Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A book is like an onion (actually, not really)

Daily Stats:
Words: 700
Caffeine: morning cup + midday cappuccino
Evil Calories: left-overs from boy's happy meal
Reality TV: probably something on Bravo

As I write, I find myself wanting to be understood. Wanting people to pick up what I'm putting down. Wanting people to catch what I'm throwing. But I walk a thin line between "subtle" and "overtly obvious". I like subtle. A little hint, hint, nudge, nudge is much better than several large whacks over the head, yes? But it dawned on me today how much we have to trust our reader. I'm just going to drop this little crumb here in chapter 10 and hope you pick it up, because if you don't you'll be really confused in the chapter 19. But that's what I love. That's what makes me read a book or see a movie over and over. Those teeny, tiny little microscopic details that you don't pick up the first time around, but often lend to the overall symbolism of the book.

Ugh, I just said symbolism. Am now having a flashback of my 12th grade English Lit class. My teacher....Ms. S - something, can't remember, she looked like a flagpole with limbs. She had alarmingly long fingers (and you know what they say about people with long fingers. Long gloves.) She would go on and on about symbolism, which I always thought was pretty cool, but my classmates, especially the stoner dudes who sat behind me, thought was lame. "Why can't we just read the books? Why do we have to talk about symbolism?" Then Ms. S would get all fidgety and twittery and look a little like her head was going to launch into orbit and the stoner dudes would "dude" each other ("dude, high five, dude, she's freakin' out, dude, look at her dude, she's gonna crap herself dude, awesome, dude.") Meanies. I felt so bad for her and she'd spend the rest of the class trying to actually explain to dumb-ass A, B and C behind me that symbolism was important. Ms. S...they just snorted some of that powder soap in the bathroom. They don't hear you right now.

Anyway, I digress...

My whole point is that it takes us definitely two, sometimes three and in many cases four or five drafts of our books to finally get all the little pieces exactly where they need to be. But it never occurred to me until now that it could take just as many readings to pick up all those little details we've so meticulously placed throughout the story. This makes me a little sad. I would never be so bold to think that anyone would read a book of mine over and over, so that means they'd miss some of the juiciest little morsels.

Guess I should just shut up and enjoy writing them...


Elizabeth said...

I'm first?!
So now the pressure to reply with something witty...
Ok so... I really like reading your process. I usually beat myself up when the first draft doesn't sound stellar. But it does take talented writers many drafts doesn't it? I feel better about myself now.
Also, I had a couple memorable English teachers in high school. I loved that class. I wonder why I never followed through with it? How the heck did I turn out to be nurse?
I'm back tracking now.
Ach..nursing is ok. It really feeds my stories well with human insights.
Enough from me for now.
Have a good night!

Bryan B. said...

I found myself watching Police Academy 4 (Yeah, that's Citizens on Patrol) when one of these little subtle details popped into my head. Um...about my story, not Police Academy.

Anyway, it kinda freaks me out when I start thinking about all this. I've found that most people don't enjoy subtlety in books or movies. They'd rather have something blow up or an butt-joke. Wait, can I say that here...hmm, sorry if the answer's no....

Carrie Harris said...

I think we may have gone to the same school. And who says people won't reread your stuff?!?!

Sarah J Clark said...

Sometimes, I find the best "symbolism" happens accidentally, however I have a friend who's genius at writing them purposefully.

Whatever the case, just write!

Amy Ellis said...

First of all, I need to send a message to Elizabeth. No worries about the career choice. You have much more job security as a nurse. (Trust me, I have an English degree!)

Okay, sissy, here's the deal. You are FAR better off working with subtlety than subscribing to the George Lucas school of storytelling, which goes something like, "LOOK! DID YOU GET IT! DID YOU?! LET ME JUST WHACK YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH IT SO YOU GET MY BIG BRAINY SYMBOLISM!" Which always turns out to be completely laughable anyway (I'm talking prequels here, naturally!)

Subtle symbolism is good. Smart people love it. And it doesn't matter if it's intentional or accidental. But it will involve long discussions of what you've written and whether or not you actually intended to do that, which will only make you a more popular writer. So it's a good thing.

Devon Ellington said...

Also, I think, as we work through drafts of our books, we find connections and subtleties we may have missed in the flush and pressure of writing.

We do need to trust our readers, and, oh, so often, they pick up more than we could hope.

I often re-read books, so I don't think that's out of the question to think that our readers just might do the same.

Tracey said...

I agree with Amy, subtle symbolism is the best. I love how often it just kind of creeps into the writing all on its own without being forced.

I also love how re-reading something can reveal those extra little nuggets that were missed the first time. Unfortunately, I usually don't have time to re-read or I've lent someone the book & I have to hunt it down.