|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
That's right, singular.
1. I am a believer in the never ending process of learning. In that cause I would like to put out an invitation to poets living in the Ventura, California area. Wednesday nights, for the next six weeks, at 7 PM in Ventura at the Vita Art Center, 432 North Ventura Avenue, there will be an ongoing poetry workshop. This is a great opportunity to sharpen your craft and gather with other writers in the pursuit of excellence.
WHEN THEY BEGIN THE BEGUINE
More on the Art of the Edit.
I don't know if you're familiar with this number referenced in tonight's title as it was performed by Frank Sinatra, and I may be showing my age, or the fact that I am a real sucker for Cinema and novels in the 'Noir' genre, but just for the hell of it, click the link and give it a listen. Why? Because in just over three minutes Sinatra and his backup orchestra tell a romantic, compelling story. Three minutes! It seems like almost an impossible space of time to take on that large a task, but at the time Cole Porter wrote the original it would have been considered a bit long. (Most songs, to be commercially viable, were about two and a half minutes.)
So what is a BEGUINE and what does it have to do with fiction editing? The answer to the first part of that is found here. The answer to the second part is a bit more complex...and, really, not. Lyricists have always known something fiction writers have a hard time learning and sticking to. If you want your audience to keep their hand off the radio dial, or the mouse, or the other novel they ordered on-line as a whim, you need to hook them fast and keep the story moving.
In that case, one of the first things so many 'newer' (I didn't use the novice word...but only so I could have the opportunity to be a bit snarky right here.)...ahem...'newer' writers struggle with is just where does their story begin? We don't want to have the reader wondering what time period it is, or what season, or where it's taking place, and who most of the other characters are...and...and...and, ad nauseum. So much gets crammed into the first few pages or chapter that the real meat of the story, the place where the serious showing takes place is competing with a flood of telling that has already drowned the average reader's A.D.D. and condemned the work to that pile next to the bed that's got RECYCLE stamped all over it.
Where am I going with this? Simply put, after completing a first draft of a story, whether short fiction, novella, or novel, the real story normally starts about twenty to twenty-five percent of the way in. Uh-huh, you say, but I need all that background to set up what's coming down the pike. I reply, with something less than academic high mindedness, "BULLSHIT! " What you are doing is exhibiting your own insecurity in regards to your talent and ability. You're signaling to your readers, like an inexperienced pitcher trying to get away with throwing a badly disguised slowball, that you really couldn't think of any way of working all this foofaraw into the actual body of the story. Unfortunately, you lacked the editorial gumption (I had another word in mind, of Latin origins, but in deference to the fifty percent of the audience that doesn't have them, I opted for that flowery bit verbiage) to get out the machete and lay to.
Seriously, I do this with short stories. Say the thing ends up twenty pages long at the finish of the first draft. I can pretty much guarantee you that the first four or five pages were warm up and what I needed to say didn't kick into gear until page five. It's like starting a car in a very cold climate with an old battery. You grind and grind and, just as you're convinced that you'll end up calling your BFF for a ride to work, VOILA, the SOB fires and off you go!
I have edited novel-length fiction in which the first three or four chapters were the equivalent of tip-toeing around in the dark. You keep waiting for something horrendous or comedic to happen, and when it doesn't, you wonder what the point really is. Answer, like our pitcher again, that was the warm up in the bullpen before taking the mound. It didn't actually lend anything to the game, but you have to start someplace.
So before you head out into grand eloquent expositions on the minor character who plays no real role until chapter twelve, consider this. If he/she doesn't contribute a damned thing to the story until chapter twelve, maybe we don't need to know ANYTHING about him/her until then. You really need to know when to begin the beguine.
Meanwhile...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis