Thursday, April 23, 2009

Craphound, by Cory Doctorow

I'm rereading "Craphound" by Cory Doctorow this week. It's one of my favorite stories. I've kept a download of it on the file tree that I tote around with me, for a long time now.  Like most of Doctorow's writing, it's available for free download. Here's a site that offers a bunch of different free eBooks; this link is to the page with Doctorow's stories on it. 

"Craphound" is about a conflict between two friends in a changing world, but one of the friends happens to be an alien and a big source of the changes is the arrival of aliens to our world. 

"Craphound" has a terrible name. It's hard to tell someone about a story with a rude name and expect them to read it. And crap isn't THAT rude of a word. In the story, "craphound" is both slang for a junk buyer, and the nickname of one of the characters. 

I'm rereading the story because I'm doing a writing exercise where you retype a book. I thought I'd start with a short story, so I picked "Craphound"; doing a whole novel was too much of a commitment. I can credit my mother-in-law Karen with the idea; she sent out some notes from a writing lecture she attended, and it contained this idea: that you should start your writing sessions by retyping a paragraph from a favorite book, and over time study those paragraphs one by one. 

I'm liking it. It's very similar to a clone project: another exercise I've wanted to do, and which I've started and stopped over time, is to take a book and write a scene-for-scene analog of it, with different characters but using the exact same structure. The problem with that project for me is that when I pick a favorite book and sit down to analyze it on my own time, I get caught up in the story all over again. Or I get bored with trying to break it into structural components. But retyping para by para has a very similar feel, and can be done piecemeal because you're not trying to infer the higher structure. 


  1. That is an interesting idea about cloning a story. I suppose I'd be worried about copying the story unintentionally. But I guess that's unlikely if you're concentrating on structure.

  2. Doug, I'm not sure I follow. I mean, a clone project is just an exercise, and if you copy it, no biggie. Although you're supposed to use different characters and something different at stake. It could be quite a challenge. It might nor might not be usable for anything beyond an exercise, which of course doesn't help motivate me to actually do one. :)

  3. Ah, I meant that while in general practicing a skill is good, repetition of the same process can sink ideas and facts into your subconscious, which might lead you to reusing someone else's story pattern and plot without being aware of it.

    But I think that I was not understanding to what degree you are supposed to alter the cloned story. And probably I'm transferring some experiences from physical exercise that don't hold true for mental work.

    For example, I have a couple difficult basketball shots that I've practiced for so long that I can execute them without thinking. But I've also inadvertently trained myself to see ONLY those shots as options from certain places on the basketball court due to the reflexive aspect, so if I have to break that pattern it's difficult.

    I think the key difference is simply timing. It takes longer to write a story and you can sit back and look at what you've done, recognizing if you're ripping off someone else's style. Whereas in a game you have to make the decisions faster, so you rely more on what you know instinctively, whether the habit proves helpful or not.