For 2016, my writing focus is on craft (read the explanatory post). The first book I’m going to read is The One Hour MFA by Michael Kimball. Kimball is an indie author who writes beautifully and he put his put book up for free online. So that sounds nice. You can read Kimball’s book (again…for free) over at Real Pants and I’ll be taking notes in this space.
Check out my initial notes below. Any notes/quotes from the book will be in bold text and my comments will be regular text. Everything is a paraphrase unless otherwise noted.
Ch. 1 Openings and Processes
1st sentence should be declarative.
Yes, this seems obvious, but I fail at this I’m sure. Let me see what I wrote in Ambient Florida Position: There were no more Doritos.
Well, that’s passive voice past tense. FAIL.
Let’s check my novel, Taco Jehovah (waiting publication): cooper walked into a bank.
Active voice, past tense, but declarative. I’m getting better!
And now the novel(la) in progress: Go out to dinner with Ashley the day before you leave for New York City because she said you need to take her somewhere nice before you leave for five days
More forceful I think. 2nd person. Let’s just skip the declarative altogether, shall we?
‘This bit about openings from Elmore Leonard always makes me laugh: “Never open a book with weather.” ‘
That’s good, but I don’t think my Doritos line is any better. It’s basically a setting placeholder on par with the weather. Being out of food is just as commonplace as the weather, I think.
Start the story near the end to kind of jump to the chase
I’m doing this more, or trying to do this more. It creates more interest. The opening to this essay is better than the Doritos one, I think.
Outlines are for writers who get stuck in early material. Otherwise, go sentence by sentence.
Oh boy. I want to be an outliner so bad. But I’m not. I just can’t do it for fiction. I’ve outline essays and case studies and other professional work, but not when it’s my stuff. It doesn’t seem fun to be. I’d rather it unravel in front of me. That’s probably why I won’t “build a world” or have my novels featured at Disney World.
The novel I’ve outlined the most is the novella I’m working on now, but it’s based on some real events, so I had the beats in my head and I just kinda went with it. I don’t feel like that counts though.
Kimball: A writer must learn to recognize this sense of urgency about a fiction and pursue it whenever possible.
That urgency includes the opening.
I really like this. Recognize the sense of urgency and pursue it whenever possible. Pursue it. That’s what we are as writers. In hot pursuit.
Determination is needed to get through the hard parts and connect the thrilling parts.
From Kimball: I agree with Virginia Woolf when she says it is determination: “The creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.”
Well. The hot pursuit isn’t all fun and games? Sounds hard, but true. I think I’ve seen that in my own writing, but if something gets too hard, I probably stop and try something else or try something shorter, to be honest.
Kimball: “When I’m writing fiction, I’m trying in a basic way to get from one sentence to the next sentence. Often, I do this by looking at the elements of the previous sentence—its syntax, the words in play, the acoustics of it—and using them for the next sentence.”
The acoustics of it. What a nice phrase. The harsh interpretation is “how a line sounds” I guess. I don’t usually think about the syntax or words in play to write my next sentence, I usually only think of meaning. I don’t consider a sentence enough on its own.
Kimball: “The writer who begins with an outline is creating scenes, filling in dialogue, complicating the plot. There is a kind of clarity there that doesn’t exist for the sentence-to-sentence writer (though, generally, there are also many fewer surprises—for both the reader and the writer).”
I couldn’t write without the surprises. But there probably surprises in creating an outline as well. There would have to be. Otherwise, I don’t know why anyone else would do it, except from a strict professional obligation. Having surprises in the outline–that’s a different way to look at it. Maybe if I approached it with that mindset, I’d discover something different.