Friday, May 18, 2012
The Art of Writing No. 40
I had the problem that most writers have when they go back to draft novels they have written some time before, intending to refurbish them and flog them as ebooks. This is not to suggest that they are not good enough for publication on paper but, like hundreds of good to great pieces of fiction (!), they were declined owing to the subjectivity of the publishers’ new police, the agents. At least the internet provides a platform and if you can catch the zeitgeist of current literary preoccupations, your readers can do for you what that anonymous person in an office with rejection templates in front of her/him could not do. Or, better than that, you can break the mould and create new kinds of fiction.
Anyway, such was my problem with The Strange Attractor. I had worked like a slave on it but got many rejection slips, a few of which suggested that someone had read the first twenty five or so pages I had sent on their demand. I had a version of it on an old computer and so the raw material was there for a re-write. What did I discover about my former self, the individual who wrote it? What needed changing in the prose, characters and plot? As far as the ‘I’ that wrote it was concerned, the ten years had not made too much difference. I think I was less relaxed, possibly because writing was my night job. This evidenced itself in the sometimes cryptic nature of the prose. Given I could not give it the time I would have liked, somehow the prose reflected this. The dialogue was pared down too much. The descriptions were too skeletal. I think I was also being a bit too fancy dannish in my cleverness in an attempt to woo the agents. Perhaps there was an element of fantasy projection going on, too. Maybe I was looking for a new, exciting partner and created versions of her in my pages!
As far as the novel is concerned the most obvious issue that leapt from the page to smack me between the eyes, was how quickly it had become dated. Not in a good way. My re-writing involved being more tolerant of the need to explain, the desire to support the reader securely, to be less ambiguous, to ensure that the key turning points of the plot were well advertised (even in their veiled nature) and to revise street argot because it had already passed into retro-nerdism. The technology in the book (a key constituent) was what was prevalent before the miniaturisation revolution and even the attitudes between males and females did not sit well with the post feminist changes in society, so these, too, needed updating.
The re-write was slow and pernickety because it was more a matter of changing the odd word or sentence on each page and making sure that everything in the book, spoke of a particular time in social history, particularly the way the ‘hero’ uses chaos theory to solve crime. (Strange Attractor is a key term in chaos theory but has undoubted strength in its metaphoric ambiguity, as a title). What I learned from the reupholstering of the book’s innards was to think more carefully about slang, the material things that date quickly and the social changes which make characters seem oddly behaved and out of place in the present day. Either I could have edited it as a period piece or brought it up to date. Doing the former would have meant a lot more research to couch my phraseology in those times (which is not my greatest skill) or refreshing as I went. That is what I did.
The Strange Attractor by Eric le Sange aka Jack Sanger, Kindle, Amazon