the sort of loving and creative community everyone wants the Internet to be for. Keep it up, gang.


About The Author: Though he has never had any work produced in the movie or television industries, Joseph Nebus has seen aquarium animals with names that are compatible with their being Arrested Development references.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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