Thoughts on my own prose, as I'm revising
Submitted by Alexander Danner on May 31, 2009 - 15:29
So Iâ€™m sort of working on a novel. Not a graphic novelâ€”an actually book-length piece of prose. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ll actually finish it or if itâ€™ll be any good when I do. You may never get to read it, and that may not be any great loss. But Iâ€™m working on it.
As of right now, the book is 41 pages, beginning to end. Obviously, thatâ€™s a bit short, but thatâ€™s typical of my writing method; The first draft of Parens. was only 45 pages, and it nearly tripled in length during revision. My first drafts tend to be the skeletons of my story, which I then hang layers of meat on until itâ€™s fully realized. I also tend to have long stretches of ignoring projects between draftsâ€”this draft of my novel was completed two years ago, and Iâ€™m only just getting around to reading and revising it for the first time now.
One of the reasons I was drawn to plays and comics and stopped writing prose fiction a number of years ago was my feeling that I could write some pretty good dialogue and interesting characters, but that I wasnâ€™t that great at narrative description. Sure, comics requires visuals, but I just need to communicate those visuals to the artistâ€”I donâ€™t have to evoke them for the audience. Of course, one of the things I made myself do, once I started writing comics seriously, was create several silent stories that relied entirely on visualsâ€”that was the origin of the Amy storiesâ€”so that I wouldnâ€™t become over-reliant on the techniques I was already good at. I wanted to grow.
So now Iâ€™m writing prose fiction again. And Iâ€™ve noticed something interesting about how my writing has changed since I last worked in this formâ€”I donâ€™t write nearly as much dialogue as I used to. In a lot of my early stories the prose was just a bridge between sequences of dialogue. But now Iâ€™ve gone to the other extremeâ€”I find Iâ€™m writing practically no dialogue at all in some of my stories. The current 41-page draft of my novel includes only 22 distinct lines of dialogue, including an instance of â€œoh.â€ The first â€œIâ€™m going to make some coffeeâ€ doesnâ€™t appear until page seven, and is the last for several pages as well. And where I do insert longer conversations, the bulk of the dialogue comes very near the end, as the story is just about to wrap up.
Whatâ€™s more, Iâ€™m actually enjoying the prose Iâ€™m writingâ€”as I said, itâ€™s been two years since I wrote it, so I donâ€™t have that new project bias that makes writers love their most recent work. I donâ€™t remember a lot of my details, so my rereading allows me to be surprised by what 31-year-old me did with this piece of writing. And Iâ€™m finding that my descriptions are more evocative than theyâ€™ve ever been, and funnier than I tend to give myself credit for besides. Itâ€™s still a very rough draft, of courseâ€”but I still like it. Iâ€™m happy with what I did, and am excited to take it further.
All my writing life, Iâ€™ve always felt that there is great value to working in more than one formâ€”lessons that can be learned in one kind of writing that will benefit you in another. So much so that you can grow in skill in a form that youâ€™re not even actively working on. My best achievements in one project always happen while Iâ€™m working on a different project. And Iâ€™m really pleased to discover that this has held true through my absence from prose.
Or, at least, thatâ€™s how it seems to me now. I could re-read this piece again next year and discover I hate it. Iâ€™ll just have to wait and see.