Slog

I see in today’s paper that Australian research identifies me as a ‘slogger’ – a bloke who would like to work less but needs the money. And there I thought I was just a lazy beggar who would like to fish a bit more often.

The interesting part to their whole schpiel – which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because I am not a pigeon and they have a desperate need to put everyone in pigeon-holes – was that it seemed to hinge aspiration and reward… and that it was plainly very, very viewpoint orientated.

According to them, I would be less well socially connected, and less adept at it than any other group. Now I’m no Kim Kardashian (just in case you failed to notice the beard) and I’m a failure at twittering my every moment and movement (including bowel, or, after alphabet soup, vowel). But I have if anything too good an actual social life and chat to too many people the book-of-faces.

I’m a writer, I like to watch, to listen, to study people, to think about what they say, and why they say it. This means I can better grasp what a character – who is vastly different to me in every imaginable way, and possibly some I would rather not imagine – would plausibly react in the bloody awful mess I put them in my books. I am kind like that. I mean, here I am playing god, I could at least have them win the Lotto, meet Mr or Miss Right, and live happily ever after with a large library and enough Chateau Lar Feet (as this is Dave Freer writing, not something common like Chateau Lafite) and Magret de Canard with a black cherry reduction, to at least die happy. Nooo, instead I put them in awful positions (some not even in Kama Sutra) facing certain death, usually sober and before dinner. Yes, I am a miserable bastard. Being one is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Of course, tough jobs are supposed to pay well (which would put me on the wrong side of the pigeon-hole margin). Sadly, no one else seems to think it a tough job (one of these point-of-view things I alluded to). In terms of aspiration, however, I’ve never come across an author who didn’t aspire to being rich and successful. I’ve met an awful lot who aspire to be Castle on TV – rich famous and living the good life without all the tedium of actually writing. I’ve met others – and I’d put myself among them, who would do the job if they didn’t get to write, and fair number who could certainly have been richer than an author is likely to be, if they’d chosen a different path. Some of them even realized that before they went down the writer’s path.

Now, sloggers (according to pigeon-holers) work because they must, and don’t earn much, or ever hope to earn much. Yet… all novelists, for at least for a substantive part of their job are literally sloggers. Producing a book (let alone a career as an author) is a long-haul process. And part of any long haul process is sheer dogged determination – or plain old-fashioned slog (unless you are Castle, and that only happens on TV.) Even if somehow you do make every ounce of writing your twentieth novel a thing of joy (and yes, I manage to end up loving my books, even those I wished I had never agreed to write), there is still editing and proofs, and then inserting the proof corrections.

And even those of us who love the writing itself are faced with horrible parts of it. For me the most difficult is writing the ‘links’ between the scenes which I have to make sure maintain continuity – usually complex – and yet must be short, clean… and the reader is barely aware of. There is always a resentful part of my mind that says ‘I am working my butt off to make this slick, clear… and virtually invisible. You would only know it existed at all (if I have done it well) if it wasn’t there. Like the servant who actually did the cleaning in the society hostess’s home (and listens to her being praised for it), there is a degree of resentment that my hardest and, IMO some of my best work is something that is only good if no one knows I’ve done it.

The times of sheer dogged slogging is an unavoidable fact of life for 99.99998% of any author who makes a career out of it. You just can’t let it show in your writing, because your readers are paying you for tedious attention to detail in your work, not for tedium in their entertainment.

Like my laziness… it’s a question of perspective and perception. I’m not much good at just sit-and-do nothing. Hell for me would be sunbathing. I do work long hours, but I have slowed down from 5 hours sleep a night – which is when I wasn’t being lazy. I’ve actually got a rigid system of self-bribery and corruption worked into a structured calendar, word counts – which have timed ‘rewards’ of checking facebook, or working in the garden, or going fishing – yes, I really do book the hours, and even try to enforce some reading, research and even free time. I’m not very good at the latter, but there is a point where you’re either staring at the screen or writing crap you will delete. It is, compared to most office workers, terribly regimented and disciplined – and the boss watches every damn thing I do.

Of course to the reader who is waiting for the next book I’m also a useless, lazy scut who never gets around to it.

So: as usual this is all about writing and technique. And as usual I have been trying to do what I am informed is wicked colonial imperialism – showing not telling. If that’s wicked imperialism, bring it on, I reckon, because it works for readers. ‘Wicked’ is a point of view issue too. What I was trying to explain is a layer of complexity that many writers never quite grasp.

At the bottom end characters are WYSIYG (what you see is what you get) which is lovely when translating e-books, but a bit weak as a character. The character is as they are portrayed – both in how they see themselves, and, identically as they are seen by anyone else. IE. Joe is a hard-working, clever, kind man. That’s how Joe sees himself, and how other characters see Joe. That is also how the readers see Joe. And oddly, comments like ‘unrealistic/ dull/poor/one-dimensional characters’ will creep into the reviews. That may be true, but I have often found this really is an inability to express something the reader is aware of without grasping quite what causes the disconnect.

The disconnect is of course, that what the character perceives themselves as – from their own point of view – is never what others see them as. Many writers manage this reasonably well. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary (another character) sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling.

This is real life. Listen to any dispute and you may think that the two principals are describing a separate set of events. Divorce cases, doubly so. And when you get down to poltics… Well, looking at it from Australia, ardent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s supporters plainly live in widely separated alternate universes which branched off from each other just after there first was light.

Dispassionately, and from neither point of view… exists another real story entirely, with more or less elements from both and things which are in neither viewpoint. Just so with the story in the READER’S head. This is the stage which great authors get to. They understand that they’re working with each character’s perception of themselves, and the other (often multiple) character’s perception of themselves AND of the other characters. All of this adds up to the author carrying his or authorial perception of the character to the reader. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling. Mary sees herself as not popular, and unhappy about this, and far brighter than Joe. Joe sees Mary as happy, loving and understanding, and not too bright. Both of their actions and responses are shaped by own perceptions… and by reality (in this case, authorial reality) The clever author manages to carry through the ‘reality’ that Mary doesn’t care for Joe, but wants to be liked, and is manipulating his feelings. She’s not actually as bright as she thinks she is, or she would realize that her un-lovable-ness isn’t how Joe sees her. But she’s brighter than Joe think she is. Joe, on the hand is hard-working, none-too-bright, but is actually kind.

It’s a multi-dimensional maze, which the reader SHOULD be unaware of as they’re led through. It’s a slog, getting it right, because to do so you will have to enter (at least) three different head-spaces.

This is why head-hopping is a poor idea. It confuses most authors, and that in turn confuses most readers. That is why the discipline exists, not for its own sake.

Of course, it’s never that simple. The ‘authorial’ head-space will quite possibly be not quite the way the reader sees it. When I was writing JOY COMETH WITH THE MORNING I wrote the book from a single point of view (hers) but made it clear by the responses of the other characters to her, that her perspective was not theirs, and that they saw her quite differently – and of course, I as the author saw all of them quite differently.

What I should have been prepared for… but wasn’t, was the range of very different ways readers saw her.

It’s a complex web we weave.

But we set out to deceive.

That’s why it is called ‘fiction.’

38 Comments

Filed under characterization, plotting, point of veiw, Uncategorized, WRITING, WRITING: CRAFT

38 responses to “Slog

  1. Indeed. The start of the book/project/task is fast, and usually pretty pleasant (OK, not if you are cleaning out a septic tank or cow confinement lagoon, but in general), and you are fresh and ready to get this thing in hand and accomplished. The last bit, where the end is in sight, and you have relocated all the lose threads that you need to either tie up or at least tidy away until the next volume, isn’t too bad because the end is indeed in sight. The middle is the slog, at least for me. There’s still half a barn to clean, half the yard to weed, the pile of papers to be graded is not getting smaller, and your characters and plot are not going the way you intended and is this going to be too short and . . .

    Oh, sorry. There’s two hawks fighting or something similar outside the window. And a third hunting. Where was I?

    The middle of any project or task is the slog, at least for me. And then there’s editing . . .

  2. TRX

    I don’t work because I like to work. I work in order to support the things I want to do.

    • Well I am lucky in that I manage to mix both. But parts are slog.

      • One of the most valuable life lessons I learned was that a) if I wanted to get where I was going, I had to put one foot in front of the other and keep trudging, day after day after day. I knew that in theory, but the practice was something else. b) I could.

  3. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Well, looking at it from Australia, ardent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s supporters plainly live in widely separated alternate universes which branched off from each other just after there first was light.

    There are people who strongly dislike both, for largely the same reasons. In theory this implies that there should be people fond of and enthusiastic for both. In practice, this isn’t readily apparent.

    One might conclude that treating Presidential elections as a sports event isn’t entirely a thing of reason, even if both sets of enthusiasts share many assumptions about how important the results of the event are.

    • As a sports event politics would be so much more fun to watch and listen to as a cage match.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I wanted the last of the election to be settled in a single elimination boxing tournament between Cruz, Trump, Sanders, and Clinton. Not joking.

        • After the debate, I’m convinced we’re watching World Wide Wrestling Federation matches. For those not in the US: they’re fake.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            Ritually faked to the point that there are words to describe the kind of fakery.

            Kayfabe is the overall pretense that this is a real and sincere endeavor.

            A face is a participant who acts in upright, forthright, good guy manner. A heel is one that pretends to be an over the top bad guy. From a liberal Democrat perspective, Trump’s persona this cycle can be described as that of a heel.

            Jobbing is the process of pretending to carry out a fight that one intends to lose. In a matter that more plausibly purports to fairness, it might be described as being a ringer, or rigging the event.

            Trump’s background includes participating in orchestrated professional wrestling falsehoods.

  4. Uncle Lar

    Dave my friend, it is sort of a left handed relief to know that liberal progressive a$$holes do not just infest us here in the states. You appear to have your fair share as well there down under.
    From what I know of you, you truly are a lazy slogger, and you should reflect on that when next you muck out the barn, or weed the garden, or haul on the nets to retrieve the catch before that storm blows in.
    Or is your chosen means of laying about done with hook and line, or dive and spear?

    • Sadly there is a segment of Australia (largely large urban east coast) that is determined to follow the example of the worst of the US (which mostly they get via Hollywood – which is of course 110% accurate in its portrayals of US mores).

      I tend to prefer the active forms of fishing, so spearing is always first choice. But the only way that I know of I haven’t tried is high explosive.

      • Uncle Lar

        Southern redneck fishing does involve the use of quarter sticks of dynamite or similar explosives, and the haul is impressive, though the flesh seems a bit bloodshot for some reason. All you need are a few waterproof bombs and a good scoop net. And a fast boat helps as well.

  5. Slogging is what you do when you’d rather be doing something else. Some jobs/projects are more of a slog than others. But if you can’t slog anything out, you’re probably lazy and/or depressed.

  6. slab1

    Dave, were you joking when you said showing and not telling is imperialist, or have the blue haired dart frogs actually claimed this?

  7. mrsizer

    This why head-hopping is a poor idea. It confuses most authors, and that in turn confuses most readers.

    I noticed an interesting technique in a series recently: The characters are all the same, but the perspective changed in each book. It took me a couple of books to even notice it happening as they are all 3rd person omniscient; each one is just “biased” toward a different character.

      • mrsizer

        Empire of the Edge by Lindsay Buroker. She also writes Fallen Empire which is oddly both very much the same (really bad guy/nice overly-clever girl) and completely different (fantasy-ish and SciFi). I screamed through both, but neither series is finished, yet. I’ll probably have to re-read when the next one comes out.

  8. Dave, I thought you fished to keep the Cats in tucker?(~_^)

  9. For me the most difficult is writing the ‘links’ between the scenes which I have to make sure maintain continuity – usually complex – and yet must be short, clean… and the reader is barely aware of. There is always a resentful part of my mind that says ‘I am working my butt off to make this slick, clear… and virtually invisible. You would only know it existed at all (if I have done it well) if it wasn’t there. Like the servant who actually did the cleaning in the society hostess’s home (and listens to her being praised for it), there is a degree of resentment that my hardest and, IMO some of my best work is something that is only good if no one knows I’ve done it.

    This sounds like the complaint of the cabinet maker. People notice the wood grain and the veneer and maybe the joinery. They don’t notice the fact that the drawers slide in and out smoothly except in a negative sense that they certainly do notice the drawers that don’t slide out smoothly.