My word I am battling with access to this blog. I’m away in Melbourne helping a friend pack his container for his retirement to the island. 

He’s a nice guy but his way of packing is to  pack things into a container, and close the door and call it done.

 Which…. as many of the items he wants in are not naturally inclined to fit together in the closest possible packing… means he gets relatively little into a container.  More than if he’d just left everything behind, but um… not anything like the most possible. What he’s packed is like the average novel. Mostly air with occasional objects.

Barbs and I have spent a lot of our lives packing to go away – or move house (the life of an Ichthyologist is fraught with poverty and moving jobs. A bit like writing really, you’d think I’d learn… And a lot of the time it has been pack and move ourselves, and fit as much as possible into small vehicles. You learn, if you have the talent, to look at what you have to pack and how you can fit various bits into the spaces. And to look at a space and work out how, by twisting that recliner through multi-demensional space you can make it fit, to occupy that bit of space best.  It’s 3 D Tetris with irregular shapes.

That increases the number of items vastly and excludes most of the air. It’s still the same container. 

It’s a character trait. It spills into your writing. If you gave the same scene to my regular co-authors and I, I know mine would be a 1/3 the length of one, and  2/3 of the other. It’s not always a strength, of course, but it does make for fast paced books with a lot in them. 

It gets worse of course because I cannot resist packing IN things. If a cupboard or a dishwasher has to go… it’s full. And if it is full of glasses say, each glass has smaller items in it. Like nested Russian dolls but with disparate items. 

It takes me a lot longer to pack than it takes my friend. But I can pack so much that there is almost no air. And if you unpack hastily… there is a reasonable chance of missing 2/3 of the stuff which is IN the bigger items, and the items that are in them.  Which is something I can’t help doing… whether cooking or writing or packing…

I like it. Love discovering authors who do this. It’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea. So how about you? Do you do this? Do you like reading it. Do you know authors who do it well?

(I will try to reply, but it’s difficult.) 

21 comments

  1. Gods, yes! I do this to the point I’ve been accused of either not being human or having gotten hold of other than human magicks (pixie dust seems to be a common accusation – it must be the whole being really short thing – shrug). I apply it in all areas of my life, and love when I can find an author who does the same. It vastly increases the joy of a reread because I’m sure to find something new that I missed – and on the ‘average’ book – I miss very little! Same for movies, song lyrics, musical composition arrangements. This doesn’t mean it has to be cluttered, far from it. Stacked and arranged and packed correctly – it’s a thing of logical, simplistic pleasure.

    1. If I read a book twice, it’s good. If I read it over and over… and still find new things… it’s probably Pratchett 😉 but it is my definition of great. And yes, you have it in one: it isn’t cluttered. Cluttered is badly packed, poor writing. Turgid. Well packed, you can read it fast and easily. This is my goal… ;-/

  2. I do this and it drives me crazy. For one thing, it makes it damnably hard to edit anything, especially when you’ve decided there’s ONE MORE THING you need to cram into a paragraph, but it breaks the flow from one sentence to the next. (I swear, sometimes it’s like my periods mark the middle of a sentence).

    I see authors who write long, flowery descriptions and I despair of ever being able to do that. I leave a lot to the imagination – sometimes too much. I flatter myself by thinking of how spare and efficient Heinlein’s language was, but at least HE could always direct your imagination exactly where he wanted it to go. If you’re paid by the word, florid descriptions are probably one’s bread and butter.

    The most amazing writers can do both. Brust’s Jhereg series, when told from the point of view of the human protagonist is tight and action-packed. Then he switched to the nearly eternal Elvish point of view for “Five Hundred Years After” and doubled the size of the book with language I couldn’t even parody, let alone mimic. It was also a tough slog.

    (On the other hand, John Norman can fill page long paragraphs with fluff, but the less said about that, the better).

    1. Oh, and as for packing, you should have seen my dad prepare for a camping trip. I have also inherited the Chandler Packing Gene, which is compounded by a case of packrat-itis.

    2. If you think editing it drives you crazy, wait until someone else edits it for you. And they are chaotic fluff-packers, and don’t see the embedded foreshadowing, the character info needed for later (or for continuity) and miss the other layers of richness completely and trash them. Eric who has his own subtle methods has learned to say ‘this needs change, you edit it in’ (Eric is a modular writer, with each section like a brick. The structure needs its bricks, but you take one brick out and put another in its place. I am rather integrated – there are bits applying to chapter 1 and 7,9, 15, and the conclusion in a paragraph in chapter 3. Take out that paragraph and pop in another and the whole structure is affected.) Eric does see some of this. Misty just doesn’t. I inevitably have to rewrite any edits she does.

      Long flowery descriptions are good for 1)showing off to other idiots. They’re the writing equivalent of doing donuts. They do not IMO make you a good writer. A good writer makes a reader believe the writer got it perfectly and described in detail – and yet uses few words, but draws on the reader. THAT is skill. 2)means you write for a dim audience with nothing to draw on. 3)or means you haven’t learned to do it properly. Go read Tolkein’s ‘On fairy tales’

      1. So exactly how do YOU choose an editor?

        When you pack in a lot of interconnected subtlety, you need an editor who can see that. You don’t want to find out that the editor you’re paying is the wrong kind of temperament – you’re dense, they’re fluffy.

        Hints in this direction much appreciated! I kept saying yes, yes! at the description of tucking things in every available space – and no more.

        I’m (obviously) of the packing-it-in variety. How do you even explain it to a potential editor?

        1. In traditional editing – or co-authoring, it’s not really a free choice. In independent… well, it could be, I would take it on recommendations and honestly I wouldn’t know who to start with.

  3. I like reading things like that, when they make sense to me. Sometimes, when I can tell there’s something more there, but I don’t get it, I get frustrated.

    As far as packing goes, I always tell people my father could pack the contents of a two bedroom house in a pickup truck. It’s only a slight exaggeration.

    1. I really hadn’t thought about the frustration thing. I try to write at multiple levels, so the story runs even if the reader doesn’t get the sub-texts… but I can imagine someone realising the subtext is there, but not quite getting it and being irritated by it.

  4. We call that kind of packing “combat loading” and after moving every other year for almost ten years, I’m very good at it. Movers hate me, because when I say the box is heavy, I mean “it probably weighs 20 kg. Do you want me to pick it up for you?”

    I enjoy tight writing, but I’ve encountered a few writers who are too terse. That or no one edited for continuity.

    1. So, are you saying they get irritated that you think they’re weaklings? Or do you live somewhere that movers think that’s heavy?

      1. The movers often seemed to think that my “heavy” meant 10 kg, because I am somewhat petite. So they got some of them got nasty surprises when they tried to pick stuff up. Then they found the weight-lifting equipment in the back room . . .

  5. Dan once packed an entire two bedroom apartment in a hatchback and a small u-hall trailer. When I buy stuff and our freezer is already full, he always says “Oh, there’s room.”

    1. Frozen stuff can be so awkward – especially bags that freeze into the shape of their neighbours, perfectly keying in -and then being awkward 1)to part, 2)to find something they fit

        1. Running over them twice with your car is not normally what people mean by retired. Although the double and triple tire tracks are decorative…

  6. When I was younger I didn’t like the layers and stuff. I considered it artsy stuff, and the literary types and the English teachers generally weren’t making it worth my while to put up with it.

    Then I started on Kratman, and hanging out in the Kratskeller. I found out that a thing could work in the story, be a reference to recent history, be bait to fish for the easily angered, and teach a lesson about military truths at the same time. Lot of it went over my head, but as I grew to know his voice and thinking, I started to catch more of it.

    I think that is when I really started to be able to follow, and enjoy, the really dense, deep layered stuff.

    These days my tastes include the chewy stuff.

    Frankly, Kratman is well outside of what I would have been interested in reading in my younger years. I didn’t have the background, and when I was ten, and for some time around that, the sexual content would have been a huge deal breaker.

    I read what I want to read, and appreciate what I appreciate.

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