Well, friends and blog-readers, it's time for something both exciting and a little bit sad. In honor of the submission of my first short stories since high school and what will be the beginning of my grown-up, professional writing career, I am retiring this blog. I do plan to leave it up in perpetuity, however, as there's a lot of good stuff on here that I don't want to forget.
I've come a long way since 2008. Been a lot of places, done a lot of things, and more importantly, I have improved vastly as a writer. This blog was the beginning of me taking myself seriously as an artist--an outpouring of the same change in philosophy that led me to study narrative, revamp my attitude towards college coursework, and eventually discover how and what I really wanted to write. For that, it will always have a warm place in my heart. I hope that you have enjoyed it as much as I have, and I hope that you will join me over at The Real Jeff Seymour, where I promise more of the same things I delivered here, and more frequently.
Arrivederci, my friends, and thank you.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Thursday, 27 October 2011
"Don't...don't you want me?" - Don't You Want Me - The Human League
So today I was reading the PW Daily e-mail from September 30th, because as a result of exciting things happening in my professional life, which hopefully I will able to share soon, I am almost a month behind on reading publishing trade news, and I refuse to just delete it and start over again, and I came across the following quote: "It’s such a distinct moment (for me, at least) that I can almost always pinpoint the moment—down to the page number—I felt it happen. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: page 94. Michael Lewis's Boomerang, out on Monday: page 6 (yes, really). Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: page 32 (see our interview with Touré below). Péter Nádas’s Parallel Stories: still waiting."
The PW editor writing the article was discussing at what point he felt a book was really going to be a great one. What's most interesting for me is the point at which that happened in each book. Page 6. Page 32. Page 94. Page 6 an aspiring author might get from an agent or an editor, if their mechanics are sound. Page 32? Page 94? Not likely.
What to do with this information I'm not yet entirely sure. It seems to speak loudly in favor of not putting too much stock in the traditional publishing process, but traditional publishing has a lot more going for it than a lot of people think. As I exhaust my stock of friends and family readers for Soulwoven: Exodus, I'm discovering that there is, in fact, a point at which what I need is not so much people who can tell me "I don't like this," which I then translate into "This thing I was trying did not work for this person," but someone who can say "You're trying to do this, and it's not working. Here's why."
The only way I know to find such a person is the traditional submissions process, because it's the only time I'm aware of you can get a professional to read your entire manuscript without paying them for it ahead of time (sure, you pay them a lot afterwards, but by that time you should already have a pretty darn good idea of what exactly you're paying for, in the form of the "So, what direction do you see the book needing to move in?" conversation you ought to have before you sign anything).
Also, I've been writing short stories. I think they're turning out splendidly. They will be out on submission soon, which will likely mean the end of this blog and the inauguration of a new one. Sneak preview available at The Real Jeff Seymour. Check out that beard!
Friday, 16 September 2011
"I'm not after fame and fortune, I'm after you." - Rise Against, From Heads Unworthy
I use this blog for a lot of things---advice, venting, taking the time to develop my own thoughts and commit them to fake paper---but more than anything else I I think I use it as a storage locker. A lot of the wisdom (and regardless of how it may serve you, for me that's exactly what it is: the lessons I have learned through experience) tucked away in various posts down the sidebar are things I have forgotten by the time I go back to read them, and I am always very, very glad that they're there.
Every so often, I find something created by someone else that's so wonderful that I think it needs to go in the locker even though I had nothing to do with it. It's a bit like clipping articles from a magazine and tucking them in a drawer to find years later.
This, a blog post by Tobias Buckell about dreams, rockets, and loving what you write for its own sake, and not for the good you think it will do the world or the satisfaction you think it will bring you or the financial independence you hope it might grant, is one of those things.
I hope you read it. I know that I'll be back to, though I have no idea when.
Sunday, 14 August 2011
"Every day I'm shufflin'..." LMFAO- Party Rock Anthem
Recently, after a two-year hiatus from the company of other writers, I swallowed my post-collegiate distrust and began attending a critique group. In many ways it has been a wonderful experience. As advertised, it turns out it is almost always useful to have more eyes on your work once you think it's ready for them, I have gotten some good advice, and the opportunity to play editor for others has been a valuable one.
That said, there are many in this critique group (and other critique groups across the internet and the planet) who are, I feel, overly disparaging of a.) the passive voice, and b.) the verb "to be" in general. So much so that I fell asleep on Friday constructing what I felt to be a spirited defense of the passive voice and the verb it uses so heavily. What little of it I remember two days later, I shall share now.
First I shall sum up conventional wisdom as it has been (ahem) explained to me:
Passive voice ("it has been explained," or more simply "The dead horse was beaten," is almost always inferior to active voice ("My professors explained it," or "My professors beat the dead horse"). It is somewhat tolerable when the entity performing the action is unknown ("A rock was thrown from the crowd") or in journalism ("Three suspects were arraigned today...") when the actor (the person doing the arraigning) is unimportant to the story.
There is some truth to this. Passive voice can make for weak, boring writing. It can be especially painful in academic writing, which is where most writers are first made to realize they're using it. But there are circumstances in which it can be not just tolerable, but preferable to active voice. We'll start with, "A rock was thrown from the crowd," and move into a hypothetical critique group battle royale:
"Bad!" cry those who despise passive voice in all situations. "Consider the following: 'A rock hurtled from the crowd,' 'Someone threw a rock from the crowd,' 'A rock from the crowd struck the wall just left of the President's head." Look at the detail! The action! The zing! The absence of the word 'was!'"
Let's start with the first example. "Hurtle" is a Big Word. It's unusual. It's eye-catching. It bears tension. "But wait!" cry my haters of passive voice, "Aren't those all good things? I want my writing to be all of that!" To which I reply that if something hurtles or erupts or volcanoes forth in every sentence in your paragraph/chapter/novel I as reader will very quickly lose any sense of what sort of motion is important and what is not, and probably throw something across the room.
"Someone threw a rock from the crowd," is slightly tougher to defend. It is very similar in most respects (meaning, length, tone, emphasis) to, "A rock was thrown from the crowd." A poet will notice that the sentences scan very differently (meaning that the accents on the words occur in a different pattern). Someone else might note that this affects the rhythm of the sentence as well as the sentences around it. I maintain that that in and of itself is reason to keep the passive version, especially given that little of importance is changed by making it active in this particular way.
And finally, "A rock from the crowd struck the wall just left of the President's head." This is my prime example of what can go wrong when a writer seeks to eliminate passive voice. It's a good sentence. There's detail. It's interesting. We can go in just about any direction from there. But consider the different sentences placed in the context of the following paragraph:
Tony shivered. The President looked pale and shaken on his balcony. Tony's ankle was swelling up and he knew he wouldn't be able to run far if things got ugly. A rock was thrown from the crowd. He needed a way out.
Tony shivered. The President looked pale and shaken on his balcony. Tony's ankle was swelling up and he knew he wouldn't be able to run far if things got ugly. A rock from the crowd struck the wall just left of the President's head. Tony needed a way out.
In the active example we wind up having to redefine the subject of the paragraph again in its last sentence ("he" would be ambiguous). This paragraph is about Tony. It's not about the rock, or the crowd, or the President. There are things going on around Tony that are making him nervous. That's what's important. The only reason this paragraph exists at all is to let the reader know that. When we make "A rock was thrown from the crowd," active in this way our paragraph loses its focus.
"But wait!" cry my haters, "You could..." and I don't care any more. I could spend a lot of time fiddling with this paragraph and changing it in all kinds of ways, but the only way to make the sentence, "A rock was thrown from the crowd," active is to make the rock an actor in the sentence. That's how you get rid of passive voice. It's the fix. And when you make the rock an actor you introduce three actors (yes, "looked" is a weak verb, but it still counts, and I picked a weak verb in that sentence for the same reasons I picked passive voice later) into a five-sentence paragraph that's meant to be about only one of them, and that's just too many.
It's here that many writers wind up damaging their own writing in an attempt to purge it of passive voice. Yes, passive voice is weak. Sometimes weakness is desirable. Not every sentence gets to be captain of the ship.
The other instance I wanted to talk about is when you're working deep inside a character's head (which, SPOILER, I contend you always are. Hemingway's nameless, formless narrators are as much characters in his novels as his actual characters are). People experience the world in words. Four different people watching the exact same footage of a rock being thrown from a crowd could turn out the four different sentences we go over above. It is imperative that a character who, seeing that footage, would say, "A rock was thrown from the crowd," be allowed to relate it to the reader that way through the narration, even if he or she isn't talking or thinking it directly. If we're in Tony's head, we ought to see the rock the way Tony does, and no matter how much the writers in some critique group might hate passive voice, I'd much rather experience the rock through Tony's words than theirs.