at my local public library must be visited sparingly--it is a scant resource--but I hadn't been for a few months and then I went and got some good stuff, first and foremost Absent Friends by S. J. Rozan. I've been looking forward to reading this ever since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint: an excellent novel in every way. (It also did what I think crime fiction is particularly good at, which is show how small or medium-sized choices by well-intentioned if not necessarily likeable people can lead to major disaster.) Then I read a novel by Marian Keyes, not quite my cup of tea but on the whole decent, The Other Side of the Story. It's got some pretty funny vaguely satirical stuff on publishing, but the characters were a little fuzzy and the writing is fine but not as sharp as it needs to be to carry something like this off.
I have been thinking in the last few days about a
great post about writing at Elizabeth Bear's blog. (Link via Shaken & Stirred.) This is what Bear says there:
I talk about--and think about--craft a lot. An enormous amount, really. And as I can only speak for myself, in my case, it's not a search for the magic get-published button. I've got that, after all. What it is for me, actually, is an attempt to break away from the magic get-published button. To move away from what I do by rote, automatically, and into a wider space. To hone the craft that makes the most of my talent, in other words.
Here's what I think about talent. It's true: some people have more than others. And I suspect if one is going to make it as a writer, one walks in with a free card. One thing you can do coming out of the gate. One aspect of the tremendous interwoven craft of writing that you're naturally good at. It may be worldbuilding or plot or voice or language or structure or theme. Something you do right, from day one.
I got characters for free. I earned pathos next. Grounding detail. Then I learned how to plot. Theme after that. Then voice. Started selling stories about then. What's that, six?
Worldbuilding... um... still working on that one. Sentences too. Getting better at sentences. Worldbuilding. Heck. This is complicated by the fact that "you can't cut one clean." Like a cobweb, every thread affects the shape of every other thread. Cut one, they all shiver.
This seems to me completely true but I'd never thought about it in those terms before. I tend to think that the things that come easily to me are just plain easy in themselves, and same for the hard ones, but Bear's are the opposite of mine. I got sentences for free, and I got worldbuilding pretty easily too. (I am afraid to say I don't really care that much about plot or theme, isn't that awful?) What I have been intensively working on this past year as I revise Dynamite No. 1 to make it as good a novel as I can are voice and the linked thing of character (these two seem to me completely bound up with each other). I realize that my very favorite novels, the ones I read again and again, are the ones where those two things are what's really special. I would love to write a book that works like that myself.