2013-09-20

Cutting the Cheese in Writing

One way to remove cheese is to remove adverbial conversation tags. Another way is to study what other great writers have crafted and emulate them in your own work. There is a way to do this -- look to other great books! Maybe more expository passages? More artfulness. More on the level of language. -----Original Message----- Sent: Tue, Sep 17, 2013 10:06 am Subject: cheese I am looking for some tips on how to identify and remove/edit cheesiness in a story. I have several scenes that just seem far too cliche and I can't figure out how to adjust them. I know some cheesiness is ok, because that's life, but I feel there is too much and I want to make a big effort before too many people read this. If anyone has any experience/ideas with this sort of thing, I would greatly appreciate any help! Which as a side note, when you hand off your writing for someone to read it, do you just say here you go let me know what you think? Or do you ask for them to look for specific things, like grammar or in my case cliches? Is there an order to it? For the first readers you ask for them to look for things and then the next group you just say here you go? Something like that. (If you can't tell I'm not used to the concept of others reading my stuff. Most of my work has sat in a binder for 5 years..) ^_^ =========== Something O-curd (*) to me.... (* cheese reference) ============= I've de-cheesified a number of scenes in my last few passes through my 2012 manuscript, and it seems to have to do with a couple of factors: 1. increase in the level of "feeling" or "emotional investment" of the character or of myself in the scene. Scenes have become more rather than less "shocking" in this evolution, but more real and meaningful. The character is telling more of her story, rather than just doing something to fill space, make a transition, or just make a splash. 2. The scene gets more tied into the rest of the story. If something can turn from gratuitous description, or cheesy antics into something that is informed by something else in the story, or which supports something else, then it has value and starts to deserve to stay. Otherwise, cut it. I'm going to write at least one new chapter because there's so much stuff that happened in the chapter I'm editing now that I want to tie it in, and also expand upon it, and in the course of that tie back into stuff which is kind of loose-thready from the earlier parts of the story. These are probably both horribly explained. It's almost like I've watched it happen from the outside and I'm just trying to describe it as an observer. A character makes a quip in a scene that can be called back later or anticipated earlier, then it ties it all together. That is the secret to good stand-up comedy, by the way. Or in a Seinfeld episode, things get totally ridiculous and crazy at the end, but it's all believable because it was set up starting from believable premises from the start and evolved through to the end. ======================== Yeah I don't really get it, or I think I don't... I am very sleepy and understanding complicated concepts is a daily struggle. ^_^ So, you're saying in order to de-cheesify: Increase feeling/emotional investment. Make the scene more "shocking"/meaningful. Tell more of the story instead of filling space. Transition. (I don't understand the make a splash part..) And turn the cheesy into something that supports something else. Give it value in order to keep it, otherwise take it out. Is that about right? At least as far as picking through what you said... ======================= Not just a splash in the pan ======================= What I was saying in that in fact, the opposite has proven true: that as I make my scenes more real, they become less shocking and also more real and more moving and more meaningful. First off, the story has to need the scene, otherwise why keep it? That doesn't mean "why write it?" because sometimes we just have to wade through stuff to get where we're going, but we have to not be afraid to cut it all or rewrite it all later -- at least in my humble and hardly authoritative opinion (and I do use the term "opinion" deliberately and not as some kind of spruced-up "knee-jerk un-self-examined feeling or impression"). I'll resort to what might be a relevant example. One of my characters, Sabine, for various and sundry reasons, decides that she is going to "seduce" three boys who are friends with one another, and one of whom she kind of knows (as it turns out later, rather well). In the first cut, she basically just corners them and "hits them with both barrels" of her womanly wiles, and blah-blah-blah, they all pop out, dewy and disheveled, of the end of this tunnel of love and they're all "hers" so to speak, the way to the rest of the scenes involving all of the in the story is paved and so forth and so on. This was already kind of part of the scene as I first wrote it, but it occurred to me that these guys are nerds (that's the premise -- again, various and sundry reasons), all but one of them are effectively virgins, as nerds they aren't really inculcated with the male ethic that when a woman makes overtures, regardless of your own feelings, attractedness, arousal, etc., you are literally obligated to "service" her. In short, the boys are terrified. Sabine realizes this part way through, confronts whether she is a horrible person, despite what might be deemed "social sanction" for what she's doing, whether she's "a user", and how maybe she should have sympathy for her "victims". She's also at least partly "committed" by the time this all dawns on her, so she's confronted with a choice between being kind, maybe jeopardizing this long-term relationship which she tells herself she wants to build (or just "take"? is she being honest about this, either?), and just plain saving face, not to mention maybe not getting her own physical needs met at that particular moment, which (let's be honest) she was pretty much counting on at this point. So, starting from a scene with not much talking, not much honest talking, for sure, a lot of sexiness, tawdryness, even, nakedness and...use your imagination, things trended toward a lot less gratuitous sensuality, a lot more feelings and talking about feelings, awkwardness and working through it, and building backstory and relationships for future scenes as well as a great chance for reveals of character backstory up to that point (for example, the relationship between Mike and Sabine, in Japan, and what it all has to say about each of their romantic angst). Anyway, this is not based on some formula of mine, but an observation of how things seem to be happening in my editing and rewriting process.

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