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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

MERGE Guest Post: Bridgemaking by MCM

Please help me welcome author MCM to Full Moon Bites!


I will tell you a secret, if you promise not to tell anyone else: I have not yet finished my third story for MERGE. Worse yet, I'm writing this post literally 24 hours before I need to PUBLISH my third story for MERGE. Even worse yet, the finale to MERGE is already written, and it incorporates a lot of my storyline, so I don't even really have much dramatic license to explore new angles for the characters I've got.
But you know what? That's the way I like it.

Years ago, I went to a special arts high school, where we spent hours upon hours every day learning the craft of writing. Poetry, prose, essays, scripts... if it involved words, we did it. One of the core things they taught us was that writing was about revision, and revision is where excellence comes from. As such, whenever we handed in a haiku, we had to include five drafts showing the progression from sketchy idea to polished poem. You got bonus points if you actually scribbled notes on the papers. By the end of our four-year program, I think everyone in my class was getting perfect marks, because we always had lots and lots of drafts to hand in.

But the terrible truth of the matter is that it was all a lie. This is how it went, on a stunningly regular basis:

"Hello, MCM," said the teacher. "What are you going to write about this week?"

"Oh. Uh. Turtles, I think."

"Turtles! Interesting! I can't wait to read it!"

"Heh."

Fast forward to the night before the assignment was due, where I had just finished throwing together probably the world's best short story about elephants, only to realize I had promised to write about turtles. Well, no matter! Step one: make copy of final story, but introduce typos. My high school teachers all thought I was dyslexic, I was so good at faking typos. I finished an exam once, and the supervisor looked at the pages of neatly-written English and patted me on the back and said: "You did good."

Anyway, once the obvious changes were done, I got to work on the next order of business: self-doubt. In the third step back, I did a search-and-replace to turn all instances of the word "elephant" into "turtle." So you'd have sentences like "The mighty turtle kicked aside the lion as its mighty tusks eviscerated its mortal foes," and "They say that turtles never forget, but to Granta, his memory was a curse." Total nonsense (and not just my usual kind). Print it out, get a red marker, and write comments like: "This feels wrong..." and "Not sure this is working..."

Oh yeah, baby. Dyslexic AND stupid.

So two more steps. The first one was simple: another search and replace. Change all instances of "him" and "he" and "his" to "her" and "she" and "her", and vice versa. Delete exactly four paragraphs without reason, print it out, and circle the first mention of a character's name and write "Gender politics???" Depth where there ain't any. Ten points for sociology.

The last step is the outline, and this is where the real work happens. For every paragraph you have left, distill it into a single sentence that broadly misses the point of what you actually wrote. So if I were Charles Dickens and writing the first paragraph of "A Tale of Two Cities", I would end up with: "Good things going on, sometimes it's light out. [idea: lightsabers?]". Mostly free word association, with the occasional nugget of intelligence thrown in to liven things up. It could take up to an hour to convert a story into an outline this way, but if you do it right, the difference between your "first" version and your "final" version would be so striking, you would have to think the writer was some kind of Jekyll and Hyde monster, if Hyde was an illiterate boob with an unreasonable desire to be a writer.

Two weeks later, I would get my story back, and the teacher would set it on my desk and look down at me with tears in his eyes, and nod slightly and say: "I'm so proud of you."

So yeah. I've got 23.5 hours left to finish my third MERGE story, and make sure it connects to the big picture as well as Anna's, Kit's and Yvonne's do. But you know what? I only have to write ONE DRAFT of it, so all things considered, I'm doin' fine.




MCM is the creator of the animated series RollBots. He also writes books, such as The Vector, The Pig and the Box, and Typhoon. When not doing such things, he is coding sites or planning crazy writing experiments like MERGE. He is also insane.











4 comments:

  1. Good luck on finishing your story today. When working under pressure sometimes I can surprise myself with what I get done and actually like what I've done. It also sounds that that's when your creativity shows up so it can be a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. couldn't quit laughing at "search-and-replace to turn all instances of the word "elephant" into "turtle."" LOL and i gotta agree with the author bio. MCM is insane, but hey, i think i love insane :))

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post! Turtles are very interesting. I have one and it is not a common animal for sure.
    Good luck with your story.
    Artemis

    ReplyDelete
  4. MCM is hilarious. AND insane. But it is a good kind of insanity, because it has given us 1889 Labs. I just love his seriously funny pieces about his work, and how he distills his love for how much he loves what he does. Very distilled, indeed!

    Thanks for giving us this great article by MCM and for hosting the Blog Tour!

    ReplyDelete

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