Monday, October 18, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Ready For My Close-Up

I think I'm finished (really, this time) with my revisions to the MS. I added a passage to each of two scenes last night (one with Ophelia who continues to charm, and one with Sir Yorick, who used to keep a wolf as a pet) and I'm most pleased with them. The MS sits at about 80,350 words right now, and I think I'm about ready to send it off to my agent. I'm giving myself until the end of the month to think about things, though, rather than running off half-cocked and wishing I'd waited to send it. I've decided to ignore the project until next weekend, when I'll read the whole thing through and concentrate on nothing but the story and characters and see if the narrative adds up to a good sum. It is inevitable that I'll make changes, because I can't help myself, but hopefully I can sit and read it like a reader, not so much as a writer. If all goes well, I'll send it off to New York around Halloween. I should email my agent and see if he's okay with that. I have no idea what his schedule is like these days; busy, I'll bet. He's always busy. I swear the man never sleeps.

In other news, Mighty Reader asked me yesterday if all of the Shakespeare I've read over the last couple of years (primarily "Hamlet," of course; I've read that play dozens of times now) has influenced my writing. Of course it has, and in really great ways. Here's my short, quick-and-dirty list of things learned from the bard:

1. Great drama is multidimensional and ambiguous. The reason, I think, that Shakespeare's tragedies continue to be read and performed is that they are complex and do not draw clear conclusions for the audience/reader. They present difficult moral issues from a variety of points of view and there's no easy way to sum up the plays. Ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning are good.

2. Put a comic scene right before an emotionally draining scene. It can't all be dark skies, and contrast is always good.

3. Give your side characters some good lines and some good scenes. A lot of Shakespeare's supporting cast are more interesting humans than his protagonists, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom but conventional wisdom is often unwise.

4. Clever and surprising language is a gift for the reader, and you shouldn't be stingy with it.

Also, and unrelated to Shakespeare: I continue to read and love Tristram Shandy, but I probably won't be posting much about it. I am going to start reading a lot about Antarctica soon, and I probably won't be posting much about that, either. When I finish the Sterne, though, I'll start on Finnegans Wake, of which I've read sections over the years but never the whole of it. I may post about that experience. What will I do when there's no more Joyce to read, I wonder? I've sort of been saving FW so that I wouldn't run out of new Joyce. Well, one can't have everything, can one?


  1. "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

    - Steven Wright

  2. Congrats, Scott! I think ambiguity is a very cool thing in fiction. I wish I did it more. I'm not sure I'm strong enough as a writer to be able to do it well.

    I'm curious to see how you do with Finnegans Wake. I've never managed to read it, but I think maybe I get too intimidated by the first page. Maybe I should have read pieces of it first like you did to see if there was any other entry point.

  3. Congratulations on completing the revisions, Scott. I love how satisfied you are with the book. (1) It makes me envy you and want to get that point myself. (2) It makes me really want to read the book. lol

  4. I love your list of what you've learned from the Bard. I may have to study it and apply it to my novel. It couldn't hurt.

  5. Rick: I've heard that before, but it's still funny. I keep wishing I could work it into a work email.

    Big D: The trick is to just keep finding other ways of looking at your central conflict and not to judge your characters morally. Keep throwing in possible explanations and add conflicting but plausible traits for your characters.

    Nevets: Hopefully lots of people will want to read the book! I have had a couple additional ideas for things I want to add in (just little bits of detail here and there to give the joint atmosphere, you know), and the more I think about this book, the more I like it. Today. You know how it is.

    Lois: There are plenty of good things to be learned from Shakespeare! A lot of them are counterintuitive, though. I think good drama resists our attempts to tie everything up in a tidy package, and that's one of its greatest strengths. The more easily we can sum something up, the less there is to it.