On Being Clever

August 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Put on your writing cap and get to work!I like clever books. When an author does something unusual with structure or plot, it makes for more interesting, enjoyable reading—as long as it doesn’t hinder the storytelling.

I know I praise Iain M. Banks’ books often (and no, this isn’t another review), but one of his Culture novels—The Use of Weapons—is one of the most clever books I’ve read. He tells the story from both ends of its timeline simultaneously, in alternating chapters, and he does it so seamlessly that I didn’t even notice it until I reached the end. 

The odd-numbered chapters (labeled “One,” “Two,” “Three,” etc.) start in the “present” and move forward in time. The even-numbered chapters (labeled “XIII,” “XII,” “XI,” etc.) begin in the recent past and move backward in time.

It may seem like a gimmick, but Banks works it like a master. The finale cemented Banks’ place as one of my all-time favorite writers.uowbanks

Banks isn’t the first to tell a story this way, I’m sure. I can’t think of another example, but something glimmers in the distance of my wretched memory. Regardless, as a reader, I love these books.

As a writer, I find them dangerous.

After I read a clever book, I then want to write a clever book. Also, anything I’m writing at the time seems very not clever by comparison. I feel clumsy. Incompetent. That negative inner monologue gets louder, stronger.

I tried to be clever with the first draft of the novel I’m working on now. That ended with me cutting half the first draft and making the book’s chronology sequential. Declevering it, to coin a word.

Just recently, I decided to put back much of what I cut, but as a first part. Still keeping everything sequential, but providing a (hopefully) interesting beginning to the story. I’m not sure if it will work. I may end up cutting it out again.

I still want to write a clever book. I thought I had the chops to do it this time around, because I told myself I’d already written a few other novels and therefore had the “experience” under my belt. None of those books ever saw the light of day, though, and therein lies the difference between me and Iain M. Banks; he wrote, finished, and published two novels before writing The Use of Weapons.

My clever book is still out there, waiting for me to level up to the task. Right now, I have to get this one done. Master the basics. Learn to walk before attempting parkour.

All of which is to say I’m still here, still writing. And still looking for clever books to read, so if you’ve got a recommendation, let me know.


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