Thoughts on my own prose, as I’m revising

So I’m sort of working on a novel. Not a graphic novel—an actually book-length piece of prose. I don’t know if I’ll actually finish it or if it’ll be any good when I do. You may never get to read it, and that may not be any great loss. But I’m working on it.

As of right now, the book is 41 pages, beginning to end. Obviously, that’s a bit short, but that’s typical of my writing method; The first draft of Parens. was only 45 pages, and it nearly tripled in length during revision. My first drafts tend to be the skeletons of my story, which I then hang layers of meat on until it’s fully realized. I also tend to have long stretches of ignoring projects between drafts—this draft of my novel was completed two years ago, and I’m only just getting around to reading and revising it for the first time now.

One of the reasons I was drawn to plays and comics and stopped writing prose fiction a number of years ago was my feeling that I could write some pretty good dialogue and interesting characters, but that I wasn’t that great at narrative description. Sure, comics requires visuals, but I just need to communicate those visuals to the artist—I don’t have to evoke them for the audience. Of course, one of the things I made myself do, once I started writing comics seriously, was create several silent stories that relied entirely on visuals—that was the origin of the Amy stories—so that I wouldn’t become over-reliant on the techniques I was already good at. I wanted to grow.

So now I’m writing prose fiction again. And I’ve noticed something interesting about how my writing has changed since I last worked in this form—I don’t write nearly as much dialogue as I used to. In a lot of my early stories the prose was just a bridge between sequences of dialogue. But now I’ve gone to the other extreme—I find I’m writing practically no dialogue at all in some of my stories. The current 41-page draft of my novel includes only 22 distinct lines of dialogue, including an instance of “oh.” The first, “I’m going to make some coffee” doesn’t appear until page seven, and is the last for several pages as well. And where I do insert longer conversations, the bulk of the dialogue comes very near the end, as the story is just about to wrap up.

What’s more, I’m actually enjoying the prose I’m writing—as I said, it’s been two years since I wrote it, so I don’t have that new project bias that makes writers love their most recent work. I don’t remember a lot of my details, so my rereading allows me to be surprised by what 31-year-old me did with this piece of writing. And I’m finding that my descriptions are more evocative than they’ve ever been, and funnier than I tend to give myself credit for. It’s still a very rough draft, of course—but I still like it. I’m happy with what I did, and am excited to take it further.

All my writing life, I’ve always felt that there is great value to working in more than one form—lessons that can be learned in one kind of writing that will benefit you in another. So much so that you can grow in skill in a form that you’re not even actively working on. My best achievements in one project always happen while I’m working on a different project. And I’m really pleased to discover that this has held true through my absence from prose.

Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me now. I could re-read this piece again next year and discover I hate it. I’ll just have to wait and see.

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