Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's your malfunction?

We all do things that we really probably shouldn't with our writing. Sometimes, this is forgivable. Follow the rules to a T and you will end up with some dull, dull dross. Ludicrously well written dross! But dross nonetheless. Other times, you end up with not-so-good situations.

For example, if I have a character who smokes, he smokes way too much. He will down enough cigarettes in a page to massacre a herd of bull elephants.

(As an interesting note, it's only ever cigarette smokers who smoke too much. If I give a character cigars, he'll still smoke pretty frequently, but about as often as someone with a smoking habit would ordinarily. If I give a character a pipe, it's basically just when they're at home, which is not often in fiction-land.)

This is largely because I do not know what to do with my characters. Most of it, however, stems from the fact that I am incredibly anal retentive in my writing. On the whole I'm fine with paragraphs, but there are certain shapes of paragraph that for some reason drive me so totally insane.

And so I pad.


I also pad because, as I noted moments ago, I really don't know what to do with my characters, and it feels weird just saying Character Q did action Y and leaving it at that for a little while. It feels like they need to be doing something all the time.

Apparently I have Character Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Scottish tea, tai chi, and mac n' cheese

Today hasn't much been a day of writing because, being that I only have two days of class this week, I have a very limited amount of time to get things done so I can finish playing catch up and registering for next semester.

I have, however, had a lot of time for observing, thinking, and doing quick random things.

For example, it's weird being around certain people who I not only used to be around a lot but also not really having anything to say to them. My mind decides to revert to how I used to be when I first met them. It's kind of unnerving.

This lead to a realization. I feel like my first meeting with a person pretty much defines the spine of our relationship. If I meet someone in an awkward way or feel intimidated from the off, that kind of becomes the basic relationship I have with that person. Sure, like any relationship, it grows and changes with time, but the core of it never really moves from that initial meeting.

I think this applies to fictional creations as well as real people.

I'm not saying Ian Goodenough is undeserving of any love, but I feel like a part of why I love Goodenough so much and why it's the one concept I refuse to abandon is because I created Goodenough while I was on a roll. I'd just finished writing a 102,359 word manuscript and did a fair bit on a sequel/follow-up that I was enjoying when I had the initial idea for Goodenough. Over time, Goodenough changed from a borderline-alien gentleman thief to an eccentric private detective, but the core of our relationship has remained one of joy and love.

By contrast, the WIP I began in February I never liked very much, and I've really begun hating it. I had started it when I was in a dry rut and the initial idea wasn't really much of anything, but I felt so much like I needed to write something again that I just went tippa-tapping away.

And I think that's why I'm sticking by my very slow moving (at least right now) story. I really liked the initial idea, and although I think the better part of the first chapter is so far beyond crap words fail, I keep sticking by because of that same sort of joy and optimism I feel for Goodenough.

"We should have done it in Bb". Lawl.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Working hard and stuff!

Okay, so perhaps it calls for a lot of leniency in your definition for working hard, but things are beginning to get underway again. I'm confident things will pick up in time, firstly because, as I've noted in the past, I despise beginnings with a fiery passion, and secondly because, let's face it, I haven't really written anything properly since July 2009, and haven't written much since May-ish.

Like I said, it depends a lot on how lenient you want to be. In shoddy timeline form:

Idea - 23 October [0 words]
Day 1 - 25 October [148 words]
Day 2 - 27 October [262 words]
Day 3 - 7 November [733 words]
Day 4 - 16 November [2057 words]
Day 5 - 20 November [462 words]

How much of this is surviving? Probably none. Admittedly I tend to hate my work anyway, but this is bad even by my craptacular standards. Still, it's a start. Like a noted above, it's a shaky start. Usually when I write, I do at least 1000 per day, sometimes as high as 1500. It's pretty rare I break 1500, and pretty rare I do a lot less than 1000 (i.e. anything more than a handful of words, 978 isn't a lot off, 789 is). Still, there's some marked progress there. Today is down from the past two days of working on it, though Day 4, as you can see, was very much the odd duckling, given that I had to power through a research paper the next day (it was due on Thursday at 12.45 pm), so that was kind of like making up for lost time, and is also where a lot of red pen is going to be going when we reach the editing stage.

Still, 462 is a step up from the first two, and considering I didn't even WANT to write (seriously, the only reason I did was because, quote: "Ugh, it's been a while, I should write something at least.") today and had continual distractions throughout, 462 doesn't seem that bad.

How long until we get to the end of chapter one? No idea.
How long until we get to the point where it hopefully stops sucking so hard? No idea, but my gut says there's another chapter or two to power through before we hit my usual level of suck instead of this.

See you Space Cowboy...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Whaddaya mean it was the help?

So lately I've been trying to figure out what to post about, and over the course of a couple days things happened (including a friend linking me to this rather awesome thing) which lead up to the formation of this post, and another, but unfortunately some phantom agony meant I couldn't write them up yesterday. Actual post after the song.

Being a fan (and sometimes writer) of crime fiction, there is one trope constantly associated with the genre. In fact it's probably the one thing most people are familiar with without even a glancing knowledge of the genre and its subtypes. Say it with me now:

The butler did it!

...Only, he didn't. Or did he?

The butler did it is an interesting stereotype of detective fiction in that the notion of the hired help always being the killer seems to come from nowhere. It occasionally appears in more recent stories - such as 2004's Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (although technically he wasn't a butler). Looking back, however, the notion of a butler murderer never really seems to come up. Even if you go all the way back to Edgar Allen Poe, the man effectively responsible for creating detective fiction. In fact, the pioneers of the genre were typically far more inventive than we give them credit for (mostly because nowadays their ideas are run into the ground - case in point: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)

Still, the idea has to have come from somewhere.

The phrase "the butler did it" is usually attributed to Mary Roberts Rinehart. Trouble is, she never actually used the phrase*. Now, in the story "The Door" the butler is, indeed, the killer, but the phrase "the butler did it" does not appear.

Is that it then? The phrase caught on from people talking to one another about a book in 1930?

Possibly. However, it seems unlikely that this would account for the longevity the phrase has enjoyed. And, more importantly, Mary Roberts Rinehart was not the first person to suggest that the butler be the killer.

S.S. Van Dine published Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories in 1928. It was originally run in a magazine, and later included in an omnibus of his Philo Vance stories. These were, as Van Dine saw them, effectively commandments of the genre. (It's fun to note that in rule number seven he quite plainly states "No lesser crime than murder will suffice".)

Van Dine, however, actually wrote off the notion that a servant be a killer. Rule ten states, "The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story" and rule eleven outright says, "A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion".

The phraseology there is, in fact, incredibly important. "One that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion". Why should the butler be coming under suspicion in the first place? In 1928, crime fiction was still relatively new. Indeed, Poe wrote the Dupin stories beginning in 1841, but it wasn't until Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study in Scarlet was first published in 1887) that the genre really caught on. Indeed, the Sherlock Holmes stories have become the template for the majority of crime fiction since, and C. Auguste Dupin is forgotten by all but superfans of the genre.

Yet Arthur Conan Doyle never called culpability down on the butler. Not exactly, anyway. In The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual the butler Brunton is found to be stealing from Musgrave, and soon both he and the maid disappear. Eventually, Brunton is found dead beside a chest. So, in a sense, the butler did it inasmuch as he is guilty of theft, but it's not really the theft so much as the disappearance of Brunton and Rachel that brings the story about in the first place.

Typically when one says "the butler did it", one thinks of murder. Of course, this may have more to do with the fact that most detective fiction concerns murder, and even in those stories where it is not a murder, murder comes to be suspected.

Probably the earliest example of a butler being the murderer comes from The Brothers Karamazov, although how popular a serialized piece of Russian literature was to American and British audiences in 1880 is not something I have much knowledge of.

Ultimately, the notion of "the butler did it" is something that does come up in detective fiction, but nowhere near as often as people might think. I can think of four stories where this notion is played pretty straight. Five if you count Murder on the Orient Express. If we think of it in terms of servants/servers, then it can be expanded a bit more, but ultimately even if we're pretty liberal in our definition of "the butler did it" I can think of only ten pieces of literature. Of course, this doesn't mean there aren't more. However, I seriously doubt the "more" places it into the sort of numbers people expect.

"The butler did it" probably became a grievance for the very reason it would first be employed. The butler is the ultimate killer. No one really thinks of the butler - they're just there, going about their business, a bit like a cabbie. They can wander freely from room to room free of suspicion, and no one really expects the butler to have a knife up his sleeve or pull a gun from under his lapel. Innovative at first, but perhaps seen as bit of a cop-out, as in most stories the butler is a side character of little to no importance (hence the rules above**).

The moral of the story?

"The butler did it" is like lupus. It's never the butler.

Except when it is.

*Just like "Beam me up, Scotty" or "Elementary, my dear Watson", the phrase was never actually spoken.
**It is interesting to note that if one actually followed S.S. Van Dine's rules, you'd eventually have to rule out Poe, Conan Doyle, and Christie, the three real pioneers and codifiers of the genre.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reasons we think our neighbor is a mafioso (an ever expanding list)

1. Over the summer, State Patrol cars would pull up every half hour from mid-morning until sunset, parking in a spot where you can still see their house but cannot be seen from the house, and would sit there for quite some time, as though observing something.

2. A couple days ago, a car pulled up in said spot and immediately turned the blinkers on. A man got out, paced up the street a few feet, then got back into his car. Another car came along and slowed down to all but a stop as it passed the van, and then took off. About a minute later, the van turned off its four ways and sped off.

3. Just a few minutes ago, a man in a tracksuit and a guy in a leather jacket were out in the same spot. I was washing dishes so I missed any leadup, but when I came over to open up some windows, they half-jogged up to each other, and then immediately stopped and started to walk away when a car came by. Leather pulled out his phone, but immediately put it away when the car went past, and they walked back up to each other and spent some time looking around like they were looking for something, or looking out for something.

5. A while back, a van parked in said spot, a guy got out, went around behind the row of hedges, and came back to his van a few minutes later carrying something, and immediately went speeding away.