Tag Archive: Fiction

Mar 08

Finding the Chemistry in my Writing

WHAT’S PLAYING:  The Wallflowers “I Wish I Felt Nothing”

“To a chemist, nothing on Earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist.”

Anton Chekhov

I just started work on a new project this week. It’s still very much in the early stages, but it deals with some very unpleasant subject matter – rape, murder, and suicide. (Did I mention that it’s YA?)

I’m very passionate about this project, but sometimes I wonder if I’m skilled enough to handle it with the sensitivity and unflinching honesty that it deserves. I wonder if I’m going too far, if I should pull back a little and let my protagonist off the hook. Not to mention the effect it’s having on me. Sometimes I have to take a break because I find myself getting too emotional. So why do I do it? Why wallow in filth and horror when I don’t have to?

One simple reason…because the story demands it.

I won’t lie to you, sometimes I want to abandon this project and turn to something lighter, funnier, something uplifting. But I can’t. Not because I don’t enjoy writing humor or escapist fantasy. It’s because I know that if I turn my back on this story – the story I’m burning to tell in the here and now – simply because it makes me uncomfortable, then I might as well quit writing all together.

It’s at those times – times when I’ve poured so much raw emotion on to the page that I feel drained and deflated – that I have to remember that pain is a part of life. Pretending otherwise is not only foolish, but also makes for boring stories. As a nuclear chemist, I handle dangerous and volatile substances every day. So, why shrink from them when it comes to writing?

I love science. It’s steady, predictable. It makes sense. Math and science are the only constant things in this ever-changing world.

I love writing for the opposite reason. Anything is possible in fiction. Dragons and unicorns exist, the past can be altered and happy endings are guaranteed.

Writing and chemistry are the two great loves of my life. Together, they allow me to explore new worlds while keeping me firmly grounded in this one.

What more can a science nerd/fantasy geek ask for?


Permanent link to this article: http://www.jacquitalbot.com/2012/03/finding-the-chemistry-in-my-writing/

Dec 26

Finding Balance between Consumer and Critic

WHAT’S PLAYING: The B-52’sLove Shack

Ask any writer or professor. Read any book or blog, and they will tell you that one of the best ways to learn how to write is to read.

This is very good advice. Problem is that, more often than not, I find myself getting lost in the story rather than dissecting authorial technique.

Maybe it’s because when I pick up a book, I’m doing so as a consumer rather than a critic. Sure, I might go back to see if I can figure out how the author pulled off that neat trick with characterization or setting, but when it comes to reading, my primary aim is always to enjoy a good story.

There have been many times when critics have lambasted some of my favorite books, calling out the authors for purple prose or poor characterization or weak plots, basic skills everyone should master before attempting a novel. They call the author an amateur, a hack, a bad writer.

I don’t care. I still love them.

When it comes to books, I only have one rule: don’t bore me.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s more challenging than you might think. I have a notoriously short attention span. For an author to keep me reading for three hundred pages requires a great deal of skill. If the story sags for more than a few pages, then I’m done. Bottom line: if a writer is going to explore the human condition, preach altruism, or flex his literary muscles at me, then he’d better wrap it all up in one hell of a story.

This attitude has made it difficult for me to develop a critical eye, but I’m slowly learning how to look for what works in other people’s stories, and by extension, my own. There is just as much to learn from poorly written books as there is in stories written by master storytellers.

Still, nothing compares to the rush of diving into a great story and not coming up for air until it’s over. Knowing that I can always go back and figure out how the author captured my attention is just icing on the cake.

What about you? How do you find balance between your own consumer and critic?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.jacquitalbot.com/2011/12/finding-balance-between-consumer-and-critic/

Sep 10

First Dates and First Drafts – How My Personal Life Mirrors My Professional One

WHAT’S PLAYING: Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me”

Despite my introverted nature, I have occasionally ventured into the murky waters of romance. With one exception, my forays into dating usually last for about a month. Two at the most. My past relationships fell apart for a variety of reasons, some of them my fault. (If anyone asks though, I blame my exes. Every. Last. One.)

Truth is, one of the major reasons dating never seems to work out for me is that after a couple of months it actually starts to involve…well, work. You know what I mean. The sheen of newness has been worn away by near daily interaction, and you find that all those little quirks (so adorable back when you started dating), are now just annoying. Soon, you find yourself sickened by the very sight of them. (Or is that just me?)

I tend to have the same problems with writing projects. They start out all brilliant and cool and fresh. Next thing you know, they’ve fizzled faster than a Tiki Barber comeback. When that happens, I usually find that it’s not the story’s fault. Yes, there are major plot and character flaws, but that’s common for most first drafts. No, it’s my perception of the story that has changed. Suddenly, it’s no longer flowing from my brain like water, cascading from my fingertips to the screen. Instead, it’s more like sludge, molasses in wintertime, bathroom breaks after too much cheese. Every page, every sentence, every word requires a monumental effort.

After the initial rush, I often find that I have no idea where I’m going or how I plan to get there. Plotting and outlining helps, but sometimes, the best way to figure out the story you want to tell is to wade hip deep into another one. Though usually I get so fed up with the struggle that I abandon the project midway through the first draft.

Not this time though. With a little prodding from my mentor, the magnificent John Shirley, I actually finished the first draft of my novel and am slowly making my way through the second. Yes, it’s still awful – full of plot holes and cardboard characters – but I’ve finally found a story I want to tell, need to tell, and a main character that can not only pull it off, but do so with style.

It will be months, if not years, before it’s ready to released to the public, but at least I can finally say that I’ve written a novel. I’ve finally broken my streak of abandoning first drafts.

Now, if only I could same the same thing about dating.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.jacquitalbot.com/2011/09/first-dates-first-drafts/