To catch the marmot-free up to speed: No 60-in-60 this week. Penguin Books turned me into stuffed marmot. Forced to answer writing questions, per previous post. To become human again, although I’m debating the worth of that re-transformation. Here are the first answers. Please ask more. I can feel my paw now, and move it slightly, but that is all…
Most fell and puissant marmot,
I am contemplating writing an autobiographical novel about the pitfalls, pratfalls, and other falls of teaching. How does one go about doing this without writing in numerous asides about how this principal was an asshat, while an assistant principal at another school was a jerkwad, while thinking all the while that the average student awareness was approaching that of a three-days dead vole?
Or in more serious language,
How can an aspiring writer who wants to write about something of an autobiographical nature learn best when to use a self-filter and when not to?
Your bitterness has not yet become a simmering stew. It is just a barrel of water with leaves and an old tire in it. Add Time and salt and the spice of your imagination before beginning this novel. When you can see some positive aspects of the “jerkwad” and the “asshat”, then you may start. As for setting a filter–assume everything you think is interesting…is not.
Do you think that an aspiring writer should study English or something more marketable considering most writers have â€œday jobsâ€? Would an English BA or a writing MFA be likely to produce better quality writing than taking the â€œself-taughtâ€ path, as it were?
Your question sets up a false opposition. College for a writer is a smorgasbord of information. Study as much as possible in as many different disciplines as possible. The best advice I ever received about college came from the Puliter prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur, who recommended writers not get creative writing degrees, but instead study heavily in soft sciences, history, etc., while still taking several creative writing courses. You should plan on having a long gestation period at a day job, so choose a major you can live with…perhap even die with. This said, the best teachers are still dead writers. In the pages of their books. That is all. Go forth and prosper, young Xelgaex. (Are you a new experimental drug?)
Is there a name for those mysterious creatures who, while Iâ€™m asleep, turn whatever I was working on before I went to bed into the utter tripe I always find when I get up the next morning? More importantly, how do I defeat them? Iâ€™ve tried changing my password and even resorted to writing everything in longhand, but theyâ€™re expert hackers and clearly blessed with opposable thumbs. Should I call an exterminator, or can you suggest a more humane and cost effective solution?
What you need to do is get rid of the sexy beasts who initially convinced you that whatever you were working on was brilliant. That will defeat the mysterious creatures who have the opposite position and you will exist in that place of perfect balance known as reality. (However, you and I both know: you are that mysterious creature, you are that sexy beast.)
Most magnificent VanderMarmot,
The self-loathing deliverer of poor quality snark desires to receive your unique, sarcastic take on that most irritating and irrelevant frequently asked con question. From whence come thine fantabulous ideas? From a celestial post service? By capricious muse? In the musty pages of naturalistâ€™s scribblings?
It is indeed a con. I don’t know where your ideas comes from, but my ideas come from my brain (perhaps your brain is in some external loading device?) and I get ten or twenty per day, and lo! they are all most brilliant and alas I can only pick but two or three of these ripened, luscious fruit as they hang there succulent upon the tree of knowledge.
Do you write linearly? Or do you find that you start wherever in a story and build it around you as you go? Or is this not a broadly applicable question?
I write linearly and I use wormholes. I sometimes build around a central nugget. I sometimes write all in one go, beginning to end. Sometimes it takes months. The logic behind this is to have no logic except to do whatever keeps me writing while still having some spark of inspiration. So if I start linearly and I’m stuck, I’ll write other scenes, out of order, and see if that jump-starts it, and so on and so forth. Nothing shows the mind more in a snit about your creativity than getting stuck because you haven’t been able to reframe the question.
Hey, Mister Marmot! Questions:
1) In the post about writing sex scenes, you said youâ€™d developed rules for yourself for dialogue. What were they?
2) What would a marmot sex scene be like, anyway?
3) Please do not answer 2).
4) Something Iâ€™ve been struggling with: For you, whatâ€™s the difference between a scene and some stuff that happens? Once you know what happens, how do you turn it into a scene?
“Mister Marmot” is not a proper term of address, but I will let it pass.
1) Rules for dialogue included reading all dialogue aloud to weed out the stupidest bits, not developing verbal tics for particular characters, making sure to cut down on dialogue substantially after the first draft, etc. Remember, these were rules for dialogue when I thought I wasn’t good at it. They were rules to minimize weaknesses, not exploit strengths. Now I do try to achieve many more effects with dialogue.
2) This is also not a proper way to address the marmot. The sexy sweet love of the marmot is not a topic central to a question about writing.
3) You have become a victim of your own cleverness.
4) I don’t personally write many scenes that don’t make it into the finished work, even if those scenes change dramatically in the revision process. Scenes are “stuff that happens” chronologically or thematically arranged and edited/cut for maximum effect within the context of a particular type of story. If your scene feels loose or unnecessary, perhaps you haven’t cut it at the right places or you aren’t telling it from the right perspective, or perhaps indeed it isn’t necessary. In short, the question is too general. It must be applied to each story in a different way. The marmot is in the details.
Marty Stephenson says:
Do you outline your novels?
Do you outline short stories? If so, how strict do you keep to the outline?
Do you build up background notes on characters? Or say with a character like Dvorak, did his appearance just â€˜introduceâ€™ itself (like the river tattoos) while the scene was being written or was it pondered beforehand?
And peace unto you also.
I will ignore your inability to master the words, “O Most Excellent Marmot” as a salutation. Some novels are outlined. Some are not. Short stories are not outlined as a spine and ribcage created before internal organs and tissue would kill such delicate creatures. I do not keep to outlines; outlines simply give me a general direction and focus. I do build up background notes on characters–but only after I have written them into the rough draft. Looking then at that random accumulation of building blocks and palm trees, sand fleas and gold coins, I think about the characters and draw them out in back writing before proceeding to the second draft. Dvorak was always there.
Bob Lock says:
My dearest and most illustrious Marmot,
Weâ€™ve seen the fragmentation of SF into sub-genres over the years, Hard-SF, Epic-SF, Soft-SF, Military-SF, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Weird-SF, Pirates and Squids, etc etc.
As someone writing both a Hard-SF and a Steampunk novel at the moment I am wondering whether or not I am too late to get on the bus of these genres and perhaps should be looking elsewhere for a new, nascent SF genre and trying to get a foothold there whilst the idea is still young?
Therefore, oh prescient Marmot, being someone with their ear close to the ground (no offence meant) what would you say is the next SF sub-genre to be the â€˜in thingâ€™?
Marmots V Squids?
None of the above? Thanking you in anticipation,
a fan of bushy-tailed, stocky rodents of the genus Marmota.
I am neither your dearest nor prescient, but I will let that pass. To you I say: only a fool follows trends. Only a madman sets them. If you are neither, write what you will write. Then submit it to the gatekeeper of your choosing. Let what will happen…happen. At least you will still have the courage of your convictions. And: marmots have no beef with squid, squid have no animosity toward marmots. Despite working on many a space vehicle, marmots have yet to reach Mars. Nor has marmot cybernetic science advanced to the point necessary to create the million dollar marmot.