In a nutshell, I was disappointed. I was hoping for a good, strong SF history chunk and instead got...well, truly, I'm not sure what I got. Not a real, clear history lesson, that's for sure. Expectations made the text hiccup; I was hoping for [this] and instead found myself reading about [that]. The fact that he drifted a lot didn't help. One minute we're talking about 1984 and the next it's something about Star Trek.
Fine, whatever, I perservered. I finished. Book's back at the library. Clean cup, move down.
I'm nearing the end of Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain now. Actually I'm reading two books at a time - I've been slowly chewing on Techniques and just recently plucked out three other books from the library (because they were finally available - though I might as well just buy them, truth be told). Some people might worry that since October 25th is nearby, I'm taking a risk by procrastinating. Psh. Obviously no one knows the way I function. The Fall of Hyperion will take me 5 days max. Judging by my current speed, that's about right. 1984 will take much less - 2 days, 3 max. But back to Techniques.
I have to admit, sometimes I zone out and will read through a page without really reading it. Annoying because then I have to reread it. Sometimes I don't because I've caught enough to fully grasp what Swain is talking about and realize, "I already know that." But of course there are oodles of ideas and things he's mentioned that I've either had trouble with or never thought of in that light.
For example, I've always had issues with time. In my previous books it wasn't a worry because things naturally progressed quickly. Days were just fine and dandy as something interesting would happen each day (sometimes night) and I never had to worry about "3 months later" and so forth. It wasn't until book #1 that I had to plan out days. Anyway, before I get too off track with other books that need polishing, Swain pointed out a great way to bridge that span of time. Slip it into the middle of a character's musings or current emotional feeling. That's the abridged version of his explanation, of course, but with his examples and whatnot I thought, "That's perfect!" And it seemed so easy too. Why hadn't I done that before? Doy, I was too preoccupied with the time factor I totally missed out on how I could gloss over it with just the right flicks of the pen. Not to say that the time isn't important, but it's a hell of a lot easier to slip it in so your reader knows 6 months have passed as opposed to trying to drag it out saying what went on these 3 months and then these next 3 months, blah blah, when it's not even important and all your reader sees is, well, "blah blah." I hate that extra crap.
I love Swain's style too. It's quick, to the point, and clear. I've always had trouble with the difference between "show and tell" and frankly I'd love to strangle both of those words, something I frequently have to do to my internal editor because she's back there poking a finger at my text saying, "Show, don't tell" and my description comes out like crap. Oh how I could go on about my description. But reading The Fall of Hyperion helps with that too because while Simmons can go overboard sometimes, he does have some good ways of presenting it. Better than myself, that's for sure. Swain also notes showing and telling and gives a few tips and explanations. His style is sort of like an outline (no, literally, it's like an outline with writing in between, it's rather great, actually), which keeps things orderly and helps restrain potential rambling, which after Hartwell, is really nice.
Something he mentioned near the beginning of the book was "Grammar as a fetish." I thought that was brilliant and giggled. Too many people can get stuck on perfect grammar. Personally, I love a good fragment. I don't think I've used any in my current book, but I know I have a lot in book #2, all intentional of course.
His section on beginnings is rather helpful because of my current fist-shaking at my own beginning. What to ditch. What should be important. Cutting and flashbacking. Other concepts to make sure the reader doesn't say your book is garbage and puts it where the rest of the garbage is. I think what he had to say will help give me a better beginning. More interesting. Less backstory since much of it is indeed inconsequential to the reader. One thing he mentioned is along the lines of "What may be important to you concerning backstory isn't always going to be important to the reader." Even if I need it to make my world work, they probably don't. Keeping that in mind makes cutting down a lot easier. Adding to that is The Fall of Hyperion's description and the fact that it gave me a few extra ideas that could be fun to include in the beginning (again, working with description and not just offering readers some lame, punch-out postcard crap). I feel much better about this.
Haha, my mentor Anne Harris warned me that Swain is a little sexist. Or maybe not so much that he is (was?) but that the book kind of is since it was written in '65. There are several places where, yeah, I can see it. Hahaha. I don't mind, of course, as long as I'm getting good advice. But it is kind of funny. Women tend to be leaving or cheating on their husbands, and the hero is always a guy. Sometimes I'll hit on something that's obviously guy-sided, but I just smile and shake my head. And I'm not all that feminist either, haha. Still, it's good stuff and I've already suggested it to a few people because he's got some handy points.