“The purpose of technique is to free the unconscious.” – David Mamet
“The protracted adolescence of sf was characterized by an inferiority complex directly traceable to the technical inadequacies of its writers.” – M. John Harrison in New Worlds, 1968
“To write a novel, all you need is imagination.” – Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas
A few years ago, I started collecting notes and quotes from the books I was reading in order to see how certain technical devices worked, or didn’t.
This blog will present some of those specimens, with an emphasis on devices used to attack the unique technical problems of writing speculative fiction — which I’ll use here as an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, the fantastic, New Weird, etc. I’ll also add comments on general fiction or examples from non-spec works when I feel like it.
Why am I doing this, exactly?
Ho ho ho, so glad you asked…
Beginning in 2007, I spent 2½ years writing a 130,000-word novel. By the end of the process I had rewritten every single word of it three times, which adds up to more than 500,000 words of fiction. Needless to say, this thing was my darling, my baby, my dream manuscript that would turn me into a fantasy superstar.
Nobody can say I didn’t work hard on that novel. I kept inventing cool devices and details, kept refining characters, and kept revising all the bad writing I’d done in the previous drafts. As a result, each draft was slightly “better” than the last — by which I mean more bloated with excuses and explanations, more patched-up with plot band-aids, and more haunted by the fear of repeating the mistakes I’d made in each previous version.
The final result was a monster — a horrid hybrid of stilted dialogue, unbelievable plotting, and overly “cool” characters who bore little resemblance to human beings.
Not that I read it that much either, rather the opposite; after I finished revising a scene I would never look at it again.
But I persisted. That was how I wound up spending a few months in the bizarre psychological position of trying to find an agent to represent a book even I couldn’t stand reading. The rejections came back; I made excuses to myself; I told myself it would somehow sell one day if only I kept hoping— and so my critical judgement warred with my vanity and thirst for praise, until one day I said, “oh, fuck it,” and tossed that novel to the side.
TL;DR, the all-around shittiness of that first novel wasn’t due to lack of imagination or lack of work ethic. Rather, it was due to lack of technique; due to the fact that I had no real clues to how effective fiction worked other than intuition.
I realized that if I wanted to improve as a writer I needed to take a technical approach to reading; a collector’s approach to literary devices. So I’ve started this blog because I want another excuse to think and write about just that — the techniques we need to make the products of our invention readable and clear and enjoyable.
Or in other words, to help do what we wanted to do when we started writing in the first place!
Hope you’ll join me at SpecTechnique for a look at the sly strategies & devious devices of speculative fiction!
“Where do you get to using the Wutang school method against me?” — “I’ve got so many styles, forgive me!” -Raekwon, Guillotine (Swordz)