Friday, September 05, 2014

A Stupid Facebook Tagging Game That Demonstrates a Strategy for Better Writing

I had to laugh when James Robert Smith brought this game to my attention via my Facebook news feed. He noted that, because people get irritated with being tagged in posts on Facebook, he wasn’t tagging anyone, despite one of the conditions being that seven people have to be tagged in his post. Anyone who saw his post could play, though.

“Game” is probably the wrong word for this—there’s no winning or losing—but seven is the predominant number. We’ll call it a shtick. A Shtick of Seven, for Writers: Go to page 7 of your work-in-progress, go to line 7 and reprint the next seven lines for your audience. Tag seven people, pass it on. It’s a semi-cute way of humblebragging that you are a Writer With a Work in Progress, while promoting said work.

This might get pedantic. Here’s a photo of Julie Newmar
in a polka-dot bikini.
I couldn’t tag seven people if I wanted to (and I don’t) because I know all of two writers with works in progress, and one of those is the aforementioned Mr. Smith, and the other is someone I met online just a month ago. As an impecunious genre writer who never misses a chance to humblebrag while promoting his work, in progress or otherwise, however, I played the shtick. There’s a lesson here, so bear with me. The following is my current edit of page 7, lines 7 -14, of The Wrong Kind of Dead:
Baby bear is thoroughly skeletonized. I expect it to get nasty after mama bear’s meat starts running out, which looks like any minute now.
The foul sounds follow us up the slope, and it’s a long walk into the trees before we can no longer hear them. There’s got to be some place far, far away where the people aren’t. Where the dead people would have to roam far from the beaten path to find us. We’ve got to do that with six newborns and another mother ready to pop. Ready or not.

This is an edit, because I can’t stand to see the expression “six newborn infants” on my screen. “Six newborns” says it all.

I wasn’t aware of this redundancy until I pulled these lines out and put them on my Facebook page. In their current state of repair, these seven lines almost make a fine logline. They demonstrate the extent of the menace (the zoms attacked and ate bears, for God’s sake) with a difficult logistical problem (six newborns! babies in peril!) for added flavor.

By now, I hope you get that you can make a game from this. You can win, so long as you apply yourself to the primary lesson: that any random group of lines from your novel or story or article should tell a story that suggests the larger story.

So pick a number, any number, between one and the last page of whatever you’ve got. Go to line 7. Or lines, 8,9, or 10, or take it straight from the top of the page. I think seven lines is the optimum; you shouldn’t go for more than nine lines at a time, and no fewer than five. Copy and paste those lines to a blank page in another file. Read them to yourself.

Read those lines in italic. Read them in bold. Read them in another screwball font altogether. However you look at them, those lines should read clean. Like the most compelling ad copy in a magazine. It sets a scene and the stakes, and all the questions you’re left with lead to “What happens next?”

I’m talking any one piece of your novel, if you’ve got a notion. There shouldn’t be one word wasted. “Newborn infants” is stupid and wastes time when “newborns” (or even “infants”) will do the job by itself.

If you’re a writer looking to smarten up his or her product, I can only tell you. Play the game, and show yourself.