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Welcome to Early Morning Thoughts


I've reached the point where I'm talking about my book as I write it and there's no-one round to email insanely, so it'll have to go here.

When I was writing 26lies, I had these huge conversations with Deb Layne (deborahlive) going, which must have driven her up the wall, but like the fine publisher she is, she kept talking to me, letting me talk the book out and out. There's a line, in fact, in a Raymond Carver story, called 'Why Don't You Dance', in which the young woman in the story is telling her friends what she's seen, and Carver says that she's trying to talk it out, or something similar (I don't have the book with my at the moment, so if I'm wrong, there you go). That line always struck me as one of those personal little epiphanies, because I'm a lot like that: I like to talk things out until they make sense. All kinds of things, really. Books, short stories, girls, food, whatever, y'know? Some times I think that the things I write are nothing more than an expression of that, an extended, composed version of my talking something out, and shaped into a narrative so I can work resolutions and answers in, if I come up with any.

Of course, a lot of authors I know, they don't talk things out. They keep them pinned up inside, waiting until they're formed to show the world, or afraid that someone else might take their idea, and use it.

It's a fair enough in both cases. In the former case, I can understand not wanting to talk the half formed idea out, and later, when it is fully there, there comes a time when you need to be quiet, because if you're busy talking a story out, why write it? You've told it then, go off and write something new. As for being protective of your ideas, that's all well and good, though for me, I just figure ideas are, as the Americans say, a dime a dozen. Plus, every idea I have has been used by someone somewhere, so I don't see the point. Personal choice, that, for, to me what makes a piece of fiction work is the author, the way he or she spins the idea, the voice he or she uses, the verve that he or she has. Originality comes from the pattern of thought within the author, not the one high concept idea. Or, at least, that's what I figured a while back, and I've never much seen any idea to go back and change it.

Anyhow: this is long winded.

What I'm thinking about today is violence. It's an important conversation in Across the Seven Continents of the Underworld, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the introduction that I posted a few days back, but what I'm thinking, lately, what I'm thinking, is how I can make every moment of violence carry a weight to it, and yet not be caught up in that emo argument you have about how wrong it is. Don't get me wrong--I'm not a fan of violence, and I don't want to have a narrative that is supportive of the casual, effortless deaths that are the background noise of so many books and films. I've never had a huge problem with works that do that. In fact, I've enjoyed more than a few. But I don't find it very interesting to casually kill seven people and not have it so much as appear as a blip on the inside of a person's mind. To do that, somehow, and at the very least in this piece of work, feels as if I'm short changing one of the thematic elements of the book, and further, it creates a tonal inconsistency. The downside, however, is it makes things a lot more difficult: how do you justify the deaths of guards, then, when you know, through endless amounts of narratives, that guards are an anonymous point of violence, a nothing but sharp crack, burst of a bullet, slice with a knife, the representation in the book of the author making a the short, sharp cut to remove the plot obstacle for his or her character?

This is what I'm thinking about right now. It's a thought in my cluttered head. A problem to be solved. Maybe it doesn't make any sense to you. Maybe it's not even interesting. That's how it is sometimes, I guess.


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Oct. 5th, 2007 01:15 am (UTC)
Grant Morrison did an amazing thing once in an issue of his comic The Invisibles, where (SPOILER!) you followed the entire life story of this Scottish kid from childhood to adulthood, only to find out at the very end of the issue that he was "faceless guard 4 who got shot in the face by the hero" all the way back in issue #1.
Oct. 5th, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)
yeah, i remember that. later, i saw the gags in austin powers films, and the two are, somehow, joined for me. though i did like both...

(er, the gags in austin powers. the film as a whole i can leave.)
Oct. 5th, 2007 01:49 am (UTC)
The nicest part of the Invisibles one is that right at the very end of the whole saga, it's the widow of the dead soldier who saves King Mob's life. I really liked that.
Oct. 5th, 2007 08:59 am (UTC)
I remember Kate Orman did a similar thing in a Doctor Who book too...
Oct. 5th, 2007 01:56 am (UTC)
(there's always me)
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:18 am (UTC)
(i'll remember that)
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)
It's a really tricky thing.

There's one example that annoyed me, from Angel. In one episode Wes has to learn to be a leader, and direct men into a battle that he knows will kill them, because it is needed for a larger victory. Hard choices, but undermined by the fact that they were off in fantasy-land (Pylea, to be precise). The same choices in the gangs of Los Angeles would have carried a lot more weight, I think.
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
yeah, i remember that. don't they make a point over the fact that he has to kill some nobodies?
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:45 am (UTC)
Something like that. I forget the details.

Back to violence, I always think one of the best descriptions of horror is 'casual atrocity'. That is, the violence has weight — it is an atrocity — but likewise it is contrasted by a larger context in which it is just part of the ordinary fabric of events.
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:50 am (UTC)
i think, in some ways, that's exactly what i want to avoid. i don't want it to be part of the ordinary fabric. i think when it's casual, the reader, the viewer, whatever, just skips it, if that makes sense?
Oct. 5th, 2007 03:01 am (UTC)
I think so, but the juggling act is to give it that weight, so it can't be ignored. Thomas Harris is great at conveying this with a few small details. Dan Simmons' Song of Kali is an exemplar.

Neither of which are necessarily good models for your book, as I understand it.
Oct. 5th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
perhaps not, though in fairness, i've not read either of them. though in this case, i think i'm quite happy to operate without a model, and just find my own way through.

for some reason, though, whenever i think about this,all i can think about is ROZENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, which might, i suspect, have more to do with hsc time than anything else.
Oct. 5th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
Sounds like a good thing to think about to me.
Oct. 5th, 2007 08:58 am (UTC)
I hate the mindless killing of extras, and I usually notice it... many readers are able to skip it it's true... but to me I always lose a little respect for the author... like, their world has lost a bit of its three-dimensional quality by turning people into plot coupons.
Oct. 6th, 2007 01:48 am (UTC)
yeah, that's what i've always figured. even as i've done it...
Oct. 5th, 2007 01:32 pm (UTC)
Those conversations were great -- I loved 'em!
Oct. 6th, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)
Oct. 6th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
“Well, what prevents you from murdering somebody?”
“Murder is immoral.”
“Immorality is subjective.”
“Yes, but subjectivity is objective.”
“I can’t shoot him. He’s a [live] human being. He will bleed on the carpet.”
“Give me that gun.”
“Ah, see? It’s not so easy!”
“Why? Why can’t I do it?”
“Because it’s morally wrong.”
“Oh, I see. Can you define your terms?”
“Yes, there’s a moral imperative involved here.”
“Where, where is the moral imperative?”
“You can’t see it? By killing Napoleon you’re actually killing yourself, because we’re involved in a kind of total absolute.”
“Oh, come on. This isn’t a total absolute. You’re being pantheistic again.”
“I wasn’t pantheistic. […] we relate universally to a giant oneness […] We’re dealing with the ethical question here.”
“Oh, come on Boris. You’re not going to quote Thomas Aquinas again.”
“Absolutely, when he said: You must never kill a man, particularly if it means taking his life.”

--from Love and Death (1975), Woody Allen
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