Tag Archives: Crawford Kilian

Getting It Right the First Time

To Revise Or Not To Revise, That Is The Question…

Recently, I’ve been hearing a barrage of arguments from two different points of view – those who believe a good writer will efficiently produce a clean draft on the first go, and those who believe in multitudes of revisions. They both make good points, but I’m far more inclined to agree with the first.

Those who argue for revision state, “The first draft of anything is shit” (to quote Ernest Hemingway – apologies for the language.) I can’t argue. First drafts are… very rough. Sometimes you don’t know exactly where you’re going. Sometimes you’re forcing words out because – well, because true writers write, even if they don’t feel like it. And when you come back to read what you wrote it just looks like awful, awful stuff. Actually, it’s a relief to know Hemingway’s first drafts were as terrible as mine are. And that I can just rewrite the thing and throw away the original before anyone ever sees it.

But then, the other side of the argument is shouting that to make a living as a writer, you have to produce. You can’t waste days rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Once you get good at your craft you will produce a decent draft the first time. In fact, they argue that rewriting only steals away the freshness and originality of your words.

Two writers I’ve come across who say to aim for as little revision as possible are Dean Wesley Smith (see this post), and Crawford Kilian (“As an efficient craftsperson, you should know how to complete a salable manuscript with little or no revision…” – Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy)

As for those who tell you to revise – just Google “how to write” and you’ll probably get millions and millions of people who tell you this. Including John Dufresne, who says, “Any writer who tells you he wrote his story in a draft is a liar or a loafer.” (The Lie That Tells a Truth) Oooo, the fight is on!

I’ve always naturally gravitated to not revising. It frustrated me if I couldn’t get it right the first time. For me, if it wasn’t right at first, revising didn’t seem to make it any better. I’ve gotten better at revising since then, mostly because academic papers for university come out pretty garbled if you don’t revise. But I still prefer as little revision as possible. I’m scared of stealing away my “freshness” (if I flatter myself I have any).

In the end, every writer has to find his or her own way. You’ll always have to revise a little, and some authors I enjoy were addicted to revising (yeah, I’m talking about Tolkien again…) It also depends on exactly what you’re writing, and whether you’re trying to make a living off of it.

What side of the argument do you agree with?

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Filed under On Writing

A Meaningful Universe?–Defining Fantasy

Fantasy, according to Crawford Kilian, takes place in a morally meaningful universe, and that is why readers like it so much. “In fantasy, meaning is not something we slap on from the outside, it’s built right into everything from the rocks and trees to the political system.”

I do love fantasy, possibly because I believe everything on this earth is morally meaningful in a rather messed up way. Everything in this world points to something. So I was very intrigued by this explanation of what defines fantasy. It might explain why I enjoy fantasy, and am rather ambivalent about sci-fi. But even for people who don’t think the way I do–most people would like to imagine a world where everything that happens is meaningful.

Then I wondered–does this actually apply to all fantasy?

For old school fantasy giants such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, it obviously applies. Prophecies predict events that happen. Good is recognized as good (and is considered attractive and beautiful by other good people), though some are deceived by its humble nature and rough surroundings. Evil, while attempting to appear beautiful, is revealed as ugly and not worth following.

But even in quite different books, such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, this theory of meaningfulness applies. Especially so, since so many of her character names, place names and spell names gives clues to what the thing is actually like. The hero has a plain, ordinary name–Harry Potter. The Death Eaters‘ names all sound ominous–Lucius Malfoy, Draco, Bellatrix Lestrange, Mulciber, Yaxley… The appearance of the Thestrals in the fifth book are a clear indication things are getting darker. And so on.

I am still not sure all fantasy follows this rule though. Some books seem to plunk characters down in a world solely because the author likes that kind of world, and the towns/forests/roads the characters are travelling don’t seem to mean much. I’m not sure if Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is set in a meaningful universe–it’s so incredibly huge I have no idea what it’s trying to say–if you have any ideas on that, add it in the comments below.

That’s one drawback to Crawford Kilian’s book (Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy – I really enjoyed it, by the way). He makes good points, but insists everything in a story should be there for a reason, even if symbolic. As a reader, I do hate pointless scenes. But if they entertain me (and I’m speaking as a reader here, not a writer), fine–I personally don’t care what every object “means,” or represents. That’s why I hated highschool English (Did Shakespeare really mean that?). It is important to put thought in your stories, and not be random. But even Tolkien put in long passages of description that meant nothing to the plot as a whole. (Actually, this was a bad habit of Tolkien’s, but some of it is enjoyable).

How about you–what would you say a good description of fantasy is?


Filed under Misc. Books, On Writing