24 October 2014

Helpful Advice if You Are Writing Fiction But You're a Fan of Film and Television

In terms of my story consumption, I'd say I'm about 50% reader and 50% watcher of television and movies. I don't even feel bad about that. I love reading but there is something very compelling about visual media, and it's a great way for me to consume narrative such that I can discuss it with my partner, who is not a great reader and who tends to gravitate toward nonfiction anyway.

The unfortunate thing about being a fiction writer who consumes a fair amount of scripted, enacted, carefully edited stuff is that there are some important differences between written story and televised / filmed story. It's too easy to absorb some film techniques and transfer them into your novels or short stories where they don't really make much sense.

Here's some advice on this problem from Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel, which could equally be called How to Make the Novel You're Trying to Write Way, Way More Interesting to Just About Everyone:
...many writers visualize their stories in the way that a film unspools on a screen. They write travel between scenes, establishing shots and incidental action (dropping ice cubes into a glass, flicking a lighter into flame) in order to "pace" their novels and make them feel more realistic.
That method is sometimes misguided. A novel is not a film. The compression inherent in film often demands its action be paced out; otherwise, the unrelenting tension of the film's back-to-back scenes would hammer the audience into insensibility. Novelists do not have that worry. A novel's pace is already slow. For novelists the challenge is just the opposite: to keep the tension level constantly high.
In other words, get to the good stuff right away and keep it coming. I don't know if bearing this advice in mind would help resolve all issues that arise from accidental copying of film / television techniques onto written fiction, but it might.
 

22 October 2014

Building a Novel Playlist

My NaNoWriMo prep is elaborate and ornate and all kinds of other things suggestive of ritual. I've been NaNo-ing out novels since 2008, the first year that I tried NaNo and won (not the first year I tried), but I've gotten better at plotting and researching and psyching myself up for it since then.

Today I've been working on my soundtrack. Soundtracking a novel is a way to use the poetry of others to serendipitously inspire your own plots.

The basic idea comes from the fine folks at Storywonk. The scariest and best part is that you're not allowed to use music that you already have an emotional relationship with or any emotional associations. You don't want to be trying to work on your novel and end up thinking about your best friend and that time you drove all night and sang a song at top volume. You want to focus on your novel. So while you build your soundtrack you're going to be getting to know some new music and new musicians.

For me, the Indie / Folk category on The Music Ninja usually resonates very well. I usually work my way through The Indie Dojo until I have 16-18 songs to pick from. If you're working on a budget, there are free downloads among the songs, and you can listen to the whole song via TMN while you're deciding if it will work for you and your soundtrack, so it's a good resource. There are others, but I'm a bit limited by not being in the US, and this is what works for me.

SO: you go through new-to-you music until you find a bunch of songs that you like and that you think fit with your project. This is an intuitive process, so you'll have to feel your own way through. Then you go through and assign a song to chunks of your novel. How you do this is up to you, but I basically find a song that represents each of my main characters including my antagonist(s), then I pick an "opening credit" song, a "closing credit" song, and a song for each of the major turning points of my plot. (Yeah, I'm a plotter not a pantser.) You can pick a song for your setting, a song for the tone of the book, a song for your theme(s), whatever works.

The fun part is that you can use the songs to help you build your plot. I haven't designed my major plot points yet but I've picked a bunch of songs. I expect that as I go through my song list and start arranging them, the plot will emerge.

Once you've got your songs picked out, you arrange them in an order that makes sense to you. Every time you work on your novel, whether you're plotting, brainstorming, doodling some notes on your main character, or actually starting the draft, you play your playlist. Once you've been doing that for a while and you've got an association between your novel and your playlist, take the playlist with you and play it whenever you can. It will help keep the fires of your novel burning, and will allow you to create associations and think about plot points so you arrive at the page each day on fire with ideas.

I've had amazing things happen with little snippets of song lyrics: sudden resonances, amazing coincidences, and bits of dialogue or even just character attitudes that have helped me deepen my work.

x-posted to my tumblr

ShareThis