the golden ratio (for writing!)

What is the golden ratio?

The golden ratio is a pattern found in nature, a proportion that is found aesthetically pleasing to the eye. To put it very, very simply, it’s a ratio of 1:1.618 (the latter number is an irrational number called phi, but let’s skip the math). You find this proportion everywhere, the human body, seashells, architecture, web design, music, even.

I’ve mentioned before my suspicion that the golden ratio could be applied to writing composition; now, I’ve found a way to apply it to plot. I’ve made a small, simple javascript function that takes in the intended word count length of your project, the number of major events in your novel, and plots out where they should occur by the golden ratio. Since WordPress is silly and won’t let me add raw javascript to my blog directly, I’ve added it to my (yet unfinished) website.

The Golden Ratio, for writing

For instance, NaNoWriMo is coming up. This is the output for three events in a 50,000 word book:

0 words – The Beginning
22360 words – Event 1
36179 words – Event 2
44720 words – Event 3
50000 words – The End

So according to the golden mean, my first big event should happen around the 22,360 word mark, my second around 36k.

This is purely theoretical, but from what I’ve seen of it, the numbers look like they’d do for a nice composition. Take a look, and tell me what you think!

sin boldly

Also subtitled, stop stacking adverbs for ‘extra precision’ and make up your mind already.

I should preface this thought: I am the worst offender you may meet in some time. I have an illicit affair with ‘clambered carefully’ and ‘the actual [noun]’, as if readers can’t distinguish being close to something and interacting with it directly. I feel the need to clarify points in time before all actions, less someone’s inner head-real be off by a few minutes or seconds.

Why is this a nasty habit? Because it’s cloudy writing. Because if the weather of your prose can’t change with the mood, someone is going to notice that it’s a static element, and therefore dead weight if used constantly.

Rather than presenting this idea as a rule (I still hate the writing-rules, never fear), I think that modifiers and description styles need to be examined and better understood, rather than defaulted to. Practiced, even. If anyone is willing to try out the idea, try a writing sketch in both styles and note the difference. (And let me know how it goes!)

if e-prime was odd…

Here’s some more crazy things people have done with books.

Le Train de Nulle Part. Hat tip to Brad, my day-job minion, who in turn found this on Neatorama, which is always a fun place to look for odd events and interesting stories. Le Train de Nulle Part (The Train From Nowhere) is a French novel (233 pages) written entirely without verbs.

Lipograms. A specific letter is eschewed from the book. Gadsby has no e’s, and neither does La Disparition (another French novel, by Georges Perec). Les Revenentes, a novella written also by Georges Perec, contained no vowels but the letter ‘e’.

Others… Never Again, by Doug Nufer, doesn’t repeat any words once they’ve been used.

Frankly, some of these ideas scare me. E-prime is difficult enough; how did they do that?!

One of my ideas was to center my next book around, among other things, the golden ratio, implementing the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 […]. I could plot out the major events to take place so many pages, pick important words in each chapter and reiterate them according to these numbers. Since the next book that I’m planning is actually a series of interconnecting short stories, it really plays into the experimental nature I’ve had pictured.

(If you’re interested, the book is called ‘The Marionette’s Waltz’ and loosely centers around demons, drugs, and a crazy woman fighting for the soul that she gave away. The book never distinguishes what’s real and what isn’t.)

But I think I’ll still keep my vowels and my verbs. 😉

on rewriting

David Gerrold wrote a book called ‘Worlds of Wonder’, focused on fantasy and science fiction writing. I enjoyed reading it– he had a very friendly style, and it was easy to empathize with him… especially once he started out by telling a story about how a terrible writing professor told him he wouldn’t amount to anything in the field, and his first published works were inspired out of rage. This isn’t of course to say that I agreed with everything in his book, but two of the points he made stuck with me, which is fairly good considering I’m an overly critical skeptic.

I’ll paraphrase his sentiment.

The first million words are for practice. Don’t worry. It doesn’t count. Practice writing your book. Practice editing it. Practice sending it out. Don’t worry. You’re just practicing. Practice receiving rejection letters. And if someone is foolish enough to publish one of your practice novels, that doesn’t mean anything either. Practice cashing that check. After those first million words, then you can start taking yourself seriously.

Perhaps this is something personal, perhaps not. I found this passage extraordinarily liberating, probably because I get anxious before I start writing or drawing. Am I starting in the right place? Is this really the way I want to present this? I have such a hard time shutting my inner editor up. NaNoWriMo was one of the best things I’ve done– it let me finish the 0-draft of my book, with the knowledge that I would be going back and rewriting everything. Like doing small thumbnail sketches in art, the terrible, rushed version still told me where I was going, what elements I would be using. I got out a blank sheet of paper for the second version and rewrote it more concisely, longer, emphasizing some of the right details. And I’m planning on starting almost entirely from scratch a second time before I get into editing the prose itself. I need to get all the elements correct first before I start polishing my piece. And I might be overly optimistic, but I think my writing is getting stronger with each pass.

Don’t worry. It doesn’t count. It’s just for practice.

I’m going to make this book shine.

writing chapter one

I’ve been writing the second draft (third version) of that first chapter prematurely to give to the artist I’ve mentioned. It’s gotten me thinking of what a really good first chapter is meant to accomplish, what it should contain ideally. What I’ve come up with is a bit different than what I’ve seen other writers discuss on craft, and I thought that I’d share.

Everyone talks about ‘hooks’. … You know what? Forget the hook. Forget the clever first line. You’re not working on a magazine ad. Write material that’s gripping and worth reading, something that starts strong and dives in without waiting for permission from the reader. Let your skill be a ‘hook’.

I say this because so much stress is always put into those first few lines, and all it’s done for me is to feel like some sort of gimmick. The purpose of the hook is very valid! But going out of your way to write a good ‘hooking statement’ rather than working on the composition of the book and chapter itself seems too much like a facade of elegance, a layer of costume cosmetics, and I think emphasis on this is misleading. First learn to convey an idea.

For this project, setting was drastically important. ‘Blue Crystal’ is so much unlike any other fantasy story that I’ve ever read. I worked hard to keep the setting and idea original. It’s worked. But it also means that people just coming in won’t know what to expect, and for that, establishing the setting (place, people, customs) is vitally important. If it were just another generic fantasy I’d stick in a dwarf and set it in a bar. No description needed. Everyone and their assorted relatives could fill in the details while multitasking. Excuse me while I shiver.

The first chapter should also hint at all the other elements that will be used in the book, not only the mechanisms, but also the scenery and themes. The reader should know what kind of story this is, and establishing everything well in advance means that you have very clear boundaries on why the hero is very restricted in certain ways, that he can’t just ‘solve’ his problems with magic. Just find a realistic way to accomplish this– don’t become a contortionist writer for a few paragraphs to show things off. Fine a way to make them work.

I’m almost done with the chapter, and unlike much of my craft I’m actually very pleased with it so far. It’s starting to come into focus.