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May 14, 2009
To Strive, To Seek, To Find, and Not to Yield
The Literary Lab had a post recently about making each word, each sentence count in a novel. There was some argument in the comments about whether this was possible, or even desirable.
One interesting accusation was that novelists who try to do this are secretly short story writers who haven't figured out the difference between 1000 and 100,000 thousand words.
It may be even worse. It may be that novelists who try to do this are secretly poets.
At times, especially if I've been off my meds for several days, I think of my novel as a ballad or epic of the ancient sort, in heroic rhyme. And why not? Much of the source material, the original epics upon which modern fantasies base their structure, were book-length poems.
When I become stuck in my prose, and everything I type is ugly and repetitive, when all beauty and simplicity escapes me, I fall back on poetry.
I write a scene as a poem. Sometimes even with aliteration and rhyme, though often just with unrhymed metered verse. I write it one line, one word, at a time. I let the rhyme and meter decompose through layers of editing. I rearrange and deconstruct and reconstruct until the bedrock poem is there only as a skeletal structure, disguised by less ornate prose. Consistantly, beta readers rave over these as my best passages--and want to know why the rest of the prose is so unispired and infantile by comparison.
Well, now you know why.
Should I do this with every single scene? I am not sure. There's the danger that taken to extremes, stacking too many such scenes, purple prose could accumulate to toxic levels. But more to the point, I just finished a scene like this and found that, after four hours, I had written... 400 words.
Still, if it takes an hour to write a 100 decent words, isn't that better than spewing 1000 words an hour if those words are worthless and ugly? If they must be re-written again and again regardless?
What about those scenes which errupt like volcanoes, far too fast for poetry, but hot with plotty goodness and juicy character tension?
Ah, at least, though, hot and fast or cool and slow, I remember at such times why I love writing.