Putting it Together

January 28th, 2008

Today, mostly as a way of avoiding writing what I should have been writing, I put COUNTERCLOCKWISE together into a single document for the first time and read it straight through. And I have to say this: Eeeeeek.

It is so different from what it would have been had I not been writing it in weekly installments that I can hardly recognize it as an actual novel. That’s not to say it’s not sort of interesting, and it does have some stuff in it I can read without wincing (I still like Claire’s speech about being a woman in rock and roll, in Ch. 7) but it doesn’t flow even remotely like it would if I were writing the beginning of, let’s say, chapter three approximately seven seconds after finishing chapter two.

There’s a lot of messing around to get into chapters simply because I went cold in between writing sessions. There’s the narrator, who is (I hope) less intrusive on a weekly basis than he is when I’m reading the thing straight through.

It’s sort of fascinating, in a perverse kind of way, to see the difference between a piece that’s written as a long through-line and one that’s written as a series of, essentially, hiccups — short, theoretically complete, pieces that can be strung together to make a single story. If I were to submit this as a novel, I’d probably rewrite 50-60% of it just to make it flow better. If a story is like a textile — after all, we do “weave” a tale, and the word “text” has the same root as “textile” — this is a set of color-coordinated washcloths, while a book would be a single, through-woven blanket.

Probably the most telling difference is that writing it in pieces like this means that I’m paying more attention the story’s forward progress than I am to its depth and breadth. I’ve felt the need to hook the reader in each installment, carry him/her forward and bring him/her back that I’ve often passed on things like color, texture, telling detail, and in some cases character development. I’m going to try to rectify that in future installments, which might reduce the “serial” value of the thing but will make it more challenging for me to write.

And by the way, at 15,600 words, I’m about fifteen percent in, and that’s pretty much on the nose for where I am in the story. If I cut some of the circling around to get some momentum and replace it with detail and character development, I wouldn’t be in bad shape from the perspective of length.

I’m not saying I’m not enjoying writing it, because I am, or that I’m not learning a lot from it, because I’m doing that, too. I’ll tell you, though, it’s greatly increased my appreciation of what Dickens and Trollope accomplished. Those guys were REALLY good.

9 Responses to “Putting it Together”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Excuse me for speaking for my fellow DCers….Yep…dreck! From your first installment, we’ve been stunned by the sheer awfulness of it. We were only pretending to praise you to boost your fragile ego….

    WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU COMPLAINING ABOUT???

    Exactly what would you re-write?

    Be honest…please take a chunk (and maybe take a bye from posting some new stuff next week) and show us exactly the degree of awfulness we’re looking at and don’t recognize.

    What’s wrong and how are you gonna fix it. (Yep…I want this knowledge for free!)

    OK, maybe the other DCers aren’t with me on this…but I still want to know what/how you’d change.

    Please???

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I didn’t actually say it was dreck, just that it’s very different than it would be if it were truly written as a novel, a straight-through piece of writing, rather than in this very interesting one-piece-at-a-time form. It would take a lot of work to show you what I mean, so maybe this is what I could do, if you’re actually that interested.

    1. As you suggested, Cynthia, skip doing the next chapter, or perhaps two, or rather not trying to do them on deadline.

    2. Put the whole thing (thus far) online as a single document so it’s presented in continuous form rather than as fragments. Then you can read it more easily and see some of what I mean.

    3. Pick two chapters and rewrite them to show how they’d be different.

    Even if I did all of that, though, it probably wouldn’t be an accurate representation because the episodic nature of the serial suggested actual changes in the choices I made as I followed the story. As one example, I think I have only one scene in the whole book, the interview with Claire, that spans a couple of chapters. In a book where I knew the next chapter was just a page-change away, I would almost certainly have done more of that, which would have meant that some of the scenes would have been prolonged, for better or for worse, rather than being cut short for the benefit of a good hook.

    I certainly could take a crack at limited rewrite of a couple of chapters, but I’d have to pass on writing the next chapter or two on deadline, what with the upcoming move, the trip to Asia, and the work on the other two books. I’d be happy to, if that’s what some of you would want.

    But I certainly didn’t mean to suggest I was ashamed of what I put up. I wouldn’t have put it up if I had been, and God knows I dumped enough first passes, including the entire first third of the part of the Claire Standish interview that opens the most recent chapter.

    Does anyone agree with me that the serial structure has had an effect, not entirely positive, on the way the story’s coming out? I can’t believe I’m alone here.

    Let me know whether you want me to make a pass at redoing a couple of contiguous chapters so I can try to demonstrate how they’d be different.

  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I’m not experienced enough to explain exactly why it is possibly having a negative impact on how I’m structuring the chapters since I’ve never quite figured out how to do it anyway! I think for me, it’s closely related to the type of story I’m working on. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that it’s making me focus much more on these nearly self-contained chapters. I’m not sure they’d all be quite so self contained if I wasn’t thinking about the long lag time between each and if I wasn’t worrying that the people reading might forget a lot between chapters. I often have a lot of internal dialogue going on (or I think I do) and I think I risk boring people by including much of that in these chapters separated by a week each, where I think I’d “spread out” more if I had the time. It’s making me do some gymnastics I don’t think I’d be thinking about if I could flow from one chapter to the next. Still a big plus from a creative standpoint.

  4. reality Says:

    Hi Tim,

    I wont make a comment on your book and rather see you demonstrate the changes.
    I agree the serial nature has made me do exactly what you refer to. The character development is minimal and the hook has to be strong.
    For me that is a plus; since I am not a minimalist by nature. I love details to a certain extent.
    In writing Dilbar, I have always had the ending foremost in my mind rather than a progression to it. Scenes have been altered to accommodate that.
    My next chapter might have started off with Dilbar not talking his way out off the Khan’s gunpoint stance.
    After I got the responses I realized, you guys actually wanted me to have Dilbar talk his way out of the situataion.
    What have I learn; my readers love Dilbar and his smart talk and falling into trouble. So instead of developing a bigger picture for the novel, I am focussed on meeting reader request. something I did not do in my ‘other ‘ WIP. I have had to follow my instincts on that one.

    btw Cynthia is right and can you please show us how you write such dreck.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, all — I appreciate the underlying implication in most of what you’ve written that “Counterclockwise” thus far is better than my original post suggests. I do want to emphasize again, for the record, that I was not saying that is was a piece of junk, but rather that it was a different KIND of piece of junk than it would have been if I’d written it:

    a. In a more or less continuous series of sessions rather than one or two chunks of 2-3 hours per week, separated by things like life and getting ready to move and work on other books; and

    b. As a text where the next chapter was only one page away for the reader, as opposed to a week away.

    And the primary points I was making were:

    a. I spent more energy that I normally would on the beginnings and endings of chapters — beginnings to re-orient the reader, and endings to make him/her want to come back.

    b. The serial aspect made me concentrate more on unfolding the story than embroidering it; the progress of the action got a disproportionate amount of my attention. As just one example, there’s not much here that’s visual. I also passed on opportunities to find details that I would normally grab to bring scenes to life, and I didn’t develop the kind of apparently aimless bck-and-forth between characters that makes conversation more “real” and also illuminates character.

    c. The “chapters” became more self-contained and sort of sealed at each, end more short-story shaped than they would have been in a continuous narrative, and that, too affects the overall flow of the book.

    d. It’s just a different animal.

    I should also have said that the Challenge has been good for my writing in that it’s given me deadlines for something that otherwise probably would have sat in a drawer or gone completely unwritten, and that it’s made me do things differently than I normally do, which is always good for a writer.

    So, sure, I’ll post the whole thing in one piece (thus far) if any of you think you’d read through it, and I’ll pick two chapters and redo them more along the lines of how I (probably) would have written them as a book. But first I want to write the next chapter, which is the interview with Norah (Talley’s wife) first.

    Any other votes?

  6. Jennifer Says:

    It’s definitely an experience to read it through–or it was for me. I think I’m going to try to do that every couple of weeks from now until I’m finished.

    I realized just today that I don’t think I’ve ever approached this as a true serial. But I’m not going to change things now, because whatever I’m doing is working for me. (I’m writing, anyway). I feel like I’m getting a lot of character development and “internal landscape” stuff in, but my hooks are either fairly subtle or missing altogether.

    I almost wish I’d stepped away from my usual style and subject and tried something new for this, something that would have forced me to focus on the serial aspect.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think your narrator is too intrusive, and I’ve read your chapters straight through just a few days ago. The peekaboo (for lack of a better word) narrator is one of the many charms for me.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Jennifer —

    Yeah, it’s pretty enlightening to read one’s DC output as a straight-through narrative. I think it would probably be counterproductive to structure it as a true serial unless it was just for experimental purposes — which, some to think of it, would be a lot of fun — especially since there is literally no market for that kind of writing any more. (The serial-like aspects of my story are inadvertent and are at the root of the problem I have with it as a novel.)

    I think the main thing about the DC is that it’s successfully forced everybody:

    (a) To write to a deadline, and the hell with their Nozer.

    (b) To put that writing out there, warts and all, and see that most people actually respond positively to it most of the time.

    (c) To learn that the worst that can happen is that some people like some things less than other people, and the sun will rise in the East tomorrow anyway.

    All that said, it might be fun some day in the somewhat distant future to INTENTIONALLY try to write serials, complete with catch-ups and cliffhangers, if only as a way to force all of us to lighten up even further. We could conceive the stories as happening in that special serial world a friend of mine calls the Cartooniverse, where plausibility takes a back seat to thrills, although (of course) the thrills aren’t thrilling if plausibility has been tossed altogether.

    It’s be something different, anyway.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Everybody —

    Before I put in a bunch of time rewriting two chapters to show you how I would have done it differently if it had been written as a continuous narrative, I need to know this:

    How many of you really want me to?

    How many of you would actually read both the original and the reworked piece?

    I can do it (and will, if I ever decide to try to have the story published), but I don’t want to do it now unless there’s some actual interest.

    If you want me to, just write a reply that says “yes and yes” unless you want to add more.

  9. Jennifer Says:

    I would definitely read it if you did it, but I’d also be more than willing to wait for revisions, if you’re planning to do them. So I guess I’m refraining from voting. 🙂

    I think you’re right about the effects of the DC. I haven’t managed to loosen up completely (yet), but I’ve definitely been able to step out of the rigid perfectionism and avoid the constant brick-walling that such an attitude brings to my writing.

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