Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Process Examination #3: Rarin' to Go

OK, so I've got all the information I generated via Notebooking and Research (Phase 1; research never really stops over the course of the novel) organized into the sweet new version of Liquid Story Binder. Included in that information is an outline of sorts. Well, it's more of a Four Act Structure with a few snippets of song, dialog, emotion, action, and scene scattered here and there as Muse deigned to share them with me. I've got the first three scenes starting to form more concretely in my mind. I must be ready to write, right?


I've tried to write the opening scene a couple of times over the past month, and I could tell almost from the first paragraph that I wasn't ready to write it. Still, I kept chugging away each time, usually starting with a brand new draft and getting a couple of pages into things before the effects of Not Ready Yet became too great to ignore or before I ran out of writing time for the night (and then the next view of the material would bring the "Not Ready Yet" effect into painful relief). Before I had everything all sorted and such into the LSB, I figured that to be the reason behind Not Ready Yet, but Sunday afternoon I got everything organized so that I could finally start writing Sunday night. Again, I soldiered bravely on, trying to ignore the Vast Quantities of Suck in my writing, telling myself it just seemed bad because it's been six months since I've actually written novel draft or that my silly internal editor was hoping the scene would be perfect the first time or that maybe--please, God, let it be this simple!--I was unused to composing draft in any other program than MS Word and the new layout and quirks were making things seem bad.

While all of that may be true, I finally took a moment to reflect (via notebooking--how in the world did I ever write seriously for five years without realizing how important this is for me?) on why the various versions of the opening scene kept feeling off. Every view of every version came back to the same thing: my POV character wasn't engaged with the story. She was either a passive observer, a boring observer, or a wooden puppet.

How could this happen? I have her history! I have a picture of her! I know her motivation! I know her internal tensions! I know that she enjoys listening to bad Update Movement Rock (imagine "YMCA" covered in such a way that it refers to things folks a hundred years from now living in space might dig) and low-g acrobatics! Why isn't she living for me?

Helps if I give her even a fighting chance to establish her voice. I'm not sure it's possible to do that by shoving her right into the opening scene (which has to accomplish a lot of other things to get the story going). So I need to do some non-book writing, get to know how this character interacts with her world and figure out how to convey that. I also want to do this for several of my other characters.

I think I've fallen on my face in previous drafts, expecting that all of the facts and figures I came up with for characters and backstory would miraculously gel into character-specific voice and action and cause informed prose to just spill from my fingertips when I sat down to write the story. I suspect this may be the big issue when writers complain that the story they're writing isn't anywhere close to the story in their heads. Or that's the case with me. The story in my head is informed by all the worldbuilding, all the backstory. This is mainly because all of that information exists in my mind in pictures and mini-movies, complete with vivid colors, background noise, smells, and even feelings. I can't just directly translate that and expect it to live and breathe for the reader because a direct translation of the images in my head is going to be very passive, very stilted, nothing more than "then this happens and this and this" and so on until I reach "The End."

So I've got to tap into the characters and set aside the desire for a literal translation. I've got to figure out how to see things as the characters see them, to live the book from each POV and be only as informed about the past and the present and the possible future as each POV character can be and see how that colors the movie. There is no Fourth Wall in third-person limited POV. No one is simply watching the moive unfold. They are living it. As a writer, I have to jump into the frame and each character and live the movie with them. I'll still have to translate that experience, but hopefully a conscious effort to get into my characters' heads will decrease the tendancy toward passive observation and puppetry.


Timber Beast said...

To quote somebody, "I feel your pain."

Anne Lamott points out that the character will reveal herself a little at a time. I think this is also true for the story itself. You may not yet know where it begins. Do you know where it ends? John Irving starts with the last sentence of the novel. If you know where it ends perhaps you can work it through to where it started. I don't know.

Have you tried writing in first-person POV for each character in each scene? Walking in the shoes of each on in the scene could unlock something.

What drives your main character? What is it that's been turned upside-down and she has to right?

All the best,

Kellie said...

Actually, I think for me is that I know a lot about both the characters and the story, but I don't understand all that knowledge. This is exactly why I'm examining my process in the first place: I know a lot about writing, I just haven't internalized that information and fully put it to use, made it my own. The stutter writing right now is the same problem, just specified to this part of the process.

I think I need to take the pressure of telling the story off and delve into the POV of these characters in some backstory scenes or some other non-story scenes. Just give me a chance to start consciously looking at this world I've built through the eyes of these characters I've created and see what I can see.

As for trying first-person to connect with these guys, I'll have to see what POV pops out when I write these non-story scenes. Each character has their own preference for how they wish their voice to be heard, I've found. I remember one time I tried to re-write something in first person and it felt even more distant and disconnected than the piece had in 3rd person.

As for knowing motivations and story beginnings and ends, I've got all that. I just haven't blended all that knowledge into story wisdom (for lack of a better phrase). It's possible the knowledge will change once I've achieved wisdom, but for now, I know what I need to know to write. More knowledge is not going to help me here. A better understanding of that knowledge will.