Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

THE.... Five Rules of Writing!!

Did I say rules? I meant imperatives, divine imperatives, imperious decrees, holy writ handed down from on high. I meant DO NOT DEFY MY CORRECTITUDE. If you defy my correctitude, your writing will fail. You will fail. Not just as a writer, but as a human being. Little children will point and laugh at you when you walk down the street. Your name will become a verb meaning to fail. Generations hence, entire civilisations will abhor you as a mythical being who faceplanks into the hearts of men, women and innocent ickle children, and causes them to FAIL. So obey me. For I am the Great and Wise Author. And you, my humble supplicants, come to me seeking writing advice. You crawl on your bellies, abasing yourselves before me, beseeching me to dispense my wisdom, justice and (maybe, hopefully,) mercy. You ask me how to write?

Hear then! Hear the commandments of THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!! (sic)

1. Every passage in four panels!
2. Every panel in X hundred word chunks!
3. No moving on till you know it's correct!
4. No inverted commas!
5. No fucking Latinate words!

What? You think these rules are harsh and arbitrary? These are the very Laws of Fiction! Writing works if and only if you follow these edicts to the letter. This is a scientifically proven factoid. These are epistemic, alethic, deontic and boulomaic absolutes. Not just truths, but Troths. There is no questioning them. There is no wiggle room. Because they are writ into the very fabric of reality--not the fabric of society, which is wrought of socionormative contingencies and subjectivities, and an ugly plaid, not even a nice subtle tartan, but a hideous lurid golf plaid, and therefore deserves to be destroyed... no, not the fabric of society, but the very fabric of the spacetime continuum itself. These are How Writing Works.

You doubt me? Very well then. Let me set forth the wisdom of the rules, that you may weep in awe at their correctitude, and know in your hearts that lest you follow them to the letter you will fail.

1. Every passage in four panels!

Every story is a story, correct? Tautologically correct, indeed, yes? Well, every chapter is a story too. Every scene is a story. Every passage is a story. That's right. There are structures in writing of finer granularity than a scene. You know this. You use the word passage when talking about a chunk of writing shorter than a scene, the sort of chunk one might pick out for a reading, going from A to B, and expecting your audience to appreciate that it's a self-contained chunk, not just some fucking random snippet of narrative, starting where your eye happens to hit the page and ending whenever your attention is distracted into barking at the sudden sight of a squirrel. At some point in life, if you consider yourself a writer, of whatever level, you will have sat and read aloud, or listened to someone read aloud, a passage. And you will have known it for the passage it is, reaching the end with a satisfying feeling of endiness. That is because a passage is a story.

As such it comes in four parts: initiation; engagement; resolution. Wait, I hear you say, isn't that three parts? Hah! How little you understand! The engagement phase of story is, obviously, where the meat of the story is. Beginning connects only to middle. Ending connects only middle. Middle connects both to beginning and to ending. It looks both ways, as a Janus-headed deity, a double-faced god. Therefore it comes in two parts: the part that connects to the beginning; and the part that connects to the end. If this is not self-evident to you, you are a fool, and you will fail.

So you must look to your writing for its passages, and you must look to those passages for the four panels of prose that are its structural components. You must isolate them out in order to work on them in isolation, make them function smoothly as the components that they are, just as you would a discrete method to be called in a piece of software. Setting them on the page in isolation, you may justify your scissioning of the text to doubters by reference to the classic Hollywood Three Act Structure also referred to as Syd Field's Paradigm, or to the quatrains of poetry, or to the formal constraints of Oulipo, depending on the standards of literary propriety (ptui!) held by those middle-brow mediocrities questioning your approach, or simply depending on your whim--because their doubts do not matter a fucking jot. Because in structuring your passage this way you have achieved correctitiude.

2. Every panel in X hundred word chunks!

Do you think you can just make those panels of any old length, this one five words long, that one five MILLION? Why are you even trying to write, you lazy ignorant halfwitted narcissist? There is a reason sequences in a movie are all of the same twenty minute stint, a reason the lines in a quatrain of iambic pentameter are all of the same ten syllable length. That reason is called rhythm in music; in fiction it is called pacing. In narrative too, just as in music, the tempo is set, and pounded into the audience's very heart, by these things we call beats. That is why, unless you are a child, a laggard, an ignoramus, an imbecile and/or an egotist bereft of experience and/or the capacity to incorporate it, you should have heard the term narrative beats. What did you think this was referring to, if not the parsing of linear narrative into regularly spaced impacts of categorically greater force upon the audience's attentive nous?

We all know that every word and phrase and sentence is impacting on the reader's nous, striking the chord of its import in their imagination. Obviously, some will have greater impact than others. Obviously, some will have such greater impact that they stand out as discrete blows among the taps and tickles. Obviously, in order to achieve a steady pace you must apply these to, figuratively speaking, punch the reader in the face at regular intervals and thereby maintain their interest. Every time you do so, that is a narrative beat. Perhaps you thought of these narrative beats as occurring only at the larger scale of story, in the crunch moment at the end of each act, or at the end of each episode (which is to say, chapter,) or at the end of each incident (which is to say, scene.) Did I not tell you that a passage is a story? That each of the four panels functions as an act of that story--Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, Act 3? It is self-evident then that the panels must be of regular length in order that they maintain a steady rhythm with their crunch moments, with that word or phrase or sentence within them whereby they punch the reader in the face.

There is, of course, a degree of flexibility here. Different stories call for different paces, and therefore panel length may vary. It may be one hundred words, two hundred words, or many hundred words... in short, X hundred words. See? How can you call this rigid and unreasonable when you have all the freedom you need to select whatever length is suitable? Why, you ask, must it be in multiples of one hundred? Why can each panel not be ninety-nine words, or one hundred and one, or any random prime number from the series? BECAUSE YOU ARE WEAK. Because you are not Hemingway to write a story in six words, only a callow novitiate whose skill may at best stretch to the accomplishment of a mediocre drabble. Because in order to hone your skills you must master that most basic story-form, exercising the ruthless concision required to flense the fat from your one hundred and thirteen word bloated travesty of a drabble, applying the savage incision necessary to slice into your feeble seventy nine word abortion of so-called flash fiction, splay it wide open and release the unfurling angel-winged full glory of raw narrative power lying latent in that withered husk. Because if you do not do this, you will FAIL.

3. No moving on till you know it's correct!

Drafts?! What is this talk of drafts?! This folly of slovenly slapdash skimwriting, this willful negligence as an intentional strategy in hurriedly vomiting your words onto the page, running ever onward, hurling and spewing before (under! behind!) you, so fast you can't even see your own botches and blunders to be ashamed of them, eyes only on the finish line, where you think you can return to the start, and settle into editing mode, to perfect this crude and cursory hackwork, fix this trail of puke you are pretending to be actual narrative... this is to have already failed. You will edit this atrocity and it will remain an atrocity. It may be less of an atrocity, but it will still reek of the puking failure it was wrought from. You can try as hard as you will, but you will never purge the stench exuded from the very substance of it. You will achieve at best that risible mediocrity that is commonly referred to as good enough. You will excuse your failure with platitudes that one must know when to let go of the story, when to step back, so as not to overwork it. And you will give up, you craven cuntfucking quitter.

There is no place for this mediocrity in art. Good enough is not good enough. Good enough is not correctitude. To achieve correctitude, you must ensure that each unit of narrative is correct as and when it is finalised, for it is only when it is correct that it automatically, by the airtight logic of narrative, ramifies to engender in latent ideal, established in the fabric of reality--even though you will not yet know it--the correct articulation that the subsequent unit of narrative must realise in order to follow it in correctitude. You must realise the first sentence in correctitude before the correctitude of the next even exists for you to discover in the ferocious devotion of experimentation doggedly persisting until you get it correct. You must realise the first paragraph before there even is a next paragraph to be written. You must finish the first panel before moving on to the next, finish the first passage before moving on to the next, and so on. Or you will FAIL. You will have failed at the first sentence to be incorrect and in all subsequent sentences, which will each, one after the other, have been constructed in a misguided attempt to realise the increasingly false ideals engendered by predecessors snowballing in their wrongosity.

Again, there is some flexibility. The base unit of narrative is not the word or phrase, but the sentence, and so you are not constrained to finding the correct first word for the sentence before moving on to the second, and in finding the correct second word before moving on to the third, and so on. But this is the limit of your liberty. Do not think that if the fifth word in your sentence is incorrect, it is nonetheless close enough to engender the correct ideal that the subsequent sentences must realise. There are no synonyms, There is no content, only import, the denotation of a word--that dictionary definition--only a pitifully myopic gesture into a an ocean of connotations, a pretence that there is an island at the centre of it. There is a centre, but there is no island, only the ocean of import, so it is an arrant folly to pretend that, by ignoring the realities of two oceans, one can map the imaginary island at the centre of one to the imaginary island at the centre of another, that these two words having identical dictionary definitions have identical import. There are no synonyms. So if you have the wrong word in place, with the wrong ocean of import, the best you can hope for is that the daimon of your liminal sapience savvies the wrongness that your fuckwit nous is obliviating, that it nudges you to accidentally stumble on the correct subsequent sentence for what your sentence should be. In this way, you may be fortunate enough to get a paragraph correct, when its second sentence is wrong, by stumbling back onto the path of correctitude with the third and fourth sentences, the fuller realisation of correctitude across the paragraph illuminating the sentence that is wrong and the word within it, as you reread the paragraph to ensure correctitude before moving on to the next. The limit of this capacity is the panel. If you do not get the paragraphs correct within the panel, and the sentences within the paragraphs, you will fail.

4. No inverted commas!

What sort of incompetent are you that you must rely on this arrant artifice to signal when a character is speaking? When you tell an anecdote to your comrades, as you recount a conversation between yourself and some mush-brained overgrown infant or adolescent who insulted the art of narrative by applying the vacuous content metaphor, casting it as mere means to an end, as a mere mechanism to communicate the pseudo-substance of plot or insight as an amphora might convey wine--as if words were not the only substance, as if the import realised in the action of that substance, the dynamics of the articulation conjuring story, word by word, in the reader's mind, were not the end in and of itself--as you mock these callow philistines and philosophers who understand nothing of narrative, do you use air quotes to mark out each and every speech act you recount, twitching two fingers in the air like a cuntfuckingly smarmy cretin with every commencement or completion of every utterance, for the benefit of the hard of understanding? Would you not find one who treated you thus to be insufferable in his assumption that you can't follow his narrative of the back and forth simply by the tags any such narrator employs to specify what they said and what I said? How then shall you be judged if you treat the reader with such patronising presumption?

Or are you just so incompetent in the art of narrative that you fear your own botchings will leave the assignations of speech acts and/or their distinction from the surrounding action impenetrable despite the paragraph breaks before each utterance, the dialogue tags affixed to them, the characteristic speech patterns of different characters, the blatantly discrete functional dynamics of each act within an exchange that should mark it as self-evidently a to or fro in the back-and-forth initiated by one character's serve? If you cannot construct a dialogue exchange that a reader can follow on the basis of these natural features and these alone, then what will you do when tasked to read aloud a passage from your narrative to an audience that has only your oral recitation to go by? Will you use air quotes then? How do you imagine that will go down? No, if you know yourself to be so woefully inept in narrative that you can't make a simple dialogue exchange comprehensible without, as James Joyce called them, perverted commas, then all the more reason to abjure them, discard these crutches and force yourself to develop the strength and control to walk with legs that you are only allowing to atrophy in your wretched indulgence of the delusion that it's too difficult, waa waa waa.

5. No fucking Latinate words!

We are to assume that you desire your prose to conjure a story vividly for the reader, yes? It is established, is it not, that what you are doing is presenting the reader with an articulation the substance of which is a series of words? That each word acts upon the reader's nous so as to strike a chord of import, to facepunch into their noggin (or at least tap, or tickle) the sounds and sights and scents and affects and all other such connotatively-integrated impressions of sense that are the sense of that word? That narrative is the music made of these chords of import, story the experience of it unfolding, import by import, sense by sense, sentence building upon sentence, paragraph upon paragraph, panel upon panel, passage upon passage, and so on? This is a self-evident fact of written and oral fiction. This is How Writing Works.

So then your words must be fit to the task. They each must be the correct word that will strike the correct chord of import. A wrong note in that chord will render it discordant and jarring. In a botched, off-pitch, out-of-key attempt at simply communicating the melody, it will be obvious to the reader that you are consistently using the wrong words. As with a singer's voice, so too will the voice of your narrative be insufferably, unforgiveably flat. If you would seek to conjure a story in a way that is not an obliviously amateurish spectacle of gobsmackingly bum note after bum note, worthy only to be ridiculed as some freakshow wannabe in a TV talent show, then you must avoid the scourge of the good English tongue, that inbred porphyria-ridden dynasty of haughty atonality: the Latinate.

The privileging of Latin over centuries of artificed propriety renders words sourced from that language a peril for the unwitting fool who uses them without forethought. With the use of Latin among the educated elites, that is to say, as a common language binding the upper echelons of this nation or that, as a language of academia, and therefore as a language of authority, over time words rooted in that language have achieved the status of a higher register, a greater propriety. From the incestuous bastards of Norman nobility to the chinless attic-children of Etonian boors, it has been imbued with a tone of authority, and from medieval scholasticism, through Enlightenment science, to the present day, it has accrued an illusory veneer of intellectual rigour and objectivity, been made a stylistic mechanism for the projection of one's status as being elevated out of the mire of vulgarity that is, for the Proper, (ptui!) the mob. This tone of authority and objectivity... this is what damns these Latinate words. Pompous and ploddingly depositional, how can the narrative employing them not become a godawful morass of one flat note after another?

These words are not wrong, let it be clear, because they are fancy, because they are pretentious, because they are ten-cent words. They are wrong because their impact has been silenced in part, muted of all the most visceral import that the non-Latin option might strike. They have been stripped of all affective connotations in the attempt of the proper to convince themselves, deludedly, of a superiority in which they are just in their hauteur, impartial in their rationalisations, free of the base passions of sensationalist subjectivity. These words are loaded, in fact, with an active connotation of distanced, objective, authoritative dispassion. They connote the elimination of connotative complexity, the erasure of affective resonance. They are tools honed to achieve the exact opposite function than that which you are striving for as a writer. If you would not fail, expunge them, switching Latinate for Germanic terms, fantastical for weird, infrequent for seldom, fashioned with wrought, and so on

Unless you are specifically seeking to conjure some voice of tedious propriety, social or intellectual--as perhaps the cruelly clinical hauteur of the literary vivisectionist executing a merciless analysis which, in its imperious claim of objective truth, should of course be seen as profoundly untrustworthy--unless the connotation of the elimination of connotative complexity, of the erasure of affective resonance, is precisely what you need in that word in that sentence, if you use these abominations when an analogue is available, then in your flatness of import your sentence will not have achieved correctitude. It will be wrong. And you will have failed.

These truths are the Laws of Writing, and let no man, or woman, or child dispute them. These are the commandments of THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!! (sic) the Five Rules of Writing to end all Five Rules of Writing. If anyone would be a writer, and would scour the internet in search of writing advice, and would think to adhere with all devotion to the decrees of their elders, let them abjure all wrongosity, disavow the follies rendered obsolete by this revelation, and follow these True Troths into the path of correctitude.

So mote it be.



Anonymous Ashley Miles said...

Now, I understand it takes lots of reading again and again. For it's the best way to get the best out of it.

6:37 am  

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