Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Process Examination #18: In Which I Hack my Brain a Second Time*

With short fiction, I write by letting the story pour out of my fingertips as fast as it can, heading in whatever direction muse decides to go. I might have a general sense of the ending or the character arc or something, but usually I get an inital idea, spill it out in a small amount of time, and then leave it be for a bit. When I come back to the story, I look at what I wrote, compare it with the original idea, figure out if there's a disconnect to fix or if the story I wrote evolved into something else entirely that needs a new framework. Then I do serious revisions of the sort I did for PPR: Toss out 6K words, write an extra 25K. This brings me to the place where a lot of other writers are when they finish their first draft and then have to go in for revisions. I do said revisions, then the once or twice over for grammar, etc. Voila, I have a finished product of the short fiction variety.

For novels, though, my brain clearly wants to do this same process, but the left brain absolutely panics and gets in the way of the story-purge, trying to take me in directions better suited to give me a viable novel. See, the left brain is all about logic and efficiency and sees that spending six months to three years banging out 100K words or more that are going to get axed anyway is just Not Acceptable. The right brain, trying to translate the story vision to words fast enough to appease the left brain, gets all twisted in knots and misinterprets the vision and gets things horribly wrong. I end up in a terrible snarl anywhere between 20K and 80K because of this. The left brain wants to finish the draft and get on with fixing it so it's actually a novel that can, you know, start the process of getting representation and/or publication. The right brain sees the mangled corpse of what it originally intended to write and can't pick up any narrative thread that has a fraction of a chance at carrying a draft through to the end in any way that relates to the story I'm trying to write.

I compromise by starting revisions of the words I've alredy written, to help the right brain find my story vision and to convince the left brain that I'm making changes that will translate to less time spent on revisions later down the road. But the conflict between the two hemispheres inevitably starts again, this time snarling me within 5K to 20K from the original snarl point. I might compromise again with revisions or the left brain will retreat and let the right brain try to carry the story through to the end. Neither option works. When my brain realizes that I am stuck and conflicted within myself as to how best to proceed to finish the project, I start all over again on a new novel idea.

My problem in dealing with this pattern is that I have only fully understood where the left brain is coming from. Finish the book! Revise it! Sell it! Get going on that professional writer path, already! You only have a small number of hours each week to write! The longer you take to write one book, the longer it will take to sell that book, the longer it will take to eventually earn you the money that will allow you to quit the DDJ and have more time to write more books! So write! Write better, faster! You can do it, I know you have talent! Let's go, go, GO!

The right brain never explained itself to me, it just refused to produce at the pace the left brain demanded and developed skills in telling me that I wasn't being true to the story vision, not in the least. But I figured it out, all the same. It gets back to the map analogy and how I can't outline a novel. This is because story ideas come to me in complex, three-dimensional images (or groups of images) that have all sorts of sensory and extra-sensory elements embedded in it. The trouble comes from not being able to convey that image accurately into words for the right brain. The right brain is constantly frustrated at its inability to communicate with the left brain, and the left brain keeps trying to boost efficiency by throwing more words at a story, only to frustrate the right brain even further because they are the wrong words, and not just "fix this in revisions" wrong, but taking the story sometimes far away from the complicated images.

Getting back to taking a trip without a map, let's say that one person, Jack, is trying to meet up with another, Jill. Jack starts driving towards Jill, asking her for directions on his cell phone as he goes. Problem is, Jill can only describe her surroundings in ways that don't help Jack at all. Jill says she's in the place where the air smells just like the end of summer. Jack asks what's around her. Jill says she got some mountains to the west. Jack asks how far. Jill says she can pinch the highest peak between her thumb and forefinger while she squints at it. Jack asks what's to the east. Jill says a gray, three-story building with no numbers or letters on it, but many of the windows are missing, and some have been replaced with green glass instead of clear.

Jack asks for a street sign. Jill says there are none, but the asphalt is cracked on one side and smooth and deep black like new on the other. Jack asks her what city she's near. Jill says the energy of the place reminds her of a sprawling urban center that hasn't swallowed up all the rural pockets just yet. Jack asks her if there's anyone around her who can answer his questions. Jill says the few people nearby are stuck in a loop of some drama or other and are far too busy unraveling their own crises to help with hers, and would Jack like to hear some of the things these folks are saying? Jack says only if they're talking about a street address.

This goes on and on until Jack finally gives up, calls Jill's cell service provider, and has them triangulate her location with the satellites. He swoops in, gets her into the car, and drives them off to someplace new.

Dealing with these two yahoos for the course of a novel is going to drive me insane if I don't find some way of managing their miscommunication.

*Not only does this post make clear to the world that, yes, in fact I am a gemini, but it also demonstrates my left-right confusion issue admirably well. Or, at least, it did before I edited it to be, you know, accurate. I got the left and right brains pegged correctly for the first paragraph they appear, then it went downhill from there. Fixed now.

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