Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Character Motivation – Letting The Story Be Fuller

Well, here I am, at the end, almost, of the first Big Deep Editing,
3000 words of notes left to go.

Not so fast.

First, I have to back up.

The writing of the whole story, the telling its characters' stories, weaving them together, on the first writing, began last November 1st and continued along until I had to break for the holidays, mid-December. Unable to push back the holidays, I quickly dashed out the last "part" to get it down on paper, but it was not written quite the same. That part was more outlined than written.

Now, during the First Big Deep Editing, returning to that part: stop the presses! A lot of work still needs to be done to let this part of the story, the part that got speed notations, stretch out, finally.

My own style of writing, for this novel, originally, was to let the characters go where they needed to. It was a VERY entertaining novel to write. But having to break for whatever reasons, interrupted that flow and seriously. The outlined part reads flat: bla bla bla and the ending.

NOW is when the synopsis work I've been keeping up along the way and the idea of a plot outline are proving to be way useful tools for me as a writer.

Most of the synopsis -so far- has been more like taking dictation - up to this point. It is the novel in shorthand.

So, today, I realized I have to work with the synopsis, as an entity in itself, and with the plot outline as an essential tool. The speed-notes I wrote for the finale only told me where it has to go, but not how or what needs to still happen along the way.

It still has to get there according to my characters.

So what is before me is not simply another 10-14 days of the First Big Deep Editing.
Rather, NOW, I have to complete the deep versions of the synopsis –small, medium, mid-medium, and the long one– but especially the long one. And not just after I have finished each section, writing it out as I go along, as I clean-up, fill in, and edit, but Now I have to project outward.

So, to really see what needs to be done here, today I have also gone back into my cast of characters to find out what their motivations are.

(Now don't think I haven't done this before, but right about now, at this point in the novel, their motivations are very intense and important. What their motivations are, not just overall, but at this point will help me to pick up the writing right where it needs to be, not just a leap frog from what has happened so far to the ending. More has to occur to get us there. The characters still have objectives to achieve and they require my attention.)

I've been writing all morning about these. I have a pretty good cast of characters and I know them pretty well by now. We have been spending time together for 8 months and 2 days.

And yet, like with people in life, there is so much more to see, if you look closely, deeper, and listen to them.

The characters were mostly fearless in telling me about themselves, what they wanted, what they needed. (All but one, but I will get back to her.) As a matter of fact, they were even urgent about it and heartfelt. Some needed to grow without knowing what or how to do that, so they need each other for that too. And they all want that help, from each other, in spite of their resistances, and from me, in spite of mine.

This is VERY helpful stuff!

I have had to think about one character in particular in even more depth. Mostly, I, as her writer, got a bit tripped up in how to help her out of the dilemma the novel has backed her into. It's complicated. It has to ring true too, to me as her writer and to the story, as well as to the character herself. We have to believe it solves the problem. Deeply.

Well, listening to the characters tell you what they need, what they know, and what they don't know how to get that they need help with, is an interesting conversation and my characters have all grown in this exercise.

By noon today, I had a new picture of what is before me at this point. I believe I am in for at least six more weeks of deep character and story completion.

So much for coming in under the time-frame I thought I had outlined for this part. Ready as I was to go on to the next step, this one is essential.

I am pretty grateful for all the many articles and blogs Ive been reading lately about how the time-frame of a novel
(Question: Is a novel a year too little time for it to develop? Answer: Yes and No, it depends.)
is a delicate matter that cannot just be predetermined and probably shouldn't be.

Because, right now, if I just "wrapped it up," it wouldn't be the novel it wants to be, the one I want it to be, the one the characters themselves are rooting for.

Diving back in today and going deeper.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Space Between

First a poem:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

by e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


Working on a project as long and complexly intertwined as a novel, requires great amounts of space between.

What does that mean?

It means you have to let the story breathe and germinate. It also means you have to step back and forward, dance with it, as it were.

In the beginning, writing it, like any courtship, was a flurry of connecting with it daily, letting it take me, falling in love with it, letting it run away with me.

And then, feeling like I have been unplugged from my source, from the thing that is now calling to me, but needing to step away, look up, chop wood and carry water in my own life.
Ah, the first separation.

I used this period to let the characters grow inside me, to see what they really needed to do.
I took notes. And I took my inclination to stir the novel, instead, to stirring my craft. I have learned gobs of what I never knew before, realizing, I had jumped into this –the novel writing thing– (and this my third journey into such an adventure, full throttle, as it were) without any of the heady confidence that comes from knowing all of –or even most of– the rules.

Dear oh dear. I reminded myself of my daughter, walking out of the house at eighteen. New job in hand, the world before her.
Of course she was ready for it. (sigh)

But those who will dream and just begin a thing are blessed too.

None-the less- I was fascinated with the rules. I learned many and threw many back in the water. I was after my own kind of fish. One of course, who knew how to swim. But didn't swim exactly like the salmon or the trout. Ah yes, the pursut of the mythic fish. Yes, exactly!

Learning the rules, during the space between lets you get perspective on them. Some of them are very good information. Absolutely. Some would be like adding the entire spice cabinet to a delicate souflee. No, don't do it!

So, ok, now mixing metaphors, yes, back to the process. I think it is the process of intuition that calls me to its knee: a process of listening deeply and trusting the characters and the story.

I love what Tim Robbins wrote. That inspired me the most. (See NaNoWriMo peptalks, 2008, first week.)

It took me 6 weeks before I took that first break. And I promise you, if Christmas hadn't been around the corner, I wouldn't have. But not only was it nice to be back in the realm of my loving family, I learned a LOT taking that break.

In January, I had replaced my need for returning to the novel with my need for more industry information. How does that world work? Who is that masked man? Why are all these people guarding the door so diligently? Mysteries to solve. I put on my Sherlock Holmes gear and followed the trail.

Nearing February, I realized I was procrastinating. I had written a nearly 90,000 word novel. But I had written it without stopping to spellcheck and it was a tedious boring slow mission to go back in and do the clean-up. . By mid-Febrauy I finally began to hold my nose each day and go back in until I had spellchecked the entire novel. Six long arduous weeks. Ugh.

Again, afterwards, the novel and I needed, deserved, the space between. Stopping, getting fresh air. I worked on a small children's musical for a month; a work in progress. I wrote a poem a day for the entire month with a writers group for Poetry Month.
I enjoyed writing elsewhere.

And now, entering into the fourth week of what I call Deep Editing, there is another kind of space between that I am taking, allowing. This one is so lovely. It is actually exquisite.

I am working on the novel for 1 to 2 hours each day, at least four days a week.
More than that and I would not be able to see, to hear its melody. I work a section and then I let it rest.

The time and space in between are absolutely necessary to it. The work I have done needs to rest, germinate, be savored, perhaps later worked on, added to, subtracted from again. It's sort of like making a beautiful meal and along the way there are taste tests.
Hmm, a little of this, let it simmer, then cover. Mmmmm. And sometimes it needs just a pinch more of this or, oh dear, too much hot pepper oil in the side dish, and rather than work with it, I toss it into the garbage and pull out fresh mushrooms and start that dish again.

So, in my process, the space between daily, is essential. And the space I give it on the weekend is also essential. That's where the story deepens and settles into itself and into me.

It's not like I actually left it.
I carry it with me in my heart.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Deep Editing – Journal Entry

I am editing my novel. It has taken time to get the rhythm of that right. I am thinking of it as polishing.

During the tedious spellcheck period, it was six weeks of daily tedious work.
(Yes, I wrote the novel at the speed of wild horses galloping, not stopping to spell or punctuate, oh my! and then had to go back and pick up after every hoofprint later.)

This, however, is fun.

I am finding I can only go a section or a few pages at a time though. When I go say ten pages, (which I do at times), I find I have to go back and reveiw them and re-edit the same ten pages several different days.

I like to read through what I have edited the day/days before and see how it flows when I sit down each day. If it is flowing correctly, I move on.

And then, every so many days, I realize I need to go back to the beginning and read straight through for a few days.
I pick up details I missed. I have a few characters (minor) whose names organically changed as I wrote and so need to make consistencies. I struggle with whether a thing should be capitalized throughout the novel or just in places –like if you speak of The North or the north or human or Human– any thoughts out there?

I just spent the past week -Nathan Branden's blog and other wells of information on craft- absorbing whole huge amounts about dialogue. It compelled me to then go back in and revisit my dialogue from new perspectives. Some of it worked wonderfully! (Yeah for intuition!)
But I could now see how other passages of dialogue needed to be changed to hold the melody and pacing better.
I am learning as I'm going.

I work on it, actively at least M-Thurs for 1 to 2 hours it seems. On Friday, I check in with myself to see how it is resting. If I feel it is "right," I can go on. But sometimes I need to let it sit a day or two, or go back again (and again).

The hardest thing is this: I know it will take me the full three months to do this part. So far I am three weeks in. I had hoped it would take me 1-2 months. But I want, as I said, to polish this, not just push it around.
And I have to say, it is a long dedication. This –the novel– is now seven months and two more ahead just to that destination.

May marks a year of dedicating myself on a new level to my writing. I have kind of promised myself this book and through the end of 2008 to see where it takes me, all this.
I have my doubts along the way. And my hopes.

It would help me if I had more places to walk. I have had to postpone my May trip this year.
I am trying to determine if I can even go to California as I had hoped. But if not, I may very well go to the ocean house in North Carolina for September or/and October.

In the meantime, against my wild pulling to get out of the house, I have tethered myself to these also delicious projects.
Ahh, and art too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I write

I write. I am a writer.

This is a fairly new identity for me. One I have been trying to avoid for some time. The fact of the matter is I have been writing my whole life. I have the pages to show for it too.

But words can get so messy and definitions sometimes seem so final, like you could get pinned to the wall with them. I need them to be transformative, not jailers. I need them to set me free.

So words are these beings that I wrestle with. When I find I am in the magic of them, I am not writing at all. Rather they are writing me. Therefore I am a channeler of words. I open my mouth, pick up my pen, sit at my keyboard and out they come in their own dance, sometimes all out of order. Sometimes I can just think out loud and they join in on the conversation and if I am lucky, I will get that down.

But with stories, they are completely in charge of the show. I just take dictation.

In recent years I have found myself writing all over the place, poems, journals, short stories, long stories, novels, plays, scripts, nonfiction, even comedy, along with an occasional song or lyric.

It is completely out of control! There are pages spilling out everywhere I look.

I give in. OK, I am a writer.

Yes, it's true.

Yes, it's true.
What's true? you ask.
Well, it's true that this blog has changed.

It has been reformatted to write about the process, the madness, the adventure, the fun.

I'm not going to write about my novel.
I'll leave it to hopefully be read one day!

Instead, I present:
My NaNoWriMo and Beyond Ongoing Novel Experiential Odyssey.