throwing stones, probably

One of the peculiar things about working as I do, posting as I write, is that I have to name a book before I write it. This is one of the most difficult things about it, actually. It's like naming a band. When you form a band you have to pick a name, though you have no idea what type of band it might turn into.

That being said, I have decided that the novel will be titled "Throwing Stones." Which is not any sort of reference to glass houses.

I've been working on the first chapter of Throwing Stones, and I think it's getting there, nearly ready for the nice folks who have volunteered to be readers. I'm just going to go ahead and write the beginning of chapter two, just in case this reveals an obvious flaw in chapter one. As I was explaining recently, I see each chapter as a brick, and if a chapter has a flaw, every chapter you place on top of it will be unsteady.

There have been quite a few interesting blog posts this week, ones that have led to some good discussions.

1) Kristan Hoffman wrote a short post, in which she linked to this wonderful drawing (scroll down a bit).

2) Laura Stanfill talked about "Using the Exclamation Point in Fiction." Nothing gets word people going than talking about their most (and least) liked punctuation, and words, and other pet peeves.

3) Jo Eberhardt wrote an excellent post called "Girls Can Roll Dice Too".

4) Both Emerald Barnes and Jo Eberhardt (yeah, her again) wrote posts about problems with writing (you know, passive voice and things like that) and they both talked about "filter words." This is the first (and second) time I've ever heard about "filter words," and I must say I'm dubious about the concept.

To be clear, I have no doubt that filter words exist, and that they have, in general terms, the effects described. What I have doubts about is the idea that they words are "insidious" (to quote the blog post that Emerald links to). Are all scenes better if they are more immediate, more gripping, stronger? Do filter words actually "weaken" fiction?

This seems as silly as telling a painter that bright colors are more vibrant and exciting than pastel colors, so paintings are better if they use brighter colors. To me, what matters is what the scene is supposed to accomplish. And, frankly, making all of your scenes as strong and immediate as possible sounds like a sure route to overkill, especially in longer fiction. Variety is important. With bands, for example, one of the most obvious differences between professionals and amateurs is that professional bands have control of dynamics and tempo.

It is significant I think that all the examples I've seen on different blogs (where a scene is described with and without using filter words) are paragraphs where something immediate and exciting is happening. So, either your fiction is more full of incident than a Hardy Boys mystery, or these are not typical paragraphs. (Also, at least in the blog post Emerald links to, the second paragraph is definitely more exciting than the first, but neither is particularly well written.)

Also, I did a quick scan through Inherent Vice. Thomas Pynchon is a better writer than I will ever be, and I'm seeing a bunch of filter words in here. Doc thought, Doc tried not to think, Doc guessed, Doc wondered, Doc was beginning to feel, Doc gave it some thought, Doc ran through things he might have asked, Doc knew the likely reply. In fact, Pynchon sometimes utilizes a double level of filtering ("Doc thought he remembered," "Doc seemed to recall"), where there is not only Doc remembering something, but also the second filter of the fact that he's usually so stoned that what he's remembering may bear little direct relationship to reality.

So, I'm not seeing this as a problem. It's a tool, and like all tools it should be used when appropriate and not otherwise, and, like all tools, we need to know when we're using it and when we're not, but like all tools it has its uses.

5) Though I'm not worried about flter words I'm not entirely without care, since I am quite zealous about infodumping (as Tiyana talked about in "Infodumping: It’s A Multi-Genre Issue"). The first chapter of Throwing Stones is (at the moment) 3,404 words, and I feel like I've removed another 2,000 words of info dump. So, I will not be boasting about how many words I've been writing. Maybe I should keep track of how many I remove and boast about that instead.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to throwing stones, probably

  1. Pingback: Filter Words? « Seven & a Half First Drafts

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.