THE MORE YOU WRITE THE BETTER YOU GET (maybe)

As proof I offer up the following, found while I was looking for a piece of scratch paper to take on my walk. It’s whenever I’m reduced to scrawling ideas across my palm and up my forearm that the inspiration flows. I keep my old print-outs for the kids’s art drawer because both of them are prolific artists. Milo draws things inspired by whatever book or computer game he is enraptured with at the moment. Right now it is GOOSEBUMPS on the computer and HORRID HENRY in bookform. Lucy makes delicate spirals and small circles and she is very serious about them. Her signature is a loop, and she lies on her belly with her knees bent and feet waving gently in the air as she concentrates on exactly where she wants her ovals and doodles. Milo sometimes grips his tongue between his teeth.
Anyway I grabbed a random piece of paper with typing on one side and took it along with me this morning. I jotted down a couple of ideas for a blog, and the note, Mrs. ?- johnny cakes and no corn syrup which only makes sense to me because it has to do with my WIP, and then flipped the page over. It was from a very early draft of my first book (which was—miraculously I would say now, published, but not the part which I am going to include here). That part was quite rightly excised by my editor and obliterated from living memory. Unfortunately I still remember enough to know that I did write it about five years ago.
***
“Do you mean to harm us?” Granite asked, weapon raised.
Its body shook with what appeared to be laughter.
“I should be asking you the same thing,” it said in a curiously high voice. “We are hardly in the position to hurt you; ever again, in fact. Long have we striven to keep these crystal waters from being muddied, but our destiny is otherwise. Years of contact with the Amramfarian has infected our race as well. We are the last two members of the ancient and glorious race of Cetaceans. Our illustrious city, Phaena, falls into ruin. Silica and I are tired. Soon we will take the long voyage to the salt marshes.”
“We are sorry for you. Perhaps if we had opened the lines of communication sooner, much could have been averted.”
***
Note the clunky dialogue? I think it’s a common thing among would-be fantasy writers to worship too long at the shrine of Tolkien. Not that I’m saying, obviously, that this is in his league. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. I concocted this messy rambling story about Feltus and two warring underground races and it absolutely didn’t work. It was painfully awful. There were too many unnecessary characters and most of them talked like they had pencils sticking into soft parts of there anatomy. And in a flush of excitement and probably momentary insanity I made up all these stupid names, like Phaena and whatever Amramfarian is. I think it is some kind of hallucinogenic red fungus but that could be wrong. And I rubbed my hands together with glee and thought how clever I was to call my sentient sea creatures Cetaceans which is just….lame. I went on in this supercilious way for about forty pages. And even I found the pace slow and the excitement non-existent. My remedy for this? More flowery descriptive passages, and more back-story. It was a relief —even to me— to cut it all out and throw it away, to reduce the number of characters to one, and to bring the story back to Feltus’s world. But back then someone had to tell me to dump it. Otherwise I would have stubbornly persisted, reworking sentences, struggling with the wrong Voice, and trapped into thinking that serious thoughts had to be expressed in some archaic, pompous language. Thank goodness I was saved from myself, and just think of the horror if it had been published ‘as is’.
I hope I know better now. I think I see more clearly the weaknesses and faults in my writing. I recognize the pits I am prone to tumble into and I try and avoid them but you know it’s hard not to feel clever and pleased with yourself sometimes and it is there that the Amramfarian lurks and flourishes still.
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2 Responses to THE MORE YOU WRITE THE BETTER YOU GET (maybe)

  1. Hey, Joe! It would be so cool if Feltus met an underwater race, mermaids and selkies (girls that turn into seals in the night, kind of like wherewolves) or something. For instance, I recently got addicted to “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, and Willow(buffy’s best bud) had a wherewolf boyfriend- kind of like Twilight! But, then again, Feltus is not really the girl-type…
    Anywho, I recently just finished reading Feltus Ovalton! It was great! Can’t wait to read your new book. Think that you will do another kid’s Writer’s Workshop? That would be fun!
    Have a great summer, and keep writing! (But not too much, pleez relax.) Toodle-oo,
    -Sophie Corwin : )

  2. Jo says:

    HI Sophie,
    So great to hear from you! I am a huge BUFFY fan. I just finished re-watching the entire series as a reward for finishing a new book. I was very disciplined. I would write all morning until I had at least 1000 words and then I was allowed to watch two episodes. It was bliss.
    You’re right, Feltus is not really the girl-type although if Feltus 2 ever comes out, there is a girl…
    I’m planning to do another workshop at the library in the fall. My new book is a YA ( part adventure story/ part love story) set a little way in the future. The hero is a 16 year-old girl and I think you’ll really like her.
    Have a great summer too and say ‘hi’ to Sarah and Hannah!