Sunday, January 02, 2011

Overwriting--and a reason to sleep

Today was the Festival of Sleep. I'm not sure where I learned this, newspaper or internet, but  I had already put it to good use by sleeping really late. No Jacob to worry about. I fed the cat about 6:30 this morning and threatened him if he bothered me before 8:30--he didn't. And then this afternoon I crawled in bed for a good long nap. I'm sort of a dozer--I get warm and comfy in bed and can stay there a long time, my mind drifting in and out of light sleep, telling stories in my head, figuring out things that worry me, and reliving certain recent happenings.
One of the things I thought about today, while dozing, was the mystery I finished reading today. Once again, I'm learning by seeing what I don't thinks works in books by other authors. I liked a lot about this book--the setting (including a Jewish deli with all that good food), the protagonist who was spunky and determined, and the mystery, though I identified the murderer fairly early on. But I didn't think the author was in control of the characters. Ralph Waldo Emerson may have thought "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" but I think fictional characters have to be consistent, that is remain true to their character. And the characters here were all over the place--one minute despising someone and the next minute cozying up to them. The action began to seem like  ball of yarn that had become unrolled and tangled. Most fiction authors will tell you to listen to your characters and they'll tell you where the book is going, but you have to ask yourself the question, "Would the character I created really do this?"
Since I finished editing Skeleton in a Dead Space last week and was mentally in the world of Kelly O'Connell I decided to stay there--that would be the Fairmount neighborhood of Fort Worth and the imaginary characters I've peopled it with. So I began editing the rough draft of the sequel, No Neighborhood for Old Women. One thing I'm noticing about my writing is overwriting, and blog readers may notice it too. But as I edit, I delete lots of words--the word "very" is never needed, phrases such as "I semed to think" become "I thought."  That verbal garbage creeps in when you write quickly, trying to get action and thought on the page. First edit is a time to make your words lean and spare and match the action to that, while keeping suspense up (no mean trick).
This time I'm making an outline, chapter by chapter, as I go. For one thing I discovered characters for whom I staged a wedding later in the book were already married by the first chapter. But you know what? I'm having fun!

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