My apologies for being so absent these days. I have been revising my novel Lord Nomad: Beyond Paradise, and it’s been quite the journey. My friend Jasmine suggested I post what I learn as I work toward finishing a good working draft by the end of the summer.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot of about rules and how they apply to writing. I went through a period of obsession with game design recently and designed a space invaders game using the platform Stencyl. This led me to explore coding in general and how rules dictate our entire web universe. If your user clicks this then do this.
The same could be said about writing. One of my creative writing teachers once said, “Just give yourself some rules and then write.” When he said that, I had scoffed at his empty sounding professorial remark, but there is a lot of truth to it. You need rules to order that chaotic, creative muse. She is like a rebellious young child, full energy but with little direction.
One of the big weaknesses I find in the first draft of my novel is the erratic shifting of voice. Sometimes, I write as an omniscient narrator and at others the close third person. This needs to stop, I tell myself because it makes for poor reading. So I set a rule for myself: write in the third-person multiple point of view.
I will give you a concrete example of the sort of cleaning I’m doing (it’s harder than sweeping). In the scene, the protagonist has just finished losing his home in a fire. His family is rebuilding:
(1)”It was easy for Joseph to avoid his family for the rest of the day since the rest of the family was busy trying to pan and prepare for where they would stay as they rebuilt the house. Sally went with her mother to a neighboring farm to call her friends and family about the disaster and the help they would need.
(2)It was a small community of farmers, mostly Others (or what was once formerly distinguished as Browns and Blacks) that had taken up farming when the neighboring world Orbus had mutated into one giant city. While white citizens became consultants and bankers, Others were relegated to the outer planets to farm and produce the food the city engine needed. The few Others that rejected the agricultural life and still worked on Orbus disappeared into the city depths, competing against bots.
(3)While Vilma spent the day on the phone speaking to neighbors about hosting her family and donating temporary sheets and supplies, Will drove his tractor out of the barn and gathered the debris, clearing it until he could see the bare cement foundation.
“Don’t just stand there, boy. Take out those animals and find a good place for them to graze,” he told Joseph when he found him staring at the oak tree near the barn.
(4)Joseph had obeyed, his mind still fixed on that tree and what it was doing in his backyard…”
Just from reading these short few paragraphs, I can already seeing that I’m breaking my rule in strange ways. I go from Joseph’s perspective in the 1st paragraph to a sort of omniscient narrator in the second. The question that a reader would have: “Does Joseph know all about the history of Orbus and why would he think about it then, right in this scene after the fire?”
Then, in the third paragraph, I shift slightly to the mother’s perspective. The reader wonders whether the protagonist spent the entire day with her on the phone or heard about it later. If we are following Joseph in this scene, I should not head hop (I’m slapping myself on the hands for this egregious mistake).
Revising the novel entails identifying weaknesses like this one and applying rules to them in order to improve the overall composition. I am excited to move forward, reprimanding and guiding the muse to some new rule ordered place.
Here are some upcoming posts you can look forward to:
- Translations of French and Spanish literature
- A conversation with Philip K Dick’s essay
- A review of The Dark Tower
- Excerpts from screenplays