Literary Roundup

A few of the odds and ends that have been accumulating on my desktop.

Note: Bold indicates a link.

A Year of Reading Only Women Writers
Is there a bias against female writers? The statistics say yes, and they’re probably right, but taking a vow to read nothing by male writers for the next year isn’t exactly a solution. It might appeal to readers who read primarily to be entertained, but I suspect that even they don’t really care much whether the books they enjoy are written by men or women. Another tempest in a teacup, great for acrimonious online discussion, but not much else.

Why is it So Hard to Write a Decent Ending?
So I’m not the only one with that problem? Good to know. The article’s emphasis seems to be on action-oriented science fiction, so the question, what would actually happen in this situation, doesn’t always apply. For me, it’s usually which one of several equally difficult choices would the protag choose?

Knowing Only One Story
The Archdruid Report isn’t a blog that many writers would think of reading, which is kind of too bad. John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, which would seem to put him in the New Age, slightly whacko category. In fact, his blog is a hard-headed consideration of major issues that most of us would prefer to ignore, including climate change, resource depletion, and the slow breakdown of societies based on capitalism. He’s also a science fiction writer, about to come out (very soon, I hope) with a novel that he’d serialized on the blog for several years: Star’s Reach, which takes place several hundred years after the collapse of the United States.

But what I want to point to here is an idea that came to him years ago and that has been, in a way, a guide for his writing.
“Knowing many stories is wisdom.
Knowing no stories is ignorance.
Knowing only one story is death.”

Of course this can be interpreted in many ways, from the sociological to the literary. It’s certainly a good way to think about story ideas, particularly for someone who finds that their stories are developing a theme. It bothered me for a little while when I realized that most of my novels had similar themes. I wondered if I needed to break out of what might become a series of rehashes with variations. But themes have the potential for infinite variations, and if there’s a theme that really needs more than one story, one way to look at the world, a writer would be crazy not to go with it.

Our culture perpetuates the theme of infinite progress: more, bigger, better. Anyone who digs into the news rather than just watching their favorite TV news channel knows that we need alternate stories, lots of them. “Knowing only one story is death.”

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6 thoughts on “Literary Roundup

  1. It may be anathema to the way you write, but KNOWING the end before you do most of your writing gives you subconscious a way to work toward shoring up that end, and making it inevitable.

    If the end is a milestone in a story (the end of the first or second book in a trilogy), you make decisions about the path with every word you write – and they are powered by how far off the path you are from where you need to be to arrive at that end. ‘Distance from path’ is a feedback mechanism, and the push to get back to that path can be allowed to stretch to the almost-unbearable before giving in to it. Almost being the key word.

    If you don’t know where you’re going, almost anything might be part of the path, and the force is dissipated.

    I was lucky enough to get the beginning and the end first – and that is driving all the rest.

    I think writing to find the end, and then revising to make everything lead to that end as inevitable, is a workable method. I have a trunk novel I dearly love – and when I figure out how to do that revision, I’ll get it out and finish it properly. There I had the beginning – a nice solid beginning involving a deserved (or was it?) death – and the drive to write. I think I pantsed it.

    1. We discussed this earlier, but when you come at it from a different angle, that encourages me to do the same. If the novel is the first of two or more, I agree that you have to know early on (if not right at the beginning) where it’s going to end up. For a standalone, not necessarily. In real life, I might take many side paths to the point where I have to make some decision. When I get there, I may have several choices, all of which spring from that single path, including its diversions. It’s the same for a novel’s protagonist. I look at the final choice from his perspective, looking back to what led him there, and forward to the possible consequences. The path is what I’m most interested in exploring.

      Humans tend not to like open-endedness or ambiguity. That might be one reason for the strong emphasis in books and articles on knowing the ending ahead of time. That probably works best for most writers. It works for me, much of the time, but not always.

      1. We have almost complete ambiguity in interesting stories in real life; fiction fixes that – shows more logic than reality.

        It does that by having morals and endings and consequences – all of which are satisfying to the brain.

        I like Lisa Cron’s book Wired for Story (which I read a long time AFTER I had figured out much of that on my own). Possibly worth looking at a library or used copy. I’m cheap: I get the least expensive version of a book – especially a book about writing – I’m going to write in it, anyway.

        I really enjoyed Lawrence Block’s books on writing (Telling Lies for Fun and Profit was one) – and spent years trying to write as he does (pantser extraordinaire). Might even say ‘wasted years’ because it is not the path I can use (may be a damaged-brain thing). It wasn’t until I got deeply into theory and structure that I could make things work. For me. Not trying to change the world.

        1. I always buy the cheapest copies I can find, of any book. I buy loads of ebooks, but usually not nonfiction, if I think I’ll want to so lots of marking up. But they’re great for lifting quotes without having to type them out, so it isn’t alway an easy decision — print or digital. I’ll check out Wired for Story. I haven’t bought very many writing books because so few seem to match the way I work. I bought Nail Your Novel recently, and it was almost completely worthless.

          The Logoist free trial never finished loading, so I can’t offer any suggestions about it. Sent a complaint off to the company, and asked about upgrading.

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