Friday, June 5, 2009

Bad and Scary

Killing Time is not like anything else I've ever written. It's a bad, scary, evil piece of shit. It's so easy to imagine how a person would go about manipulating other people, especially when they're already in the grasp of some overwhelming, irrational fervor.

I'm not, obviously, doing the intensive, words-per-day thing with this story. I've let whole weeks go by without writing more than a few paragraphs. I think I'm about to kick into a more productive mode and inshallah finish it up by the end of the month. But I'll never get up to anything like the 2000+ WPD I did on Drumheart.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One, the prose is much more intense, in fact more like poetry. That means I can't produce it nearly as fast. With simple expository prose, which is what Drumheart was mostly written in (there were a few spots of descriptive prose that rose above that level), the translation of idea to prose is pretty straightforward and tends to occur at a more-or-less fixed base rate. (It might be slower if I was tired, faster if I'd had extra coffee. But it seemed to me that those were physiological conditions independent of the creative process.)

The kind of prose I'm using for Killing Time takes longer to produce and requires a lot more... something per word. Energy. Creative effort. I want the text to come out spiky and brilliant, seductive yet uncomfortable to read. Disturbing. It's a matter of much more than just getting the idea across.

Overstylish? Maybe. But that's not uncharacteristic of clockpunk/steampunk/cyberpunk: always a very style-conscious genre, in a way that I think repudiated the style-neutral or even anti-style esthetic of earlier SF. Way back in the Campbell era, the Idea was the thing: niceties like plot and character development, let alone prose style, were actively denigrated. (There were exceptions, like the immortal Ray Bradbury, but Campbell's editorial influence pretty effectively marginalized newer writers with pretension to style. Look up Manly Wade Wellman's attempt to publish his novel about Leonardo da Vinci.)

New Wave authors like Zelazny, Delaney, and Davidson broke the style barrier, but the idea that style is important, that the form is part of the message, is still far from universally acknowledged in the field. Gene Wolfe and the aforementioned Bradbury (if you don't have Farewell Summer, the sequel to Dandelion Wine, go out and get it) are probably the pre-eminent (living) senior stylists around; John Crowley turns out amazing stuff; China Mieville and Jay Lake are some of the newer writers with style to burn and things to say.

(I guess that's what offends me the most about the Campbell philosophy, as a writer; the idea that there's a necessary trade-off between having things to say and saying them well. Put that way, it makes no sense at all.)

All of which is a long digression to keep me from mentioning the second reason Killing Time proceeds slowly.

I hate living inside that character's head. It scares me.

What to do with it? As I mentioned earlier, it's going to be an awkward length, probably unpublishable by normal means. I'm thinking seriously about selling it off my blog, for a fairly nominal amount, as a Word or pdf file. We'll see about that after I finish the damn thing.

No comments: