As I trust my offspring’s ability to separate fact from fantasy, I am happy for him to participate in your indoctrination process on the proviso that all references to ‘Jesus’ are replaced with the term ‘Purportedly Magic Jew.’
Aidan back on Thursday. Baby due one month from now. I am now either 1/3 or 1/4 of the way through this book. Two different measurements, John? Have you taken leave of your senses? Are you not defying ALL LAWS OF GOD AND MAN?!
Allow me to explain. I’ve shot for 40 ‘chapters’ (in heavy inverted commas; “important and regular plot beats” doesn’t really cut it, but it’s the same thing) and a rough final length of 60k words. Not everyone’s this anal, but I need structure or else I tend to piss everything against a wall, story-wise.
I have ‘written’ the first 14 of those chapters, which is the 1/3 mark. But John, you handsome devil, surely that means you’re also around 21k words! Not so, my saucy stranger. You see, I skip stuff. More or less.
There’s an old saw in writing: “You can’t edit an blank page.” And it’s true, to a point. But I’m big enough and ugly enough nowawadays to realise as I write, or even before I write, a scene, or a block of dialogue, or a grocery list, that what I’m about to do or what I am doing is going to be shit. Unremittingly awful balls that I’ll pretty much have to rewrite from scratch in the editing process. I’m not in the mood, I don’t have a clear fix on what’s happening, whatever. I could write any old toss and edit it in later, but that sounds like a lot of work to me. So I skip it and leave a note to self in place to come back to later when I do know what I’m doing, like so:
[WHAT THE LIVING FUCK IS THE POINT OF THIS CONVERSATION? THERE’S GOT TO BE ONE AND IT SHOULD BE AWESOME.]
Or, the more polite:
[DIALOGUE IN THIS CHAPTER IS VERY FLAT, AND THERE’S NO GREAT SENSE OF URGENCY IN THE LATER PART. WE NEED TO KEEP IT CLIPPING ALONG, BUT AT THE SAME TIME WE ALSO NEED SOME INITIAL ‘GETTING TO KNOW YOU’…
Both genuine examples. So, I’m 14 chapters in, but only about 14k words. That’s a 33% skip rate right there. But so long as it doesn’t get too much - and it shouldn’t; most of these particular ones are scenes where I know what needs to be in, but can’t find suitably awesome phrasing and really need to crack on - that’s not a problem. It would all have had to be hacked to bits later. So the chapter count standard of length measurement (easy, tiger!) is the one I find most useful.
And not just because it makes me seem longer than I am. (Oooooh!)
Yesterday I alluded on Twitter to stealing from by far my favourite scene in Jurassic Park (I’d link, but their stupid cocking #! URL syntax renders such things hopeless). I don’t have a video of it - the only version on YouTube is heavily cut and that rather ruins the point of the whole “death of an old man’s dream” thing - but here it is, in script form:
94 INT RESTAURANT NIGHT ELLIE comes into the darkened restaurant, following the source of the flickering light. A candle burns at a table in the corner. JOHN HAMMOND sits at the table, alone. There is a bucket of ice cream in the middle, and he's eating a dish of it, staring down morosely. Ellie draws up to the table and Hammond looks up at her. His eyes are puffy, his hair is messed up - - for the first time we've seen him, the fire is gone from his eyes. HAMMOND It was all melting. Ellie just nods. ELLIE Malcolm's okay for now. I gave him a shot of morphine. HAMMOND They'll all be fine. Who better to get the children through Jurassic Park than a dinosaur expert? Ellie nods. Another pause. Hammond breaks it again. HAMMOND (cont'd) You know the first attraction I ever built when I came down south from Scotland? Was a Flea Circus, Petticoat Lane. Really quite wonderful. We had a wee trapeze, a roundabout - - a merry-go - - what you call it? ELLIE Carousel. HAMMOND A carousel - - and a seesaw. They all moved, motorized of course, but people would swear they could see the fleas. "I see the fleas, mummy! Can't you see the fleas?" Clown fleas, high wire fleas, fleas on parade... (he trails off) Ellie just looks at him, not sure what his state is. He goes on. HAMMOND But with this place, I - - I wanted to give (show) them something real, something that wasn't an illusion, something they could see and touch. An aim devoid of merit. ELLIE But you can't think through this one. You have to feel it. HAMMOND You're absolutely right. Yes, you're right. Hiring Nedry was a mistake, that's obvious. We're over- dependent on automation, I can see that now. But that's all correctable for the next time around. ELLIE John, John. John, you're still building onto that Flea Circus, that illusion. And now you're adding onto it by what you're doing here. That's the illusion. HAMMOND Once we have control again we - - ELLIE Control?! You never had control! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. So I made a mistake too. I didn't have enough respect for that power, and it's out now. You're sitting here trying to pick up the pieces. John, there's nothing worth picking up. The only thing that matters now are the people we love. Alan, Lex, and Tim. And John, they're out there where people are dying - - people are dying, you know? There is a long pause. Hammond avoids her gaze. Ellie reaches out and takes a spoon out of one of the buckets of ice cream, and licks it. Finally: ELLIE (cont'd) It's good. He looks up at her, and his face is different, as the unhappy irony of what he's about to say finally hits home. HAMMOND Spared no expense.
Lovely stuff. For what it’s worth, the only thing actually stolen is that a character, at a time of disaster, eats ice cream in a power cut, and I’m pretty sure that’s a common thing - ice cream is one of nature’s comfort foods, after all. But it made me think back, all the same.
Nobody cares anymore. The lights are out and there’s just a machine somewhere, some sort of creepy Hollywood device filling up a gymnasium in Studio City like UNIVAC. Insert briefcases of money and some random object, throw a switch, and it combines them and spits out the reels for something like Battleship. Or actually Battleship.