Sesquipedalophobia – or how I learned to appreciate simple words

I have a bit of a bad habit, where I could say something with one word, I often use twenty-five, (that’s probably my guilty little secret to success in NaNoWriMo), and sometimes when two or three simple words will do, I’ll use one antiquated or complicated word.

It’s something I’ve fine all my life, but I guess it became especially prevalent in essays for college. That little word count target that others in my class struggled with, I’d blast past. I even got told off, “This is more than I’d expect for a university essay.” If you were to talk to my boss at work, he would probably bemoan the war and peace emails I send, which ultimately mean everything’s fine.

It’s never all waffle, (though I’ll admit to doing a fair bit of that), I just tend to over think things, and the sum total of my thoughts gets recorded. I’ll even write something once, and then correct myself, rather than editing the original words, (and that’s how continuity errors become great big blooming plot holes in the middle of a story).

As I mentioned, another side of my bad habit is to use recently antiquated words, perfectly good English, but not something you would use in conversation. Which makes all of the above even harder to read, because not only are you making your way through a tour de force on making a loaf of bread, your scratching your head at what on earth the Chorleywood process means.

I’d like to think I’m not trying to purposefully over power the reader, or appear more intelligent than I am – it’s more a deep sated desire to make myself understood, and yet making myself thoroughly misunderstood I imagine.

And it’s also my love of older books as well. I love Victorian and Edwardian pulp fiction, and that carries a style and form of language you don’t really encounter in the modern world, and it’s inevitable that will carry over into my writing.

Challenge one of this post then is to write in plain English, it doesn’t have to be concise, because that’s simply not how I write. I’ll use editing to reduce my gross verbosity.

Now you’d think given that I write lots and lots of words, and use super cool, (okay not really cool), words, that you’d read a page of my novel and after getting past the gross verbosity you’d have a crystal clear picture of everything from how it’s set, to what happened, and what was said. However I have a curious problem with how I write is that, despite the gross word count I’m really bad at descriptive writing. Dialogue and action are explicit usually, the scene around it, the character descriptions, the locations,  these are usually bare and brief.

I remember  back in high school a teacher once telling me to leave things to readers imagination, and somehow that advice has become so ingrained as to go to the extreme.

I greatly admire Frank Herbert’s descriptive verbosity, but it’s not something I have ever been able to do a frequent of. I’m more aligned with Robert E Howard, (though even his descriptive skills are much richer than mine).

So the second challenge of this post is to scale back some of the action and dialogue, and give a bit more time to setting the scene and characters. It won’t matter if it’s not great, if it’s there I can work on fixing it in editing. In fact, I can make it the first focus of my editing. If as I write I flag any significant, or significantly absent descriptive sections, I can as soon as I’m done go through and redo those bits, and then go into the second draft proper, and  a more general and thorough editing. I don’t want to subtract from pace, if I stop to spend time on something I struggle with, there’s the chance I won’t finish. I know that’s happened in the past.

Going to put both of these challenges into this year’s NaNoWriMo. Where else? Well if I were sensible of try a couple of short stories ahead of November, and put all this into practice. However time is not necessarily on my side, but we’ll see. I’ve got a few days off in September.

Sounds like I’ve got an action plan to me.

 

N.b. the word of the day is clearly going to have to be ‘verbosity’ I seemed to have used it a lot. In fact, I think I’m falling in love with the term ‘gross verbosity’.

Oh it’s a Greek Tragedy…

One of the things I’ve been doing this summer is studying the art of story telling. I’m frequently loose in how I approach writing, not working to one style or method, (if I were being romantic about it, I’d describe myself as the Bruce Lee of writing, however in reality it’s purely because I just go with the flow). For instance, I often don’t have a defined antagonist, or I’ll have multiple in succession, (kind of like bosses in video games), or the antagonists will be an organisation of equal parts.

There’s actually nothing stylistically wrong with that par se, however it doesn’t really sit with fashion. Audiences expect a clear antagonist with subordinates, people they can root for or against. Doesn’t matter if it’s the monster of the week, or business men, it all ties back to one individual that sits atop an hierarchy, or goes it solo. Sometimes writers throw twists of a hidden relative, or a behind the scenes bogeyman to fuel a sequel, but they either usurp the antagonist’s power after the main conflict is resolved, or they were always the enemy and the hero never knew.

Meanwhile my protagonists tend to be singular heroes, even when they’re part of a group I paint them as above it, separate from it. I’m not happy I do it most of the time, it’s what my recent writing actually required, it was post-apocalyptic after all, and he was the only survivor in the region. However this peculiar failing on my part has probably been the cause of many stories not being finished as I write myself into a corner no single mere man, (or woman), can escape.

Of course there are ways round this, I could go back and alter the story to add in another character to come to the rescue, or indulge in a bit of deux ex machina, but that would feel contrived to me. That said, recently I’ve seen some excellent uses of this, such as in the film Gravity (I won’t spoil it with details if you’ve not seen it yet), or in Star Wars, (you know the bit in the first film where Obi Wan speaks to Luke at the critical moment, “Use the force Luke”. Both are well reasoned, and don’t feel at all contrived, (to me anyway).

Having one character to carry the whole of the story sounds simple, but if you write yourself in the corner, you’re stuck. Not to mention it’s unnatural, and if it happens in the workplace it’s a very dark day because one employee, with either good or bad intentions, holds a whole business to ransom.

I can admit my failings, it’s the only way to learn to do better. To do better I need to change how I write, so I’ve been studying the how other writers handle their protagonists and antagonists. One of the methods I like it’s a common one in Greek story telling which involves three principle characters:

  • Protagonist, chief actor – who enters into conflict because of the antagonist. They’re the one we follow, identify with, and support… Most of the time anyway.
  • Deuteragonist, the second actor, he’s the supporter or even a minor antagonist, his loyalties, drives, and actions alter independent of the protagonist or antagonist, but in accordance with his own arc/plot.
  • Tritagonist, the third actor, this is your antagonist, the provider of conflict to your protagonist and potentially deuteragonist.

This is quite a simple method, but it has flexibility which is good. You could have the Deutaragonist as multiple people for instance, as long as each part qualifies, if you were on a long voyage, you might have multiple guides along the way, if it’s a war story the second in command could die and be replaced by someone else fulfilling the same function – though each would bring uniqueness to the role.

While looking it at, I did wonder if it’s realistic? And I could easily find thousands of hypothetical examples of this dynamic. One of my favourites is a film called The Sting (1973, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford), though the con uses many people, and the target has how own people, ultimately the core of the story is protagonist, deuteragonist, and tritagonist, while necessary and intimately involved with events and well characterised and acted, the other characters are superfluous, nice detail, vehicles of convenience. It’s the same with TV homages to the sting as seen in Hustle, Leverage, and White Collar to name a few, so much so, in those homages, previously strong characters are relegated to minor roles.

I’m not trying to belittle other characters importance, certainly while there are good examples of stories with only three characters at all out there, you mostly can’t create a convincing world without other people. However, if you’re to create an arc or a plot for each and every character in your story, if each of them had to have more than a line of backstory, the story would become a diluted mess, and if you only had two fleshed out characters, (the protagonist and antagonist), the story would be just as diluted and weak.

There are many ways you could do your primary characters, maybe the story needs five, maybe it only needs two, all I’m saying is with the two I normally do I get stuck, and with more than three I don’t think I could keep it in course, so I think protagonist, deuteragonist, and tritagonist is a dynamic that I think will work for me.

So this is another challenge for my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel. All being well I’ll have a strong cast of characters, a protagonist that people can invest in, and no plot holes for me to get buried in. So in the plotting I’m doing I’m going to list ten characters, the three summarised above, some key characters to help drive the story on, with enough detail to make them interesting. Thereafter, other characters will be planned as a list of names, and what their role within the story is, and some description notes.

Where is this all going? – Redefining success

I alluded in my last post what being a writer to me is.

“[…] Writers write. Being published, even read, that’s irrelevant. Writers write. That’s the only thing that defines a writer.”

In that sense I’m quite successful, I can and do write. That’s more of an epiphany than you might think, I called my blog Aspiring because I thought I was an aspiring writer, a nascent storyteller, yet still not on the mark, however that’s not the truth. I might be trying to learn to be better at writing, but that’s irrelevant. I write, therefore I’m a writer.

What I really am is an aspiring author. I’m trying to hone my craft to the level I feel comfortable sharing my works, with little or no qualification. That’s not as easy as it sounds, I’m highly self critical. To accept something I’ve written to be good enough to publish to the world, (whether that’s through this blog, through self publishing ebooks, or through submitting to publishers), is no small feat. I have done it, like with the sci fi serial I posted for a while, (and since taken down because I wasn’t happy with it), and the daily flash fiction challenge I did, (albeit with lots of qualifiers about quality and haste, all 140+ short stories are still there – so that’s something, right?).

I’ve decided I want to take this seriously though. I want to leave my mark in one fashion or another, and there’s one thing that I’m good enough that has the chance of being indelible, and that’s writing. What I do at work is transient, it’s replaced by the next big thing pretty much monthly, I don’t have any particular insights into my job that would like to a new methodology being named for me. It’s not modesty, because I do some amazing stuff. Now writing, I don’t know if I’d ever be good enough to be remembered beyond myself, but there’s a greater chance of it.

Millions of stories, books, every year get forgotten about. It’s actually kind of sad when you think about it. However thousands will be remembered by people, thousands will affect lives, and some of those will go on and be read and remembered by future generations.

When you read Jane Austen, HG Wells, Frank Herbery, Tolkien, DH Lawrence, even things like Beowulf, you’re contributing to the immortality of not just the characters, but the writers. And I find that tremendously exciting, to be connected with these fantastic talents across the bridge of years. So of course, I’d like to try my hand at that – not that I’m saying I can, but I am saying I can try. It requires refocusing myself, and really aspiring. All I’m saying is it’s possible, it’s exciting, and it’s worthwhile.

Even if I somehow miss, (and I won’t know that until the day I give up writing stories), I’ll still have all the fun of crafting my stories into words.

So there’s a few milestones I need to get past on the way, which I’m going to explore over several posts. Here’s a few key ones that I need to do for this year’s NaNoWriMo:

  • A good story idea (and all the elements that implies like interesting characters, a compelling arc, fascinating sub-plots, etc)
  • Clear writing, (no needlessly using overcomplicated or antiquated words – I’m not trying to win over critics, I’m trying to win over as many readers as I am capable of)
  • Focusing as much time, (or indeed more), on my second draft as the first draft
  • Pure dedication to the art of editing, and re-editing, (ad inifinitum), until the story is finely honed. Then I’ll consider having a third party take it further.
  • Promotion of my self and my novel, which is a bit of a tough one because I’ve no idea where to start, but I’ll cross that bridge once I know I’ve got a story I want to push that far.
  • The right vehicle from myself to my readers, (whether it’s publishing to my blog, to ebook stores, or whatever – whichever is right for the novel)

So if that’s my challenge, when am I going to do it? When else? NaNoWriMo. My goal of this NaNoWriMo is a complete first draft of a novel. I think I’ll aim for the 200k mark, assuming I’ll lose half in editing and re-editing, that should leave me with a reasonable sized novel.

To do that I’m going to have to be prepared, so this will be another planning year. That gives me 66 days to get ready. This week I’ll filter my ideas down to just a couple and then make my final decision, and dedicate myself to two months of detailed plans. Characters, scenes, plots all detailed ready to be pulled together into a story.

This year, (well next by time I’ve finished finishing) editing and such), will be the year I finally make an attempt at doing something with my writing, if I’ve got something that warrants it, that is, if not I’ll immediately start a new project. The first draft and first round of editing will be completed before moving onto another project – because anything less would be defeatist, than realistically evaluating what I’ve written.

It doesn’t do to preface a challenge with failure, but what’s the worst that can happen? If I don’t succeed, if I don’t have millions of people feverishly pouring over my words, I’ll still be a writer, and I’ll still be enjoying writing. This is merely another level hopefully.