Monday, March 05, 2007

Writing About Reading: Still Playing catch up

My voraciousness has slowed enough for me to try and put together a few recaps on here. I'm going to post these in reverse order, as I have more to say about one than the others, and I'd like to give them their due before I inevitably get sidetracked.

This is New York by EB White

I'd been meaning to read this for years, and finally did a few weeks back. This slim little volume is only about 50 pages, and was originally an article in a travel magazine, so it's a fairly breezy read. Aside from being extremely quotable, it's also appealing as a historical artifact; a snapshot of New York in transition (which I suppose is a silly statement to make, New York is almost always in one sort of transition or another). In writing about the New York of that time (Post-WW II), White often longed for 20 years earlier, when he was a new arrival to the city, which just goes to show that the long-standing tradition of griping about how things have changed for the worse since the good old days has been around for longer than the Giuliani administration, and is in no danger of going anywhere. I really must own this book, and read more of White's essays. He's so much more than "that dude who wrote the book about the spider."

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
After enthusiastic recommendations from several friends I decided to read this book (it also helped that Jessica loaned it to me along with its sequel, Something Blue). I generally have found my forays into so-called "chick lit" to usually be boring and disappointing (and in the case of the Shopaholic book I read, enragingly insipid). There were things that I enjoyed (Meg Cabot's The Boy Next Door was clever and funny with just enough silliness mixed in - a light, frothy cocktail of a story that was a pleasure to read. But then again, I'm a total sucker for well-done epistolary), and things I have yet to read (Marian Keyes and Jennifer Weiner have both been suggested), but for the most part, I ignore the books. Not out of a personal prejudice, but just due to a general lack of enjoyment, and a lack of patience for the vapid characters and tissue-thin plots. Something Borrowed surprised me because it took some of the conventions of the Chick Lit novel and turned them on their ear while keeping the general romantic structure intact. Was it predictable? In places. Did I want to smack the main character? Not as many times as I thought I would. That said, I could not put the book down for the 4 days it took me to blast through it. Giffin has a wonderful writing style as well; light, witty, and very self aware, making the narrator's observations much more clear-eyed than the average heroine in that particular genre, and like any good narrator, I really wanted to hear her story.

Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs

My parents are huge fans of this duo, and spent the majority of last summer reading their books (there are several). I was a bit leery when my father thrust a copy of this book (their first) into my hands last August and insisted I at least give it a few pages. It sat on my shelf for about six months when I decided I needed something completely different from what I'd been reading. Relic took a bit for me to get into, I suspect, for entirely that reason, but the moment I did get into it, I was completely hooked. It's a few things - a monster chase, a police procedural that would be at home with the CSI clones on tv these days, and a suspense/horror story. While I enjoyed the hell out of the book itself (particularly because of the character of Pendergast, who is a regular in Preston/Childs novels), I feel like I learned a lot from reading it, which is why it's getting the spotlight.

I discovered while I was writing Freelancer and some different fanfics that I have some difficulty writing action sequences. I found it difficult to figure out what points to highlight, and what would be necessary to make a reader's pulse quicken (to be absolutely pompous about it, I suppose). There are a few scenes later in the book (which I don't want to give away) that were exciting and vivid, and that I intend to refer back to next time I have trouble. Most of all, this book led me to a major epiphany, one that literally woke me up one Saturday morning and caused me to start writing.

I love my initial opening chapter of Freelancer - I think it establishes my main character well, aside from being funny (if I do say so myself). But it felt fairly removed from the rest of the action, and I might have scrapped it ages ago had I not loved it so dearly. I found the answer after getting about halfway through Relic - it wasn't a first chapter.

It was a prologue.
The prologue at the beginning of Relic feels like a throwaway scene, designed to establish place and the history of the story that's about to unfold. But as the mystery starts moving along, I started to realize just how necessary those 8 pages were, and found myself constantly referring back to them, thinking about them, and relishing how it tied a few plot points together towards the end. I'm not sure if my prologue will do that, but I hope that it will.
My new first chapter changed the tone and possibly even the direction of the story. Only slightly, but enough to, I hope, give it a little bit more weight and heft than it had before. After a fair bit of scribbling, I've also discovered some of my narrator's backstory as well as a side to him I hadn't known before, a side that makes him into more of what I wanted him to be. I think I've found his third dimension. Still, a bomb has fallen in the middle of my story, and I have to rebuild it. Luckily, there's not too much construction least I don't think. Only time (and some work) will tell.