Novel Excerpt

dr
druid
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:26 pm Post

Hugh wrote:P.S. For some reason Google doesn't deliver your openings here, druid; maybe for copyright reasons. So I found my own copy of Chandler, a green paperback passed down through the family with a price written on it: "6d", two-and-a-half pence, about four cents.


Hugh, I apologize for the inconvenience. I was just using Google Books to display the passages and had assumed they are universally viewable. Glad to know that you have that great old paperback. Would that we could bring back the days of half-pence and thrupny bits! --D (is that how you spell thrupny?)

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Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:33 pm Post

druid wrote:Jaysen and Ahab, great stuff!

About commas: just think of them as pauses for breath. The 19th-century writers grew up in an era of grand rolling oratory, mostly heard in church, debate, or court. Some of them heard grand opera; so the aria is another model (see F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance).

In Moby Dick, Melville often tries to emulate the sound of waves and the wash of sea against boat hulls. The sound also picks up the way whales breathe, when they are resting at night on the surface. He possibly thinks of that rhythmical, heaving sound as something profound, like the heart of Nature, God, the Eternal.

S


Hawthorne wrote in his head as he walked, and if you read his best writing--Seven Gables, Scarlet Letter, Marble Faun, etc.--you can virtually hear him strolling along, inserting commas not where Fowler would shortly tell us all they belong but where he might have paused to peer at a posy.

I missed the oceanic-pulse in Moby Dick, which is surprising given how many times I've read it (and how much time I've spent on the ocean, a 20-minute walk away and once my principal place of business). Perhaps I'll re-read it this summer, snoozing under the boom tent anchored off an offshore island.

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Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:43 pm Post

Or perhaps I should have said that run-on sentences should either be for nobody, or for everybody. I wouldn't think they were bad if everybody did it, right? :mrgreen:
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vic-k
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:51 pm Post

How much do you all know about Maria Edgeworth?
Vic
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:57 pm Post

Maria E? Reasonably interesting life; shocking prose style.

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vic-k
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 4:47 pm Post

cece wrote:Maria E? Reasonably interesting life; shocking prose style.
Why shocking :D
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 5:48 pm Post

As I would also say of (just for instance) Jonathan Safran Foer: "Where was the editor??"

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Sean Coffee
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 7:37 pm Post

Poor africanstardust, stumbling into the rabbithole that is any given L&L thread after five posts. Don't worry, the topic will eventually right itself. Or not.

Reading your piece, a few thoughts popped into my head.

The first comes from the movie (and, I presume, the book) A River Runs Through It, in which a young would-be writer hands an essay to his father for critique. His father reads it and, without judgment, hands it back: "Again. Half as long."

The second thought comes from David Mamet: "What does the character want?" He means this every step of the way -- that every single scene, every utterance, should be about a character trying to get what she wants. (Though, because it is Mamet, I should say "what he wants.")

And from the unfairly-maligned-by-postmodern-douchebags-who-don't-get-it "Elements Of Style": Make sure the reader knows who is speaking."

Best of luck.

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Jaysen
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 8:03 pm Post

Nice to see in these parts Mr Coffee. How's the horse? nearing death?†

Keeping in mind the dim witted audience of … looks like me … can you please explain the last statement?

This is a bit of a joke that would be explained by searching for posts that contain "dead horse stick". And if you want to mention the bad taste of this you need to remember who is typing.
Jaysen

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Jaysen
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:17 pm Post

Kids say the darndest things.

Scene: I am reading this thread. Again. Boy approaches and reads over a shoulder.

B: What is a "navel excerpt"?
M: A what?
B: A "navel excerpt"?
B looking at navel with lifted shirt
B: Am I missing something?
M: Yes. No. Definitely not. Innocence is good.

He is thirteen today. He shaves for the first time tomorrow morning (yes, he needs it). Someone remind me that innocence doesn't come off with a razor.
Jaysen

I have a wife and 2 kids that I can only attribute to a wiggle, a giggle, and the realization that she was out of my league so I might as well be happy with her as a friend. 26 years marriage later, I can't imagine life without her. -Me 10/7/09

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Sean Coffee
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Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:27 pm Post

Jaysen,

I think one of the big mistakes young writers make is ignoring the logistics of a scene. One's prose can be utterly beautiful, but if the reader is not grounded in the scene -- if he doesn't know where he is -- what does a pretty line matter?

I think White's admonition stems from his role as the cartoon editor for the New Yorker -- imagine a cartoon with a very witty caption in which no character is drawn with mouth open. The act of sussing out who is supposed to be talking detracts from the impact of the line. If the reader pauses to think "Wait, did I miss something?" then all your hard work is for naught.

In africanstardust's post, I didn't get who was narrating the first few sentences. So it didn't matter whether or not the writing was any good. I was lost, and I didn't care. (africanstardust: no offense. Again, half as long).

Does that make sense?

S

P.S. The horse has seen better days.

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Jaysen
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Sat Jan 23, 2010 1:18 am Post

Mr. Coffee,

Perfect sense. The cartoon example helped clear it up entirely. I too was a bit confused but thought it might have been by design.

ps. Stick is handy. Let me know if you need any assistance.
Jaysen

I have a wife and 2 kids that I can only attribute to a wiggle, a giggle, and the realization that she was out of my league so I might as well be happy with her as a friend. 26 years marriage later, I can't imagine life without her. -Me 10/7/09

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africanstardust
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Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:45 pm Post

Sean Coffee,

Thank you for your comments...I take no offense, but am grateful for your advice, especially since it hit home. You know when you know something about yourself (or your writing) but keep on denying it inside your own head, and then someone else says it and you sort of feel like kicking yourself for putting off fixing it? Well...that's what just happened. So thank you :)

I watched A River Runs Through It Once and cried enough for ten. Amazing, but never again. Same with Dances With Wolves.
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gr
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Tue Jan 26, 2010 4:15 pm Post

druid wrote:Here's the first page of Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1965)
...
I will tell you right away, I think the first sentence is a stinker.


Heinlein: Well, if you liked that opening line, you are going to love the way it opens in the "uncut" version of the book (40% longer, ouch!): "Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith. Valentine Michael Smith was as real as taxes but he was a race of one." Honestly, those "old school" SF authors became giants not because they were great stylists. It surely had a lot to do with the fact that they got in on the ground floor, so to speak. And the developing SF genre was definitely not based on literary style.

Hemingway: The spareness of the opening is effective. Almost skeletal at the outset, but then simple observances begin to animate it -- it is cold when you are down at the level of the water. And it is cunning in its simplicity: consider the repeated use of 'the Indian' and 'the other Indian' juxtaposed to 'Dad' and 'Uncle George'; or Uncle George smoking and then handing out cigars; these are not innocent details. I thought the set-up for the story was woven into this early stage setting admirably. Our background info is pieced out from the opening until we get to the shanty, and all the while the mood is being set, we are being placed in the scene, certain dynamics are put into place. So, thumbs up on style, though I can't say I really care for this particular story.

Chandler: If you read this stone cold (as though you did not know what or who you were reading), this starts in like it should have been titled "The Big Haberdasher" -- until you hit "I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it." Which is hilarious, you have to admit. "I was calling on four million dollars." Then you know where you are -- and pretty well located even without help from the conceits of the genre.

Africanstardust: Such great input already, I couldn't add anything useful. But here is a curious phenomenon: My brain so wanted to attach the 'I' to someone in the scene, it was prepared to grapple with what then appeared to be lurching changes in narrative point of view -- in its desperate attempt to hang on to an assignment of the 'I' (to Shard, to Jack, to Morgala, to the ship's parrot). There is some lesson about the primacy of the 'I' lurking here.

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Wed Jan 27, 2010 5:48 pm Post

Or the primacy of the eye? Seriously, as Flannery O'Connor said, point of view can run you ragged. It's really important to know, though, who is seeing the action at any given time.

Otherwise, I just wanted to say: Africanstardust, based on your other posts here, you write really well and clearly and have a mature attitude. I think you'll be able to turn out an excellent novel. You're way ahead of where I was when I was your age! But I do agree this needs some trimming. it's also true that it can be hard to jump right into an excerpt when we have no idea who the characters are.