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Earth for Dummies (Completely Revised)

Quite a good writing day yesterday. 1,801 words, which means the Word Bank is looking good at 1,896. Technically, I could now lose a day. Or even take a day off. But I shall endeavor to do no such thing, as there may yet be some emergency. But here I am — 15 down, 16 to go.

I did manage to get out of the house yesterday for a short walk, just over to Freedom Park. Everything is blooming — daisy fleabane, clover, dandelions, etc. There was a wonderful wind from the northwest and spectacular clouds heralding the change in the weather, the sort of sky that makes we want to climb to the top of an especially tall hill, raise my arms, and howl at the sky. The low last night was 52F, which is today's forecast high, with a low of 27F. So, we shall have a taste of winter after all. Spooky made spicy Thai food for dinner. There was not much more to yesterday than that.

We also finished Christopher Priest's The Prestige (1995) last night. On the one hand, it is a fine novel. On the other hand...I find that I have recently acquired an odd reticence to actually criticize the work of other living writers. My reasons, as best I can discern, are twofold:

1) The author might be reading this journal. It's happened before.

2) I've been making my living, such as it is, as a writer since the mid nineties, and it has caused me to look more kindly on the perceived shortcomings of others.

Basically, I wish I could read the way I used to read. I did not dissect as I read. I simply became immersed in the story and let it sweep me happily along. Now I cannot help but dissect. I try not to, but I do anyway. I cannot help but see "flaws" and all the ways I think I could have done this better. I would suspect that all writers are like this, to one degree or another. Writers are the gods of their universes, and we are never at a loss to suggest how some other god might better run herhisits universe/s. At least, this is true of me. It is one reason I read so much less fiction than I did fifteen years ago. And, actually, stage magic is not a bad metaphor for this problem I now have as a reader. I am precisely like a magician watching another magician's act. I should be suckered in with the rest of the crowd. I passionately desire to have the wool pulled over my eyes. Only it very rarely happens, as I'm too busy figuring out how it's all being done and how I could improve upon it.

Which is to say, The Prestige is a fine novel. But I would have done it differently, and I think that means I would have done it better. I cannot help but think that. I also wonder how seeing the film first changed my perception of the novel. Personally, I think it's a book that could stand to lose the first twenty eight pages and the final eleven — the whole present-day frame. It is neither needed, nor are those characters sufficiently well-developed to compete with the meat of the book, the story of the feud between magicians Angier and Borden. If the frame is to be part of the story, at least another one hundred pages is needed to truly make those characters real to the reader. And if the frame goes, I'd also cut Part Three, Kate Angier's diary. Pare this down to the story of magicians Angier and Borden, as the film wisely does, and you do not have a fine novel, you might have a great novel. Or that's the way it seems to me. As it stands, Andrew Westley and Kate Angier and the late 20th Century are only a distraction and the source of a number of problems with the internal logic of the novel. I would also suggest that the story might have been relayed more effectively had "Alfred" Borden and Rupert Angier's journals been broken up and presented in alternating sections. I adore epistolary storytelling, and I usually point to Stoker's Dracula as a stellar example of how this is done well. Alternate between characters.

Nonetheless, it is, as I have twice said, a fine novel. I am not seeking to damn it with faint praise. I just can't help but read it as a novelist. This is, from my perspective, unfortunate. I don't want to know how the trick works. I want to be amazed. I want to be convinced of the magic. But this is what I do. I spend my days gluing words together to try and fool other people. And I can't help but try to see how other writers, especially writers who have found more commercial success than have I, make it work. Sadly, I don't even find the mechanics & theory of fiction writing remotely interesting, which makes this doubly frustrating. It's just a reflex.

Now, it's time to write.

Comments

( 14 comments — Have your say! )
ladyeuthanasia
Jan. 16th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)

Well, doll, you're not just a critically acclaimed writer but also a highly intelligent reader. You might be harder to please than most, and I think any writer who reads your critique of their work has got to grok that. I wouldn't be surprised if Priest had considered the changes you've suggested; hell, who knows if he was pressured one way or the other through agent/editor notes. Maybe you've given him support for something rather than the knocking it feels like. Just a thought born from my screenwriting days.

greygirlbeast
Jan. 16th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
You might be harder to please than most, and I think any writer who reads your critique of their work has got to grok that. I wouldn't be surprised if Priest had considered the changes you've suggested; hell, who knows if he was pressured one way or the other through agent/editor notes.

I think that bothers me the most is not that other writers will think me an asshole for making negative comments about their work (though that does bother me), but that I cannot enjoy reading the way that I once did.
ladyeuthanasia
Jan. 16th, 2007 06:42 pm (UTC)

It's not the same, true. It will never be the same again. While I occasionally hear writers say it, it's a huge problem in the film industry. People can't read scripts and see movies without picking them apart, thus ruining the experience. The difference being that most of the people in films are too stupid to know what works and what doesn't. You on the other hand do.

That said, you were recently swept away by House of Leaves, weren't you? Didn't you fall into the illusion of it pretty solidly?
greygirlbeast
Jan. 16th, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
That said, you were recently swept away by House of Leaves, weren't you? Didn't you fall into the illusion of it pretty solidly?

Yep. On my second reading, too. It's a rare book, that one
ladyeuthanasia
Jan. 16th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)

And becoming rarer, I think.

But maybe I'm suffering in a similar way and I'm just not as conscious of it. I've not been impressed with most the books I've read in the last few years.
greyaenigma
Jan. 16th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, how much, if at all, do you think the desire to cut those bits is based on seeing the movie first?

I've been wondering recently how much professional authors suffer from being the magician watching the magic trick. Even though I don't professionally write or make movies, I've found myself experiencing increasing amounts of pococurantism in reading or watching what should be entertainment.
greygirlbeast
Jan. 16th, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, how much, if at all, do you think the desire to cut those bits is based on seeing the movie first?

Well, as I said, it has occurred to me. But I think that what seeing the film first did was show me a better way to tell the story. It made me sensitive to what I perceive as flaws in the novel.
sovay
Jan. 16th, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
But I think that what seeing the film first did was show me a better way to tell the story.

I have not yet read The Prestige, but I have gotten the impression from others as well that it may be the rare instance where the film is not just a different creature, but an improvement on the original.
greygirlbeast
Jan. 16th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
but I have gotten the impression from others as well that it may be the rare instance where the film is not just a different creature, but an improvement on the original.

There are not many instances where I would say this, but I think it's true here.
brainstormfront
Jan. 18th, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)
One other nominee for improvement over the original text is the movie of Michael Chabon's WONDER BOYS. The movie ignores a B-plot about Grady's ex-wife and her family, which strengthens the core narrative about Grady and James Leer. I highly recommend both movie and book, even so.

Steven
sovay
Jan. 16th, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
With absolutely no relation to my previous comment, my very belated holiday gift from oldcharliebrown arrived today: a copy of Subterranean #2, with "Bradbury Weather" and the reprint of "Andromeda Among the Stones." As should have been obvious for some time now, I love the latter, but I'd never read the former before, and it's an almost impossibly strong piece of science fiction. The worldbuilding is casually dense and detailed and I love that this future is without explanation, and the alien element wouldn't have been out of place in an issue of Sirenia. The presence of zeppelins on Mars is just a bonus.
derekcfpegritz
Jan. 16th, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
My thoughts on Priest's The Prestige follow yours precisely. What's with the present-day frame narrative? It is completely useless!

I really wish my hands weren't so...well, petrified--I'd love to get back into legerdemain and other forms of simple magical tricks. I used to love that stuff.
humglum
Jan. 17th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)


Yeah, the further I get from the ending of the book, the more it just annoys me. I think I probably would have loved it when I was 12 or 13.

I loved Borden and Angier's accounts fo their rivalry, though.
cause_catyljan
Jan. 17th, 2007 10:06 am (UTC)
I wish I could read the way I used to read. I did not dissect as I read. I simply became immersed in the story and let it sweep me happily along.

I'm the same way having spent three years studying film and television production. I know exactly how each film or show can be improved and how a certain scene, plot, exposition etc should have been executed. I barely watch films now, being on the inside takes some of the magic away from it, leaving only the bare-ass reality of egos, enmities and inane trivia that seem to be an integral part of the process
( 14 comments — Have your say! )