Parsimony

I just took Gabe Tovar out of my third novel, Fail Deadly.  Damn!  I liked Gabe, but the poor guy was compromised by Russian mafia types, and he did add complexity.  Maybe he’s relieved, but I’m sorry to lose him. However, his loss didn’t hurt as much as Raisa Jarvinen, whom I had to take out a couple of months ago. She was an FBI agent, a specialist in languages.  She allowed me to exercise my interest in etymology, languages in general, and the Finno-Ugric branch of Indo European. See, Estonian is closer to Finnish and Hungarian than the Slavic languages that surround it as a result of the Uralic tribes … hmmm. Maybe it’s good for my readers’ sanity that I took her out.  

What I’m learning is that parsimony is valuable in writing, just as it is in science.  I don’t mean the penny-pinching skinflint kind; I mean the Aristotle-Duns Scotus-William of Ockham’s razor kind.  The kind that says Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate, loosely translated for the novelist as Don’t put in stuff that doesn’t move the story forward.

When I was about to publish Fatal Score, I asked for a review from Brian Lutterman, a Minnesota author whose work I admire.  He graciously accepted and wrote a lovely review.  Then he asked if I wanted an honest appraisal of the less-than-nice stuff. I did, and he explained that, while the plot was interesting and the writing good enough to merit his fine review, but I had too many characters. Parsimony, again.

Eep … The novel I’m finishing, Fail Deadly, had more characters than Fatal Score.  The plot is about as complex, which, following Ockham loosely means there’s less space for characters. 

Sic transit Gloria personae, Gabe and Raisa.  You’ll be back in other books, I hope.

Technique, again

I am taking a look yet again at my first novel, Fatal Score (initially called Hack the Yak), which I am preparing to query. I asked an editor to look at the first three chapters.  The results were eye-opening.

When I began writing, I used interior monolog (protagonist’s thoughts), which I laid down in italics.  The editor would have none of that.

I’ve mentioned before that the Big Duh I’ve learned by writing, now, three novels:  there is this thing called technique.  The writer needs that ineffable quality known as Voice, to be sure.  And Mechanics (grammar, lexical sophistication, punctuation) must be spot-on or
any self-respecting agent will trash the ms without reading it.  The Big Duh was this thing I call Technique.  Frustrating, is technique (in Yoda’s words).  Some parts are common sense (when they become obvious), like letting a reader know where she is, who is speaking and what time it is at the beginning of a scene.  Some parts seem like a random variable extending over time.  Nineteenth-century technique (never mind punctuation) is different than twenty-first century for no apparent reason.  Eighteenth century writing embraced long, Latinate words; Hemingway didn’t.

So, I live and continue to learn.

And, yes, I dumped most of the italics.