Monday, 12 February 2007


The second pass edit of my ss entry is complete. It rests at precisely 1,500 words. I need to find out whether a title will be included in the word count. Or, how about if I call it 'Untitled'? ;o)
I'm very happy with it, and with the lessons it has taught me. I'm finding it easier and easier to refine my sentences and to throw away sentences that I have laboured over.
I've succeeded in keeping the emotions in place, perhaps even sharpening them with concentrated wordages.
Most important of all, I enjoy reading it.
Can you imagine the thrill of that?
Furthermore, I recently read my previous ms through (my second novel, a fantasy, in its uncompleted state) and enjoyed that too!
All good stuff!
So here's the rub.
I dipped back into my current ms at the week end. I found myself skim-reading, even missing out whole paragraphs. What does that tell me?
It tells me that it is dull. It is boring.
And then my seven-year-old son has this random idea for a level on a computer game (that he hopes to make some day):

A race of invisible creatures live on this planet. These creatures love noise, and they've made a machine that creates tornados. The tornados, naturally, upset the other inhabitants of the planet. These inhabitants capture the machine and turn it upside-down and the tornados are sucked inside along with the invisible creatures.

Indeed, it was my son's idea of a man with a long beard that stretches round the world to kiss the man's wife that inspired my winning ss!

I've realized that I've lost something along the way.
But what?

I've been fighting against this idea of cheap suspense.
For example, I was recently discussing Michelle Paver's hugely successful Wolf Brother over on Litopia. Peter Cox (her agent) uses this book to demonstrate multiple crises in an opening chapter. But I always felt that these cheapened the work somehow - that Torak's fever which peaks at the end of chapter one but has vanished and is forgotten by the end of chapter two, is rather throwaway.
This morning, a friend was telling me how he has started watching Lost again. He has missed ten episodes, but he found ingress to the plot easy enough. But he no longer enjoys Lost. He gave the polar bear as an example for this loss of interest: A polar bear threatens the survivors, but then vanishes and is replaced with some new peril or another. A cheap trick?
I've also been considering Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Murakami opens suspense threads like a child might open Christmas presents. In the first page, a mystery caller phones the protag. She phones several times throughout the novel, but we never discover her identity. She just stops phoning. Indeed, Murakami opens suspense threads on a whim, but so many of them remain open - unresolved - by the novel's end.
I discussed this a good while back with a fellow lecturer - one of Murakami's army of ardent fans. The lecturer had not noticed all of these unresolved threads. They did not concern him.

Consider Torey Hayden's Ghost Girl [spoiler alert].
The mystery of Jade's abuse is never solved. Torey admits in a post-script that her publisher asked her to provide some sort of resolution for the reader. Torey rewrote this resolution some five or six times before her publisher was appeased. Ghost Girl is a true story. Torey could not/would not invent an ending simply to provide the reader with a resolution. Instead, she offers little closure by way of conjecture.
I was so unfulfilled on closing that book that I sought answers. I discovered that Torey has a discussion board and I looked for answers there. Moreover, many readers had felt this same desire for closure and had also found their way to Torey's forums.
Whilst I ripped through Ghost Girl perhaps faster than I have read any other book, I am unlikely to put myself through that again and have yet to pick up another of her novels.

I'm reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas at the moment. I gotta say, I'm struggling.
David provides the reader with a steady stream of, what are often referred to as cookies or gold coins or candy store/bar moments. There's a Doctor collecting the teeth that remain from Cannibals' feasts, and there's a public flogging.
But the language is too dense for me: I feel that David is afraid to use the same word more than once. Teeth, gnashers, dentures ...
Hemingway taught me that repetition is okay. The right word is the right word - the mot juste.
With each difficult word, the reader is tugged a little from their suspension of disbelief.
Considering the mountain lake in my ss, I felt the urge to replace the words 'mountain lake' with 'tarn'. A tarn is a mountain lake. But, the introduction of a difficult word (or, if you prefer, a less easy word) would do me no favours. Moreover, if I consider that the protag in my ss is a young girl, therefore I am forced to use simple words, and compare this with the erudite protag of my current ms, I can see a large contributing factor to my skim-reading. Part of my ss's appeal is that it offers nothing to cause the reader to leave, whilst drowning in a thick river of gold coins that invite the reader to stay.
NB. I counted five difficult words in Kate Grenville's superb The Secret River. She plays with language, but it is a familiar language.

For my ms to work, I am going to need to reinvent Corus. I am going to need to tone down the erudition. I am going to need to add more gold coins, and if they are unresolved, then so-be-it, although I will do all I can to make them natural.
In the meantime, however, I am thinking of returning to my second ms: it only needs a few weeks worth of work in order to get it up to send-outable standard (IMVHO).

My thoughts on resolutions are unresolved, but I am erring towards the power of gold coins over resolution.

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