Today I’m going to respond to a few comments that came in over the weekend. Tomorrow, I’ll be working on the next issue of the e-zine, so won’t blog. Wednesday, I’ll be starting a new series with a guest author. She’ll be talking about her scheme for designing a novel which appears to be the very opposite of my Snowflake method. More on that on Wednesday. In the meantime . . .
Tiffany wrote, regarding Dwight Swain’s book:
Also, when you’re looking at fiction from an intellectual or literary fiction standpoint, it can rankle to have someone say “Story about ideas is boring,” and “People read for excitement, not intellectual stimulation.” I agree with Swain, to a certain extent, though I’m positive I wouldn’t have agreed when I was studying English Lit and creative writing in college, and was wholeheartedly embarrassed by my addiction to pulp fantasy. Still, every time he makes a blanket statement like that, I find myself thinking of all the exceptions (one of my friends, for instance, who likes to unwind by reading some Kant or Plato or Hegel).
Randy sez: Right, Dwight Swain explicitly says at the beginning of his book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER that it’s not for literary novels. He teaches what works for genre fiction, not for literary fiction.
The complaint I’ve heard from some people is that Swain is boring. I never found him boring, so all I can say is that boring is relative. After all, there are even folks who have no interest in statistical inference! This appalls me, since I find it fascinating. After all, without some form of inference, you would know NOTHING. Yet there are a few people (you know who you are) who find the question of Bayesian priors just a wee bit dull. Conversely, I’m told there are people who LIKE accounting. (Snore…)
The truth is that no matter what you find extraordinarily fascinating, there is some philistine somewhere that finds it unutterably boring. Speaking of which . . .
Yeah Randy, you’re definately right about writer’s and their research. My husband thinks that I must be one of the foremost minds in 10th Century Irish History because of all the research I put into it. But I can’t help what I love. Plus I’m one of those worry worts whose always got to cross reference everything to make sure I get my facts straight. As a historical fiction writer, how much research should be put into your book? I was told by one author in that genre that you should have at least three different sources that agree on a given topic before you put it down as fact. That seems to be an aweful lot of sources to me! Especially considering all of the facts you have to verify!
Randy sez: Probably the biggest criminals (in terms of boring other people) are historical writers. They do all that research and so they figure they have to inflict it on their readers. No. No, no, NO! Do 100 times as much research as you need in order to write the book. Then put in 1 percent of what you know. This ensures that you won’t bore your reader and that you’ll have enough material for your next 99 books without doing any more research.
As for that rule that says you have to have at least 3 sources, I don’t believe it. Most of what we know about ancient history comes from a single source. And in fact, a lot of what we know about any time period is contradicted by at least one source. Want proof? Read tomorrow’s newspaper. I assure you I haven’t seen it yet. If you read it carefully, you’ll find at least one “fact” which you know perfectly well is false.
Historical sources were human and they had biases. So they disagree. The art of history is figuring out what probably happened in spite of those pesky sources, who exaggerate, prevaricate, fib, lie, cheat, and generally bend the truth. When you don’t know something, make it up. If you’ve done your homework, your guess will be as good as anyone else’s and better than most.
Just as an example, I write about Jewish history in the first century of this era. Our main source is the Jewish historian Josephus, who fought against Rome in the Jewish revolt, then got captured and switched sides to work for the Roman. After the war, he retired to Rome to write history. He produced two major works which contradict each other on a number of points, and which are clearly biased or implausible at many others. An unsolved problem is to deconstruct Josephus and figure out what REALLY happened. Yet he’s the best thing we’ve got: he covers the period up to A.D. 70 very well; after that, we know very little for quite a long period of time. No historian would want to lose this very valuable source, even though interpreting him is very difficult.
OK, on Wednesday we’ll begin a new series on the “Puzzle Method” of writing a novel. See ya then!