Showing posts with label Charles Portis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charles Portis. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I've recently read two great novels that were written as serials, Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road and Charles Portis's True Grit.

Of course, lots of classic novels have been written this way.  Dickens, for instance, wrote serials.

I'm writing a serial right now too, as it happens, only I'm cheating.  I'm writing the whole thing as a single book, but building the climaxes so that I can divide it into four big parts.  I call this cheating because it means that, unlike those other guys, I can go back and fix stuff.

If you are writing a serial in true serial fashion, I have two pieces of advice for you.

1. Keep your plots simple.  Read Gentlemen of the Road or True Grit for examples.  Make setting, humor, characters, and action the drivers of your story, and not byzantine plot.

2. Plan the whole thing in advance.  Outline it in as much detail as you can, and especially know your major plot points cold.  No room for exploratory writing here.

And if you get yourself into a corner, and have to cheat, by writing in a later fix for an earlier statement? Do it, and don't apologize.  That's called "retconning", and it has a long and glorious tradition, at least back to the Deuteronomists.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writing to the Punchline: True Grit

I'm reading True Grit now, and it's fantastic.  If you saw both movies and wondered, the Coen Brothers and Jeff Bridges hit it closer to the mark.

Here's a short excerpt from early in the book.  I share it because it's an example of something I've mentioned before... in all good writing, but especially in humor, write to the punchline.  If you make the last word an essential word, the reader will keep reading right to the end.

*   *   *

"I will inform them myself," said I.  "Who is the best marshal they have?"

The sheriff thought on it for a minute.  He said, "I would have to weigh that proposition.  There is near about two hundred of them.  I reckon William Waters is the best tracker.  He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign.  The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn.  He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking.  He loves to pull a cork.  Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive.  He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake.  Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men.  Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot.  He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner.  He is straight as a string.  Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have."

I said, "Where can I find this Rooster?"