Wow, I’ve been superbusy! I’ve been grading up a storm, and last weekend I helped my sister-in-law throw a yard sale– at my house, and all the unsold stuff has not yet made it to Goodwill. And then there was more grading. And then I went to the dentist for the first time in over ten years! Jeepers! It turned out they are very nice and efficient over there, though, so if anybody needs a recommendation for a worthy dentist, just drop me a line. Then there was another push for grading– and don’t forget that Easter is around the corner! Which end is up? I need some accurately placed arrows to point me in the direction of the coffee pot, and the bottle of Guinness, alternately.
Through all this, I am proud to declare that I have also been writing the entire time. About two weeks ago, I printed out these instructions from Lester Dent and I’ve been following them. More or less. The formula is for a 6000 word pulp story, and I’m aiming for a novel. Still, if you’ve read my other posts, especially the ones devoted to (hm, maybe not devoted, exactly…) plot, then you’ll understand.
I’m not looking for a magic formula– which is kind of what the Lester Dent thing purports to be. I don’t think a formula exists. Well, maybe the formulas exist, but good writing usually won’t follow them, not in every regard. But what I do need, and what this formula provides, is a sense of drive and structure. Right now, left to my own devices, I natter on for fifty pages and then realize, “Oh, crap. There’s no conflict here.” It is very difficult to imbue large chunks of text with purpose where none existed before. It is downright maddening. In real life, I shy away from conflict. I’ve spent my whole life talking people out of their respective trees and avoiding conflict– but to write a novel in that mindset is absolutely pointless. And boring! I got away with it in my short stories, for the most part, because I could write about short-lived conflict, or an undercurrent of conflict. Unease. Ennui. But let’s face it– if I want to write a mystery, unease isn’t going to cut it. Something more vital needs to be at stake, and I need to keep that tension going.
That is where Lester Dent comes into the picture. He is not a cure-all, but he is that nagging voice I need. In my head, this chain-smoking sonofabitch is across the table from me, tacktapping away on his Smith-Corona and asking me every couple hundred words, “Hey? What word are you on? You got any conflict? Quit pussyfootin’ around and kill somebody or something.” And then he goes back to his own writing and leaves me alone until I get to word 1500 or so, and then he nags me again. “That’s the same kind of conflict you had last time,” he might say, letting the ash just fall from his cigarette, wherever. He’s imaginary. And then I delete and have to think of a different kind of conflict.
I’ve never read him, and I don’t think I want to. I like the picture of him in my head, and I want to keep him that way.
So, what I’m doing is typing out my 1500 words a day on my laptop here, and then I print it out. Before the day is up, before I write my next 1500 words, I go over the printed out sheets with a pink pen and give myself advice. More description here. What is going through her head here? More menacing here. Every five “chapters”– I don’t really think the chapters will end up being a strict 1500 words, just as I know I need to have some slower chapters to allow for more character development or clarification (breather chapters!)– I take my own advice. I sit down and rewrite a section. I force myself to follow my own pink instructions in the margins.
Then I keep going, with the typing and the printing, and the pink pen, and the rewriting. I’m always moving, always trying to think of the next way to torture my characters. It’s a switch, for me. For once, I’m seeking out trouble, instead of avoiding it. And you know what? I like it!