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"There remains the carnifex himself; I am he."

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Jul. 19th, 2012 | 11:25 pm

I recently put out a meme-ish call for constructive criticism here, and I'm really glad I did. After I went through the obligatory knee-jerk reactions of "WHAT IF I CAN'T FIX THESE PROBLEMS AND AM TERRIBLE FOREVER", it made me begin thinking about constructive ways to improve that DO NOT involve staying up all night until my eyes turn red and creepy feather-bumps start growing out of my shoulders.

-I am fortunate enough to have some magnificent betas; extremely gifted writers and readers who pull no punches and (most importantly) genuinely care about my writing. One thing I want to start doing is asking more questions to begin with--I find that I'm a better beta when I know what the writer's biggest concerns are. It helps sharpen my eyes to those areas, and it makes me feel much freer to comment on certain things I might otherwise have avoided pointing out because I was afraid to offend the writer--or thought the writer would see it as a non-negotiable part of the fic. I like to think I can be a pretty hardcore, honest beta, but there are certain things I'm afraid to touch. And there are areas I've rarely spoken about in betaing as either a beta or a writer. So from now on I'm going to ask things like "please tell me if this story is entertaining" or "do you think this character is funny?" or "do you think this character is unsympathetic? If so, how might I keep the character's basic integrity but make the character a little more likeable?" Lately I've been in awe of how George R. R. Martin (and Weiss and Benioff--mostly familiar with the TV series) could make Jaime Lannister so sympathetic (YMMV) despite pushing a small child out a window, having creepy sex with his twin sister, killing an innocent kid to get himself out of capture, and manipulating and insulting everyone and never shutting up.

-Also, writing habits. I write well past my point of burnout. Rather than breaking writing tasks up into small chunks, I try to write EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE and then get burnt out at the end of it. Or the middle. Or somewhere halfway between the beginning and the middle. I also try to write too fast--I often use Write or Die, and it may very well be that my current WPM (won't say what it is in case you're all like OMG THAT'S SO SLOW) is too fast. I could easily cut it in half and still write ten pages in a reasonable number of hours. But really, 700 good words in one day > 6000 mediocre ones. Really, really.

-Somewhat related: am about halfway through Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer (I can see why China Mieville likes him so much), which is so unbelievably exquisite and so far everything I want my worldbuilding to be and more, and it has this gorgeous and perfectly accurate passage about writing:

Many scores and sometimes many hundreds of persons come to watch an execution, and I have seen balconies torn from their walls by the weight of the watchers, killing more in their single crash than I in my career. These scores and hundreds may be likened to the readers of a written account. But there are others besides these spectators who must be satisfied: the authority in whose name the carnifex acts; those who have given him money so that the condemned may have an easy (or a hard) death; and the carnifex himself. The spectators will be content if there are no long delays, if the condemned is permitted to speak briefly and does it well, if the upraised blade gleams in the sun for a moment before it descends, thus giving them time to catch breath and nudge one another, and if the head falls with a satisfactory gout of blood. Similarly you, who will someday delve in Master Ultan's library, will require of me no long delays; personages who are permitted to speak only briefly yet do it well; certain dramatic pauses which shall signal to you that something of import is about to occur; excitement; and a sating quantity of blood. The authorities for whom the carnifex acts, the chiliarchs or archons (if I may be permitted to prolong my figure of speech), will have little complaint if the condemned is prevented from escaping, or much inflaming the mob; and if he is undeniably dead at the conclusion of the proceedings. That authority, as it seems to me, in my writing is the impulse that drives me to my task. Its requirements are that the subject of this work must remain central to it--not escaping into prefaces or indexes or into another work entirely; that the rhetoric not be permitted to overwhelm it; and that it be carried to a satisfactory conclusion.

Those who have paid the carnifex to make an act a painless or a painful one may be likened to the literary traditions and accepted models to which I am compelled to bow. I recall that one winter day, when cold rain beat against the window of the room where he gave us our lessons, Master Malrubius--perhaps because he saw we were too dispirited for serious work, perhaps only because he was dispirited himself--told us of a certain Master Werenfrid of our guild who in olden times, being in grave need, accepted remuneration from enemies of the condemned and from his friends as well; and who by stationing one party on the right of the block and the other on the left, by his great skill made it appear to each that the result was entirely satisfactory. In this way, the contending parties of tradition pull at the writers of histories. Yes, even at autarchs. One desires ease; the other, richness of experience in the execution of the writing.

And I must try, in the dilemma of Master Werenfrid but lacking his abilities, to satisfy each. This I have attempted to do. There remains the carnifex himself; I am he. It is not enough for him to earn praise from all. It is not enough, even, for him to perform his function in a way he knows to be entirely creditable and in keeping with the teaching of his masters and the ancient traditions. In addition to all of this, if he is to feel full satisfaction at the moment when Time lifts his own severed head by the hair, he must add to the execution some feature however small that is entirely his own and that he will never repeat. Only thus can he feel himself a free artist.

Link | kingfisher, cast your fly |

Comments {2}

[will fuck for sex]

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from: anatsuno
date: Jul. 20th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)

I have read this fascinating post! I'm inarticulate and overwhelmed at the moment, so that's the best I can say... But I wanted you to know it's been read, at least! <3

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from: ladderax
date: Jul. 27th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)

Thank you for taking the time to read! <3

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