Etudes for Writers, 3.1: If At First You Don’t

… succeed, remind yourself of your goal, and try attack the problem in another way.

This is a categorically different kind of statement than, “try, try again.” I think this because the reassessment and questioning of goals is crucial.

Example: Today, my crit group met to discuss a dialog etude we’d all tried (this one) and we found that despite some individual differences, nobody felt all that good about their results.

Reframing the question as, “Did I achieve my goal?” was useful as we generally all felt we’d gotten something out of it, and also began discussing other ways of approaching the etude–or, I’d call it, more of a dialog-focused exercise, really. (Strictly because we didn’t quite come up with any theoretical material to underpin the work.) We felt we’d gotten something out of it, and we did have a good discussion as to the significance of dialog in fiction, as well as to what kind of story can be dialog based, or what dialog can achieve in the context of a story that isn’t dialog only.

But given that we weren’t overall happy with our results, it was suggested that we try again, the way one tries with exercises when it feels like something isn’t quite right.

The next exercise is far less constrained, and draws on a couple of things:

  • The film/TV script format as a dialog-centric mode of writing: we should write in this format. (Perfect formatting unnecessary.)
  • The dialog should do the work of at least two aspects of the story, from the multi-axis model used in the etude A Fine Balance. (Or some homebrew variation thereof.)

That’s it.

The discussion also covered subjects like reader expectations in genre and “mainstream” or “literary” readerships, techniques for useful critical reading of texts we despise (if the book sells well, people must like it for some reason; finding out what can be helpful because one can do that thing well, too, without having to be horrible in the ways the other book is)… and we held a discussion of the fiction market of the week.

Which is one thing I’ve not mentioned here. We figured, there’s a bunch of genre writers in a house. We’re all a little vague on a lot of markets out there, beyond the ones we ourselves normally read. We might as well work together and get a senseof what else is out there, right? So in order to help us more quickly do that, we’re doing weekly surveys: everyone picks a month or an issue and reads it as much as possible (preferably cover to cover, but you know how it is). Then we meet back and compare notes, trying to discuss not just our impression of the stories, but also comparing notes on the character or flavor of that market: what they seem to like or want, what patterns we detect in their editorial decisions, and so on.  I mean, I have a sense of these things for the magazines I read, but there are a bunch I’ve never gotten around to exploring, and it’s nice to have some external impetus to broaden my horizons a little.

So far, we’ve discussed Daily SF, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Electric Velocipede, and I feel like I have a pretty clear picture of what kind of thing each magazine emphasizes, as well as a sense of their range and so on–and whether I want to read more, or consider submitting, or what I would submit if I wanted to. I also have gotten a glimpse of how uneven some markets can be: how sometimes  one issue is really great, while another isn’t my thing at all. The same magazine, just different issues! Is this “cheating”? I dunno… but I’ve discovered a couple of writers I’d like to read more by (Tori Truslow comes to mind immediately: her first pro fiction sale was a damned good one if you ask me) so I feel like I’m coming out ahead no matter what.

(But there’s no magazine slated for next week because we’re critiquing a novel draft by the inimitably indomitable Chris Kammerud.)

Anyway, that’s stuff on the writing life. I have a post about music-related stuff, and personal stuff all mixed in with it, coming soon…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *