Kate Elliott February 26th, 2009
Note: This post originally appeared on my blog. I’ve made a few minor changes.
I’ve written a lot of books. Traitors’ Gate (due August 09 USA with Tor Books USA and early Sept 09 with Orbit Books UK) will be my 19th published novel. That’s counting The Golden Key, the collaboration I wrote with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson, but not counting the two early unpublished works which are unpublishable and will remain that way because they’re also really embarrassing. Hey, I was young once, too.
That’s not my point.
My point is, that I continually strive to improve as a writer. I want to write better books, not worse ones. I want to get more disciplined, not more lazy. I want to hone my craft, not become dull and stagnant.
So obviously, this being my goal, I work to make each book better than the ones that came before. I use the usual methods. I try to recognize and repair my weaknesses and continue to play to and heighten my strengths. I attempt to keep an artisan’s eye on repetitive flaws so I can get rid of them or at the least lessen their impact on the text. The things I’m good at, I remain alert about so I don’t get sloppy. I try to push myself.
Many books ago, I decided that one way to push myself was to choose a specific craft goal for each book as I was writing it.
By that I do not mean that I only work on one craft element per book. I’m always working to build on what I’ve learnt before.
What I do mean is that with each book I pick a specific element or trick or device or thing I think has been problematic, and flag that as my craft goal for that specific novel.
I wish I had kept a list all this time, because I’ve forgotten what my various goals were for the different books, and it would be interesting to trace the progress of my goals.
They might have been things like:
1) work on narrative drive, on trying to make the narrative implacable
2) channel emotional intensity in interactions (don’t keep emotional distance)
3) focus on making all third person description of landscape and other people’s reactions fit the particular pov, that is, would be the things the character would notice, which will change with each pov shift
4) tailoring details to fit the tone or intensity of each scene
With Shadow Gate, the goal was: cut extraneous verbiage and make every detail and digression count. (This is a huge problem for me.)
With Traitors’ Gate, I worked on two specific goals.
The first was specific to this particular novel and would not necessarily have been applicable to any given novel I had written or might write, in that I had an extremely complex plot with multiple pov characters that had to be layered down exactly the right way and at the right time to make the plot work AND to make sure I completed this plot in this volume, because I was very very determined that this not become a four volume trilogy. So in a way, that goal doesn’t quite fit the “craft goal” model as it was too specific to the book in question.
The second was to work on how small character actions and movements (literally) are handled within scenes. I wanted to emphasize using them to point and intensify character interaction in a way that would create and enable the emotional impact received by the reader. I admit that during the period I was writing Traitors’ Gate I was also watching the first four seasons of the HBO series The Wire, and I was pretty heavily influenced not by the content but by the execution of that series as I thought about how I wanted to write and execute scenes in Traitors’ Gate.
Again, it’s not that I don’t do these things or attempt to do these things as I’m writing all my books. But I am not a perfect writer; I make lots of mistakes, and if I were to try to focus to that deep a degree on every problem I have with every book I write, I would lose my grasp on all the threads. By giving special attention to a single specific craft goal for any given book (without losing the usual awareness of trying to write the best book I can), I think it helps me really knead that skill or device or element down through my process so I can more readily continue using it in subsequent books.