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Slate Revisited

In advance of NaNoFiMo I dug out that long ago novel from 2006′s Nanowrimo, about Slate the ninja accountant and the paladin with the dead demon in his head, and started re-reading it, editing as I went.


Reading something six years old is odd.

Most of it is…serviceable. Which is an ugly-sounding word, but I think undeservedly so. Writing has to be serviceable to do the job. There are long stretches where the writing gets you from Point A to Point B and I don’t know that I can come up with a better way to do it. And parts of it really work well.

So, serviceable with flashes of great. Maybe not as good as I’d write today, starting cold, but it hangs together.

And then there’s the dialog.

I have long maintained that dialog is a separate skill from writing the Point A to Point B bits, and I know perfectly well that I’m much better at one than the other. The dialog has points that have me actually laughing at the keyboard. I couldn’t do those better. In fact, I start to think “This would be a good line–” and two lines later, there it is.

It’s just odd, because the contrast between “serviceable” and “awesome” is so much starker. I have gotten better at writing Point A to Point B, but my dialog was as good then as it is now.

The editing at this point is mostly hacking apart over-long sentences and sending sad commas to their eternal reward. Occasionally I skip to the end and make a note in the file.

When I get to the end, though, I have to decide whether there’s enough going on with the plot to make it worthwhile to actually finish the bloody thing.

Plots are my weak point. I can write you a scene all day long, but my plots tend to consist of “Let’s go the long way around, and then perhaps there will be self-actualization/torture/spectacle/cake.” My only hope is that readers come along, scene by scene.

This is why I like fairy tales. Somebody already did that bit.

And there’s a lot to be said for “A fun ramble with good conversation,” but that won’t necessarily sell the book. And there are such potentially big things going on—dude has a decaying demon in his head! Ivory clockwork golems destroy the city! Fatalistic accountant ninja learns to love life again! Tattoos eat everybody!—that having the point of the book STILL be excuse-for-witty-banter-between-assassins becomes…I dunno, a bit bathetic?

I think I know the plot of this one. I suspect that once I get to the end of what I’ve got, I can write down the damn synopsis, go back and chop out a few chunks that do nothing much, and cram bits of plot into the resulting holes.

Just not sure if, on this one, the game is worth the candle.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.


Plots are my weak point. I can write you a scene all day long, but my plots tend to consist of “Let’s go the long way around, and then perhaps there will be self-actualization/torture/spectacle/cake.” My only hope is that readers come along, scene by scene.

I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Me, too! That's why I can't yet write the story I've had rambling around in my head for a decade- I can give you great snippets, some funny dialog, and some enjoyable background, but plot? No idea where that's at yet.

Six years? Mygosh, I remember you posting excerpts here (and that I loved 'em). Time flies.

I think "ramble with banter" describes about 98% of David/Leigh Eddings' oeuvre, so there is that.

You make a valid point.

Oooh, I remember that one! That's one of the ones I've always hoped would get finished sometime because I want to read more of it!

Okay, probably about 98% of the snippets and chapters and things you post fall into that category. I still really like this one because you made a paladin interesting instead of boring and one dimensional.

Obviously the thing to do at some point is to collaborate with someone who is better at A-to-B than at dialogue. Ideally you'll both come away from it with a few insights into how to do what the other's good at.

I want to read this book with a ninja accountant and hungry tattoos and a dude with a decaying demon in his head SO BAD. Please. Please. I need this book in my life.

I'm in a similar boat, though much less accomplished at it. I love writing conversations -- banter, grief, hilarity, all of it -- but I'm bad at making something actually *happen*. I'm slowly getting better at moving from point A to point B, but there isn't a Goal C yet.

In fact, I start to think “This would be a good line–” and two lines later, there it is.

Hah! I do that all the time. It's part of why I have to do edits on paper, because otherwise I start rewriting things to get that "this would be a good line" line in there, only to get to the next page and find out I already said that. :)

I'm assuming everyone who's commented so far knows about the book, "No Plot No Problem"? I'm thinking I needs me a copy o_O

I'm with you on the plot thing. Setting yes, character yes, style yes, dialogue yes. I can even set up a situation, but just can't seem to bring it together in a satisfying, non-cliche'd ending.

I kn ow what you mean, too, about not being sure there's enough in a story to be worth the writing. But in your case, I suspect the game is worth the candle. I for one would love to read.

I can understand all your self-criticisms. But it think yo are far from the only one to suffer such failings. There are an awful lot of authors out ther who's writings consist of Big Scenes tied together with rather lame exposition. If you put your creations out like that you will be no worse than the crowd - and bette (IMHO) in that the scenes are better. And you will learn e exposition, and each book will be better than its predecessor. But I will happily buy misc. scenes from UrsualaV rather than laboured plot from A N Other.

Plots are my weak point, too. This is why I write historical fiction, because it's already done there, too, if you choose your history carefully.

As I recall, Slate and company were already better-written than some published fiction I could name that sold well enough to support its author with no day job.

You have had people ask for a frameable copy of the Artist's Description of your artworks, because the description added so much. I predict there would be at least a moderately substantial market for 'a fun ramble with good conversation' in UrsulaV style.

As I recall, you once wrote a thing despite the fact that you spent much of the early chapters not even knowing the plot synopsis, and that you kept saying things like "I think I have about fifty pages left" when the actual number ended up being roughly double that. Somebody later described it as "an engrossing epic with tone-perfect mythology". And then it won some award or other.
So, um, I have to say that I'm not terribly worried about the plot of Slate&Company.

(Also, thirded or fourthed on how awesome the bits of it you posted are!)

Edited at 2012-11-01 02:24 am (UTC)

I learned a lot about plot from Todd Alcott toddalcott

Who is the protagonist and what does he/she/it want?
What is the gap between what they want and what they are getting?
What do they get in the end?

The story is how you get there.