As I mentioned in my last post, Orson Scott Card is a man of strongly held opinions.Â I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of those opinions, and how they shook me up.Â Because they are so very far from the conventional wisdom I have learned.
Infodump vs. Expository Flow
Don’t infodump on us, writers always here.Â Sprinkle in your backstory slowly, carefully, just a bit at a time.Â This creates tension that pull us along and keep us reading; it also keeps us from being bogged down in a lot of exposition right up front.
Card doesn’t believe in being coy.Â He believes in giving the reader all the relevant info the character has, as soon as it becomes relevant.Â He doesn’t think the gradual revelation strategy does create tension, anyway.Â He said that tension comes not from hidden information, but from known information.Â You can let us wonder about the last 1% of information, but you must give us enough so that we can understand the story and care.
Having written one story trying to stay true to Card’s principles, I think I can say that this is not really an either/or proposition.Â It is possible to get all the info in there without the “infodump,” the one or two paragraphs of pure exposition.Â It is not easy, not in the slightest, but it is a problem that can be tackled.
And doing it made me realize how much I do get irritated when I don’t understand what is going on in a story, or when I think I understand, only to have the writer contradict my assumptions later.Â You know what?Â This withholding of information thing?Â It’s annoying.
Agents vs. Editors
Every aspiring author knows that you get yourself published by acquiring an agent, who will then sell your work to an editor at a publishing house.Â There are exceptions, maybe, but not a lot.Â This is the path.
Card does not think so.Â He believes editors are better at recognizing wonderful, unique books.Â And he believes you should acquire an agent only after you have a contract offer in hand.Â (You do still need one, because they make sure the contract doesn’t screw you and also aggressively sell the foreign rights to your books.)
And although most editors say that they do not accept unagented queries, Card says this is not so.Â He says of course the good editors accept queries, and always have.Â They just say they don’t to weed out the faint of heart, like that scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt slaps down his first Project Mayhem recruits.
I am struggling with this one.Â If Card is right about how editors operate, then the conventional wisdom is based on incomplete information and cannot possibly be trusted.Â And yet, I am terrified (terrified!) of querying the ten or fifteen editors who might publish my novel and having them turn me down.Â Because what could I offer an agent then?Â The chance to represent a book that’s already been rejected all over town?
And yet there’s no question that what Card knows about the publishing industry greatly outweighs what I know about the publishing industry.Â I will definitely have to give this one some thought.
Revisions vs. First Drafts
Revise, revise, revise is what I have learned.Â Get down a crappy first draft, but for heaven’s sake, get it down.Â You can always fix it later.
Card: “The first draft is the only living draft.”Â He doesn’t mean that you can never fix things or edit.Â But he does think that the first draft matters.Â It’s where you get down what matters to you, where you do the invention that makes your story live.
As I look at those two views, I realize that there’s a touch of desperation to the first one.Â As though you cannot possibly be expected to make something good on the first try, and might in fact lose the opportunity to create anything at all if you don’t get it done now! Card’s view assumes that you are a professional, with the ability to make your vision a reality.Â You can take your time with it, because your ability to work is not a precious thing.
I don’t completely know where I stand on first drafts vs. seconds, but I know Card’s view holds a world of appeal for me.Â I will be making every effort in the future to make sure that my first draft is a living draft, not just a skeletal one.