The Way I Do the Things I Do

Audacity2How does one write? It’s sort of like asking a baseball fan, how does one keep score?

Why, there’s only one way to keep score. The way it works for you. Or, uh, one. Awkward or not. It’s a matter of person. If one starts in third, one stays there. No gear shifting. It’s got to be automatic.

At this point, one recognizes the error of his ways. He is writing opinion. He should have started this blog in first person. Therefore, reluctantly, he shifts. Check that. First person is now automatic. I went to AAMCO.

Enough of this zany collection of puns and other poetic devices. It’s a sure way to gain followers. Nothing defines commercial viability like puns, being as they are in the lower ranks of humor.

But, seriously, folks … stop me before I stumble across the border into Onomatopoeia. Honk! Honk! M-C-O! It’s a tawdry place, full of farts and belches.

This just works for me, and if it worked better, perhaps I would be more successful. It’s evolving through trial and error. Occasionally, lessons penetrate my thick head.

I have had two novels, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, published. I have two more projects: one, Crazy of Natural Causes, has been through three drafts and is sitting idle, and the other, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is nearing the end of the first draft. Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable on the routine absurdity of life. It’s about a man, Chance Benford, who bounces along as if in a rowboat amid stormy seas. Benford just manages the best he can. Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a crime novel about the inevitable conflict between an evil, ambitious solicitor and a quiet, methodical cop who works to expose him.

Here’s how mine start. Just as with my guitar, I’m self-taught, which is not to say I am uninfluenced. I’ve learned much, over the years, from fellow sportswriters. The biggest influence on my writing, though, is my reading. I didn’t take notes. I absorbed. Elmore Leonard taught me dialogue. Dick Francis was a model for plotting. I’m sort of on my own, since both recently died, but there are still books of theirs out there. The greatest inspiration was John Steinbeck, but I’m not sure he was as much an influence, simply because he was so damned good.

Okay. It seems as if I’ve digressed all morning. Here’s the basic way I write a novel.

MontyBookFLatSEPIA_TITLE              I start out with an outline so simple it barely qualifies. Then I start telling my story with the fingers of my hands. At the end of each chapter, I go back and add layers of detail to the outline. This is mostly a reference tool, enabling me to avoid the mysterious transformation of a green Buick in Chapter Five to a brown Dodge in Chapter Twenty-Seven.

Theoretically.

I finish the first draft. I have a detailed outline. (The Forgive Us Our Trespasses outline, through forty-one chapters, is currently 21,340 words.) Important items are highlighted in yellow. This also serves the purpose of keeping me from using the same observation or anecdote twice.

The second draft is for expansion. I try to bear down and make the story livelier by injecting humor, mostly, but also irony, emphasis, etc. I bear down.

In the third draft, I pare down. I delete adverbs. I also try to part with passages that, while entertaining, fail to move the story along. These cuts are difficult. I’m reluctant to part with my dead ends.

The plan is for three drafts to suffice, but it’s not reliable. I have deemed Crazy of Natural Causes worthy of a fourth draft. I’m looking forward to getting back to it. During these months of work on the crime novel, I’ve forgotten about Chance and his adventures. I’m looking forward to revisiting that world.

There has to be a stopping point. I could write, polish, embellish, economize, et al., on and on and on. There comes a point when I have to move on. There comes a point of diminishing return. There comes a limit of perfectionism. There comes a country song:

I’ve laid around / And played around / This old town too long / Summer’s almost gone / Lord, winter’s coming on / I’ve laid around / And played around / This old town too long / And I feel like I’ve gotta travel on. – “Gotta Travel On,” Paul Clayton.

The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles are available at www.neverlandpublishing.com, not to mention http://www.amazon.com, where Kindle editions are also available.

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