May 28, 2008

Fiction, friction and place

I recently started participating in the online Critters Workshop. I submitted the story that just went by here on the blog for its turn in the upcoming queue, and began buckling down to write at least one crit a week while aiming for two. I won't bother to explain Critters - check out the website, it's fairly simple.

This week, I read the book Mirrored Heaven by David J. Williams. It's a cyberpunk first novel, with lots of combat and highly stylized prose.

Then, today, I checked Daniel Keys Moran's website and noted that he had posted a new chunk of the as-yet-unpublished 'Trent the Uncatchable' novel The A.I. War. I read it, devoured it really, and re-read it several times.

These three different events resonated. While reading Mirrored Heaven, I felt myself falling into critique mode rather than reader mode. I suspect that it's to some degree because I wasn't all that enamored of the writing, but mostly because I'd been reading SF to crit it for a couple of weeks straight (I read most of the stories available on Critters even if I didn't crit them). In my head, I was fairly harsh; I fired off imaginary salvos regarding language, technobabble, and plotting.

After that, I ended up reading The A.I. War, which naturally led to rereading chunks of The Long Run which is one of my favorite SF novels.

Then I reread chunks of the novel I keep claiming I'm working on, and cringed.

I know that it's impossible for me to actually evaluate my own work, and that that is why critique-circles are so effective. I just know that I waver between enthusiasm for my stuff as I'm writing it and sheer cringing embarrassment when I later re-read it in an attempt to get working on it again. This is why so many of my stories tend to stop and not start up once more; because that 'refamiliarization' process usually goes so very badly wrong.

I don't know. Part of me wants to think that what I've written is no worse that (and in some few ways, better than) Mirrored Heaven, and that got published. On the other hand, that book has, despite its technofragmentation, more of a structure than I have; its characters, despite being somewhat interchangeable, are nevertheless more readily identified as to motive and makeup than mine. There's part of me that says "this book was once just like yours, but the difference is it absorbed more work and then got finished." Part of me retorts "but if you can't learn to plot past basic structure and Everything2-sized chunks, it won't matter how much work you put in."

How much of this is actual self-evaluation, and how much of it is trying to hold up my favorite SF prose as a 'pass bar'?

I'm not sure where I stand at the moment. I'm also on antidepressants again, which has had its customary effect on my writing - the tap has run solidly dry, SLAM, no exceptions. Still, I'll keep trying. I'm arguing with myself whether I should first replot, then rewrite; or whether the hundred-eighty pages I have so far are enough of an investment that I should try to simply mold them further towards what I think the book should be.

What should it be, though? That's the question I have little trouble answering when writing small bits, and ever so much trouble answering when looking at the whole.


Posted by jbz at May 28, 2008 6:19 PM | TrackBack

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