Sunday, June 5, 2011

Clamps ahoy

Clamping the port lower sheer stringer -- an eighteen-foot piece of floppy fir that curves in three dimensions (and some days, four) -- requires clamps. Lots and lots of clamps:

What you see here is:
  • The stringer itself, or its lower half at least, going diagonally across the shot. It fits into a notch in a frame.
  • The frame itself is braced and clamped to withstand the Herculean forces applied by my muscles and the stringer as I torque it into position.
  • Two pinch clamps holding cedar wedges in place. So I cut the notch too big and had to wedge it out. What?
Multiply this by a half-dozen frames or so, and it adds up to a lot of clamps.
What's neat about this stage of the build is that the shape of the boat -- a leaf, a cockle, the curve of a gull across the sky -- really starts to show itself. Squint if you can, and look past the clamps and bracing to see the edge of the boat, arcing up toward the bow.

And later, lo, the boatbuilder was tired and retired inside where the lion hath laid down with the lamb. For lo, he opened a beer and all was right with the world.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I recently re-read Francisco Stork's excellent Marcello in the Real World. Even though I'd read it a year or two ago, and this time was reading for technique, like a surgeon watching an operation, I was still pulled into the story.

But even as I was tumbling and roiling along, I noticed something that I've never seen before: There is no wasted narrative.

This is an epiphany for me, as I tend to write circles around what I really want to say. And then, having said it, I write my circular way back out to the story. The result is a fatty first draft that always needs to be tightened.

At first I worried that readers wouldn't able to connect the dots. First a character is eating dinner and then he's doing dishes? What? How did he get there? So I diligently (and tediously) would narrate the whole thing. Bo-ring.

What Francisco Stork does reminds me of some study that proved how little of a word has to be there for us to recognize it. Or of those stories of B-17s that returned, critically damaged, to airfields in London, somehow able to limp home.

Marcello in the Real World has only the bare number of scenes to carry the story. I don't mean that it's sparse: it's anything but. No, I mean that the gaps between scenes -- so invisible when you're deep in the story -- are actually pretty big when you stop and analyze them.

The magic here is that the reader fills in those gaps without even noticing.

And what it means is that the amount of narration I thought was the absolute minimum ... can be even less. The result will be a tighter story that's not ruined by being over-told.

So now I ask myself: what is the absolute minimum I need to show in order to carry the story forward? It's less than I think.