Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rants, Vents, and Raves

by David Ellis

I figured if I ever wrote a blog, I would sometimes just go off on various topics. Since I joined up with the talented bunch of writers here, I have limited my comments to a single subject on writing. Not today. We’ll see if people are okay with this. A few rants, raves, and observations.

1. Don’t you hate it when you’ve thoroughly researched a subject and you proudly vomit all the information onto the pages of your novel—only to discover, either on your own or through your agent or editor, that you went on way too long and you have to cut it down? That has happened to me a lot. Whenever I get outside my comfort zones of law and politics, I seek outside assistance, compile a bunch of information, and then end up over-detailing the subject. For those of you aspiring novelists out there, I think the lesson is this: The novel is not about you. You learned a whole lot about an obscure subject? Congratulations. Use it at cocktail parties. But the people buying your novels don’t give a shit. Just tell them what is necessary to make the book interesting.

2. Speaking of the cutting-room floor, some of my favorite passages from my novels are the ones that didn’t make it. Usually I am the one removing it, and the typical reason is that the passage no longer fits. The plot, or the character, has changed. And then I do what, I suspect, all of us writers do—I store that nugget away for another time. And you know what? I have never once taken one of those nuggets and inserted it into another novel. The lesson here is—actually, I don’t know what the lesson is.

3. I think I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: If you are bored with a particular passage in your novel, count on this universal truth—the reader will be, too.

4. Is there a “far left” political movement in this country? I hear, in major newspapers and TV news channels, about the “far right” all the time. I hear them called “extreme,” too. Ever heard of the “extreme” left? The “far” left? Just asking. Hey, I’m no Rush Limbaugh, but I’m a fan of evenhandedness.

5. My take on writing about sex: Leave it to the imagination. A novelist I respect who shall remain nameless (she writes on this blog) once told me (she has red hair) that she (her initials are LC) thought the sexiest scene I ever wrote was in my first novel. But that scene didn’t have a single graphic image. It was all about the lead-up, the flirtation. I have never—and I mean never—read a sex scene in a novel that I found captivating.

6. A really cool thing happened to me the other day that illustrates the organic nature of a novel. I was writing a scene between my protagonist and a woman who, so my plan went, was only serving a minor role. I was rolling along through a brief encounter between the two when suddenly, the thing turned a little sexy on me, and the next thing I knew, something was developing between the two of them. It wasn’t what I had planned. It doesn’t really fit in my novel. But hey, romance often doesn’t fit with your life. Damned if I’m not going to keep it in the book. That’s what I love about writing.

7. When someone says your new book is the best novel you’ve ever written, does that make you momentarily feel insecure about the ones that came before? My favorite fan is the one who says that all of my books are equally compelling. I hope to have one of those fans someday.

8. I absolutely, positively, cannot fathom how anyone could have written a novel on those old typewriters, or long-hand. I jump around my novel like a frog on speed. (Mental note: cool simile, store it away and use it in next book!)

32 comments:

Barry said...

Dave, you're just trying to bait me with question #4, "Is there a 'far left' political movement in this country," aren't you? ;D

Wikipedia seems to think so. Here's their entry on "Far Left," which reads in relevant part:

"For much of the English-speaking world -- especially Australia and the United Kingdom -- far left is sometimes a pejorative term to indicate that a person is extreme or on the fringe in their left-wing views. In the 2000s, in countries where communist or socialist parties are not part of the political mainstream (such as the United States), the term far left can simply mean to the left of the most left-wing member of the legislature. However, right-wing American commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck often refer to Democratic Party politicians like John Edwards and organizations like Media Matters for America and MoveOn.org as "far-left." The US Department of Homeland Security defines left-wing extremism as groups who want "to bring about change through violent revolution rather than through established political processes.""

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_left

Also, if you Google "Far Left," you'll get 2,840,000 hits. "Extreme Left" will get you 499,000 hits. Granted, you will get more hits for "Far Right" and "Extreme Right." But it doesn't logically follow that the disparity is evidence of a lack of evenhandedness. Logically, the disparity could simply reflect reality: that the modern right is further from the center than the modern left. Regardless, I think 3.3 million or so Google hits eloquently answers your question of whether anyone has ever heard of the far left or extreme left, no?

Googling "New York Times Far Left," "CNN Far Left," and "Fox News Far Left," BTW, will also get you some interesting results.

If you can only hear "far right" and can't hear "far left," despite the obvious prevalence of both, might your selective perception be evidence of the kind of lack of evenhandedness you otherwise decry?

Anyway, for me, the big difference between left and right is that leftists are more willing to do a bit of research to test their arguments, to back their arguments with facts, and to abandon their arguments when the facts prove contrary.

Despite your biases, I still love you long time.

:)
Barry

Elise Logan said...

Hmmmm. I write steamy and erotic romance, so maybe I'm coming from a different perspective, but I like an open door on a sex scene. Not always- sometimes it just doesn't fit the story.

Great example for me where an open door wouldn't work is in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy. There aren't any really descriptive sex scenes - they are evocative more than graphic. And that works well for that book. In a lot of mysteries and non-romance genre literature, I think graphic sex is optional. Even within romance, there are segments where graphic sex is not necessary, even problematic.

When the focus of the story is on the relationship,though, a lot of the dynamic and the story of the relationship is told using the characters' bodies and how they relate to each other in a sexual context. For that, graphic is definitely a plus. Robin Schone, in my opinion, uses sex scenes in this way.

But, yes, I hate it when I do a ton of research and include a lot of really cool stuff, then have to strip it out. And if you find that fan, will you share? I think we'd all like to have that fan (I'll admit that before you mentioned it, I've never had that bout of insecurity. I'm sure I will now.)

Adam Bourgoin said...

David-Ever have the prime suspect in the book change on you? I got to the point in my novel a couple weeks ago where I reveal to the reader who it was. But when I got ready to write, I said to myself, "The story would be so much more badass if it was this person." You know what? It is according to the person whom I have reading as I write.

It seems like you and I share the opinion of loving when the story changes on us-through no planning of our own. It's what makes a fictional story seem not so fictional.

Dana King said...

Sure, there's a far left. Its members don't usually have the money to gain access to broadly announce its perspective, as the far right has with Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.

They're just as nutty, but they lack the means to get in your face about it.

David Ellis said...

Barry, I did think of you when I wrote that part of the blog. "The obvious prevalence of both?" Hmmm. I don't agree but always appreciate the comments. Especially this one:

"Anyway, for me, the big difference between left and right is that leftists are more willing to do a bit of research to test their arguments, to back their arguments with facts, and to abandon their arguments when the facts prove contrary."

Moving to a new country hasn't changed you. Thanks for the note. I've lost touch with you. Hope the sequel to FAULT LINE is going well...

David Ellis said...

Elise, on your comment about sex scenes: you are probably more in line with the norm, and I the exception. And maybe I was too categorical in my comment. At the time (1:00 in the morning), I couldn't think of a sex scene in a novel that particularly stuck out at me. Surely there are places where more detail is appropriate. Thanks for the note ...

David Ellis said...

Adam: Yes, I have had times where the prime suspect has changed on me. Very cool when it happens. You just suddenly start thinking, wow, this would be cool, and then you think about it and it crystallizes.

Libby Hellmann said...

I'm right there with the research part, Dave. I'm writing a book that takes place in Iran during the Revolution, and I keep thinking I need to provide the historical background and context. Thank god for my writing group, who keep telling me to edit it down. Still, I was a history major in college, so it's hard to do.

I'm also familiar with the ever-changing perpetrator. I think it's changed three times so far, and I'm only half way done.

Thanks, Dave. Great rants.

Laura Caldwell said...

I guess you're right - maybe that wasn't exactly a sex scene in Line of Vision. It was sort of a watching-a-sex-scene. Errr, actually, it wasn't even watching sex was it? I have to look at Line of Vision again, but whatever it was, it was hot.

I am with my friend, Dave, here. I usually 'lead them up to the bedroom door' and then drop out. Anything too technical just loses my interest. In Red Blooded Murder, though, I talk about sex a lot more, or my character does, especially some alleged deviant acts and paraphernalia, but I still don't all out write the sex scene. Does talking about sex more mean it's sexier?

David Ellis said...

I think it does, yes. And Laura, however did you figure out I was referring to you?

I am looking forward to reading the Red Hot Trilogy once we get this budget mess done down here. Which should mean November, 2012.

Barry said...

Hey amigo, I was teasing about the difference between right and left. I don't know that a willingness to back arguments with facts and change an opinion when the facts are contrary is a left/right thing. It's still important though, no?

Miss you! Please tell me you'll be at Bcon in Indianapolis or I'll have to stalk you in Chicago.

David Ellis said...

Gotcha. No worries. Always glad to have a debate. Get a drink in me and we'll really talk. I'll try to bring facts to back up my points.

Look forward to seeing you at B-Con. Last time you had to bail for family reasons; this time that will be my excuse. My wife is scheduled to have a baby about 3days before the con begins, so I will only make a cameo, maybe do a presentation on the impeachment or something. I would probably blow it off altogether but have the new book coming out in September.

Anonymous said...

I really don't want to get into this heavy-duty, but the idea that leftists do research or are willing to change their minds on issues based on facts flies in the face of the past 40 years of left-wing antics in America. The left ALWAYS opposes U.S. military involvement or even the threat of war, regardless if it's Reagan's military build-up to bankrupt the Soviets in the 1980's, Bush Sr.'s original War against Iraq in 1991 or George W. Bush's War against Iraq and, for some leftists, even the war against the 9/11 terrorists in Afghanistan. The left ALWAYS opposes domestic fossil fuel and nuclear energy exploration, development and/or extraction, even when gas prices are hurting the middle and working classes. The Left ALWAYS plays the class warfare card in presidential elections, promising to "tax the rich" even though the "rich" already pay the majority of Federal income taxes. The Left ALWAYS favors abortion on demand at all times in all circumstances -- even given the revealed horrors of partial birth abortion. The Left ALWAYS plays identity politics, turning affirmative action programs to help racial and ethnic minorities into de facto quota systems. And, finally, the Left ALWAYS demands devout Catholics and Evangelical Christians keep their religious values out of public policy debates while they (the Left) vote for the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the Rev. Al Sharpton. In fact, the Left in this country haven't changed their minds on ANY major public policy in 40 years, regardless if it's military, energy, economic or social.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Interesting that Anonymous doesn't sign his (her?) opinions.

And where do Anonymous's "facts" come from?

David Ellis said...

Well, jeez, I made one little comment (out of 8 or 9) having something to do with politics and everyone gets worked up ... Well, at least it provoked discussion. I welcome and respect everyone's opinion. That was really the only point I was making, the lack of tolerance for all viewpoints.

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