Monday, August 25, 2014

One space or two?

          Here’s a wordy case for never using two spaces between sentences (you can skim it):

          Note that buried in all that hyperbole the author says two spaces are acceptable in draft manuscripts.  That's the way I learned to do it with all my writing way back in high school English composition class.

          But how many spaces between sentences will offer the clearest readability, which is the only important consideration?

          Today, every published book has justified type, which means the spaces between individual words are often wider (and sometimes a good bit wider) than the normal word spacing you have in ragged-right compositionthis in order to fit a comfortable number of words on each line with minimal hyphenation.  Under those conditions,  I think using two spaces between sentences stands out a bit more, clearly indicating the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next.

          Therefore I’ll continue using the traditional two spaces between sentences.  Sue me.


Got 93,560 words on my new novel.  Can’t wait to see how it ends.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mysterious thrillers
          A friend e-mailed me asking what the difference is between mystery and thriller tales.
          My answer:  Thrillers are sometimes mysteries.  But by no means always.  In every mystery, however, the reader doesn't know who done it, and only finds out in the final climactic scenes.  (Agatha Christie was the consummate mystery writer, whose books have outsold the Bible over the years, and for my money the best on-screen Miss Marple was portrayed by Margaret Rutherford back in the good old black-and-white-and-snowy TV days.)  In a thriller, on the other hand, the reader might start out knowing full well who the bad guys and the good guys are (though the characters may not realize this themselves) and the story interest is in seeing how the conflict between the two known factions gets resolved.  Cleverly-wrought suspense is essential to both genres if a writer wants to sell books.
          The "Sherlock" TV series with Ben Cumberbatch as the great sleuth is an excellent contemporary example of the mystery genre.  Fine plotting and great dialog, with moments of genuine intelligent humor.  “Justified” with Timothy Oliphant as a gritty federal marshal is an exemplary thriller series.   Both shows have excellent supporting casts.  Both are worthy of study by any aspiring writer.
           And although I create thrillers, I write in a constant state of suspenseful personal mystery because I have no idea what the devil’s going to happen next.
Side note:  Farewell, Robin Williams.  You brightened millions of lives over your years.  Thank you.

Monday, August 11, 2014

When to not stop

          “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”  Ernest Hemingway
          I learned that important lesson some time back, too.

          If I stopped my day’s writing on a problem, not knowing what was going to happen next in the plot, or fearing I’d gone off the rails somewhere a few hundred words back, or unsure about when to insert a chapter or scene break, I would discover the next day that I could conjure up any number of feeble excuses for not sitting back down and facing the problem.  Sometimes I lost days of writing.

          However, if I could possibly arrange to quit for the day while I was on a roll, when I could anticipate what was coming next with a measure of excitement, then the next day I’d be eager to get back to the job refreshed, with no time lost to doubts.

          Like other good lessons learned, this soon became habitual.  (The principle also works well when applied to everyday chores, like cleaning out the closets or rebuilding a porch.)

          This does not mean the writing has gotten any easier. 

           Here’s another Hemingway observation that applies to my current novel:

          “Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” EH
          I’m having to do a great deal of laborious drilling and then blasting.  But each writing session, I try to stop just before I get to push that blasting plunger.

Monday, August 4, 2014

How I have to do it
        I type with my right index finger alone, assisted on the shift key by my  faithful left index finger.   I could not lay out a sketch of the keypad from memory, even if I was being tortured by some evil creature holding a fresh, warm Bavarian creme donut just out of my reach.  Yet my right index finger knows the layout intimately.  It can poke any key almost as fast as my calico cat, Havoc, can scratch me.  I ought to insure that digit.
          A type-A friend recently suggested I use the Dragon software and dictate my novels, so rather than each book consuming a year or more of tortoisorial labor, I could crank them out every other month like Patterson’s gang of ghost writers.
          But I can't work that way.  My process is complex.  I don't quite know what the characters are going to do or where the plot is going at any given time, so it's impossible to vocalize.  My work has only been marginally writeable over all these years, much less dictate-able.  Something about the plodding progress I make with my minimalist two fingers is part of the creativity.  Trying to vocalize a story without a keypad would be akin to a composer without access to an instrument trying to speak notes and chords: "A to begin, then a C followed by a G major chord, and next a minor . . ."  I suspect it would be about impossible for a composer to create exceptional music that way.  Another crude analogy would be Michelangelo trying to paint with both hands in order to speed up the process.  I doubt he would have then been capable of all his subtleties—the precise deft touches of light, the tiny wrinkle that can turn a smile wry.  Michelangelo was a fine artist, after all, not a barn painter concerned with optimizing square-foot coverage. 
          And I’m a writer, after all, not a fiction-speaker.  I don’t read to myself aloud, nor can I write aloud.
          We recently lost the great Elmore Leonard.  In the following clip he tells us how and why he worked the way he did.  I suspect it would have been impossible for him to have dictated a novel.  My process is similar.  

          Elmore wrote a first draft longhand, then ensuing drafts on an electric typewriter, the way all of us had to do it back in the dim, dark pre-computer age.  It tended to be tedious, but we managed somehow.  In order to re-arrange a sentence, we had to re-type that whole manuscript page.  In an age before that, my mother was a newspaper reporter, banging out copy under tight deadlines on a hulking dinosaurian upright mechanical typewriter.  Most kids today have never even seen one.   Before that, it was rock tablets and chisels.  Before that it was big toes in the dirt.

          And nobody remembers carbon paper.