Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On the Rebuttal

I’ve written rebuttals before. Mostly they’re about revenge, to most people, and they used to be about that for me, but I have since grown up. Much like Les Edgerton, who seems, though I don’t know him apart from his digital persona, like a grownup as well. I prefer grownups, for the record. I tend to distance myself from people with childish attributes unless they’re actual children.

Thank God, then, for maturity, which is one of the things this has been all about. If you’re grabbing for clues, let me toss you one: I’m talking about my original piece on writing in the present tense, Center Code, and the subsequent rebuttal piece that Les so graciously allowed me to publish last week. This is the followup to all of that cerebral verbosity.

So feel free to tune out if you’re a casual observer.

I just want to address a few things about what Les said in regard to my original post. The examples of prose that he demolished were entirely my own. In fairness to me, they were not written with any degree of consideration beyond rough illustration. They weren’t taken from any other work. They were custom-belched for that blog; save the last example, which was taken from K: phantasmagoria, my upcoming novel. The criticism he gave me on that was admittedly painful for a moment, but it made sense: I can do better.

That’s the primary perspective I want to share about this whole thing; that criticism is a tool to be used, not a weapon wielded toward destruction. Ideally. How it turns out is entirely up to You The Writer. You decide how to look at it. I’m choosing to use it as an opportunity, personally.

Now, on to my defense. This is a sticky wicket, because I have a considered reason for wanting to write in present tense that I can’t reveal. K: phantasmagoria pivots on it in a major way. It’s an experiment that I want to keep pure because I want to get raw and unfiltered reactions to it upon release. So I have to be careful what I say here and trust that Dear Reader has the desire to hang in there with me. But trust me, I’m not just doing it to appear different.

No, part of me is doing it because I just want to (figuratively) raise the middle finger to the rules-makers. I feel I know enough of the rules to make my own now. That could be dangerously hubristic, I know, and I see the contradiction inherent, trust me. But I’m one to do what I want to do, and just because, once my mind is set, and it is in this case. I think I have good reasons too, but I can’t share them all, as I said.

I don't know if I've yet said this in regard to present tense vs. past tense writing, but for me, there's a believeability issue in stories written with past tense narrative and present tense dialogue. Les asserts that we all assume that the story has already happened. Two things with this: One, I think his assumption about that assumption is kinda fallacious and uses the broad brush. Two, if the story has already happened, am I reasonably expected to believe that the storyteller was able to remember all the dialogue that happened from then to now verbatim? I think if we're going to go down that road then we ought to carry the train of thought all the way through to its logical conclusion, and to me, it makes more sense arguing in favor of present tense and Center Code. Logically, writing an entire book in past tense is like writing a novel that is in its entirety a flashback.

On that point: I didn’t get the memo on flashbacks. I mean I was suspicious of them in general, but I didn’t know that the rules provide that the first sentence only is written in past perfect and the rest in plain vanilla past. Anyway, I don’t really like that solution. It feels like a Band-Aid. It could be because I’ve read mostly non-fiction for entertainment. It could also be that my tastes in fiction run toward Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft and Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling and Bram Stoker. And don't confuse my love of these past tense books for a love of the past tense.

But all this in turn could explain my penchant for semicolons. I like ‘em. I think they have a defined and unique purpose that imputes a certain meaning to the phrase they modify. I don’t think em dashes are a good replacement for them. Em dashes, as far as I've ever heard, are to be used more often to set off parenthetical phrases. But I like my dictionaries aged to one hundred years or more, so I may be behind the times myself. The point: I’m on board the flashback-hating bandwagon. I think they’re way overused these days, and show either lack of forethought on the part of the writer or plain laziness and/or ignorance. I’m plenty ignorant all on my own as well, and don’t think I don’t know it. But I firmly believe flashbacks need a damn good reason to be considered, let alone used.

Here’s the deal: what I’m getting at with my Center Code theory is that I want to try to make a book feel more like a movie, like something that’s playing out on the screen. I want it to feel like it’s happening now, like it’s unfolding right in front of me, like I’m part of it, like it's bespoke and custom-made and intense and real. I don’t feel like that when I read mass market fiction these days. Maybe I’m not reading the right books. Maybe I’ve got a lot left to learn (bingo!). But dammit, this is something I want to try, and try my own way. Let the readers decide. Let the reviews come rolling in. Let the winds of publicity howl. Let the pot be stirred, and let it be known that I’m the one stirring it; it won’t bother me. And let the masses buy the book, he he he. I shan’t discourage such things. And while we're on the topic of stirring, thanks again to Les Edgerton for a stirring discussion. Here's to more.