My post on Scrivener this morning was particularly acerbic and, I realize, unfair. I use Open Office to write in, and Open Office is a WYSIWYG word processor. That’s what I am used to, that’s what I like.
Scrivener, the developer openly admits, is only partially WYSIWYG–what you see isn’t what you get, (although it’s close) the program is designed so that the final formatting isn’t put into place until the document is complied. I can see advantages to doing it that way, it allows the users to not worry about the look of the finished product until it’s, well, finished.
Fair enough. Me, I like the book that I’m writing to look like a book while I’m writing it. It’s a matter of personal preference.
But I think what bugged me about Scrivener and made feel a tad defensive isn’t what it doesn’t do, but what it does do. It allows for the creation and organization of copious notes. You can have notes on characters, on scenes, on locations, and you can add pictures and movies, all kinds of data. You can sort these notes by keywords, search for particular references, all kinds of stuff.
The problem is… I don’t make notes. I’ll do research, if I need to know something about something that I don’t know. I’ve read up a lot on riverboats, on college fishing teams, on casino accounting, on Italian sports cars–I’ve actually done quite a bit of research on this book.
When I write, though, I don’t make notes. I don’t even like the idea of making notes. Today I was wondering about that, and wondering what that said about me as a writer. I think the best way to state my opinion on the matter is as follows:
If there is a detail which I, as creator of this world and the people in, can’t be bothered to remember off the top of my head, then why am I wasting my reader’s time with it?
I realize that not every writer feels this way. I suspect that most don’t, actually. But I tend to write differently than most writers. I don’t outline, I don’t do drafts, I sit down and I hammer every sentence out until it’s ready, and then I move on to the next. I guess you’d say that I write and edit and rewrite concurrently.
And I tend to be somewhat parsimonious with my details. I begin with a presumption of guilt and force every word to justify its existence before I let it into my book.
For example, let’s talk about cars. James has one, and I describe it as “a big, comfortable sedan”. That’s it. I don’t say, “a forest green 2011 Lincoln Town Car” because saying that doesn’t add anything to the story. There is no reason for anyone to know or care what exactly he drives.
On the other hand, I do specify what Agony drives ( a 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 “Valentino Balboni edition”), because it tells you something about her as a character that she drives a half-million dollar car, and it also tells you something about another character that he can identify that car at a glance. The scene where her car is mentioned lets the reader know that she’s ostentatious and wealthy, and that he’s the kind of guy who owns the box set of Top Gear on Blu-Ray.
In fact, when I envisioned Cobb Russwin and Tom White from Catskinner’s Book I saw Russwin as Brian Dennehy in F/X and White as Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. (They ended up veering somewhat from my original concept, but those were the physical models I had for the characters.)
It wasn’t until I reread the trade paperback edition, checking for errors, that I realized I had never mentioned that Tom White is Black. I do mention that he has black hair, but his skin color just… never came up. It wasn’t important to the story.
And it isn’t that I don’t bother to specify these details for my characters. I know tons more about my characters than ever comes out in the writing. I know that one of my very minor characters, Suzy Lightning, grew up in Memphis and her father was a studio musician, and she has a younger brother who was killed in a car wreck when he was 16. Suzy is in one scene in the book, and she has no dialogue. That’s just the kind of thing I come up with when I’m avoiding doing real work on the book.
I don’t write any of this down because I guess I don’t need to. It’s all the kind of thing that an ordinary person would have no problems remembering about his or her friends, and since I don’t have any actual friends I remember it about my fictional characters instead.
Anyway, I’m rambling. This all made more sense in my head. Maybe what I am trying to say is that my own personal process when writing is to completely immerse myself in my fictional world, to the point that I know everything about everyone, and then tell the story as if the reader were part of the world as well. If I have to tell you something because a plot point hinges on it, then I’ll spell it out. Otherwise, I just let my narrator just kind of talk.