Friday, September 30, 2011

great expectations/mad science

So what did I do? I read, or actually am reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS. As so often happens when I’m reading or watch something, it inspires something in my work. Coincidence? Kismet? Or more likely I just am looking for ways to fit my experiences into my manuscript because I’m at that point when it’s on my mind a lot when I’m not writing.

Dickens makes you care about his characters. He draws them so compellingly that you are emotionally engaged with them. True, some characters, mostly minor, are caricature or almost caricature. Often they are funny in some way but not always. But the main characters are flesh and blood and you want to know what will happen to them.

I was inspired to go back and work on my characters, particularly Ash, the girl my main character cares about. Each draft, for me, gets longer. I’m an adder, I guess. I’m like a painter who keeps adding layers of paint. Some people are cutters. They start off with the big piece of stone and do the Michelangelo thing of cutting away the excess stone. But me, I’m an adder, and that’s what I’m back to doing. I can’t seem to keep away from the manuscript so I don’t try. There will come a point when I need to give it a break but I’m not going to force myself to do that now. I’ll know when the time comes and the manuscript seems worked enough that I NEED the distance to work it more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

mad scientist-character

Mad Scientist 18
I need him to be more. I need to go deeper into the character. He doesn’t fit in his world. He wants to know why. That’s the key. He thinks he wants to fit in but that’s not what he wants. He wants to know why he doesn’t. ( I do constantly, in revision, try to sort out this what he “wants” question and find it has many layers and this helps me give him layers). This means he needs to feel something isn’t right. He thinks it’s in him that it’s not right. So this needs to be more present in the novel right from the very start.

This kind of mulling over the character goes on all the time at this stage in a draft. It causes many close calls when you’re driving and your loved ones often find themselves talking to themselves while you are sitting next to them. HEY, they’ll say, WERE YOU LISTENING TO ME? You weren’t. OF COURSE, you say. But if you’ve been writing a while they’ve seen this look before and they know.

Mad Scientist 19
I’m at the end of this draft that is draft 2 and draft 3 in some parts of it. I’ve done a lot in this draft and that’s the best way to think of it. I know there’s a lot more to do but I’ve done a lot.

Do I go back and start over or do I let it sit a while. At this point I might do either. It doesn’t feel done enough to go for the “take a break,” get DISTANCE draft. No, it doesn’t seem quite right enough for that so I think I’ll rework certain parts. I guess I’m uncertain what to do. I know the end needs work so I might focus on that. I’ll see where that leads me. Writing is full of choices. In revision I’m making those decisions in a less intuitive way than in the first discover draft and the second first draft.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Keep Trying

Here's a little Ray Bradbury. All a writer can do is keep trying. You try to find ways to get better when you aren't writing and when you are. Ray Bradbury talks here about his early struggles and the turning point in his writing when he wrote a story that mattered, that he felt was beautiful. It came out of an experience he had as a child. It was a terrible and haunting experience. He was a little boy playing on a beach at a lake. A girl was playing there, too. Then she went into the lake and she didn't come out. That's what he said. It's such a haunting line. The death of the little girl is one of those memories he carries and it is the one that inspires this first story that he calls beautiful. Her going into the lake and not coming out becomes a metaphor for death in the story. Stories come from everywhere. But I think a lot of our best writing begins in memories that won't go away.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Persuading The Character to Arc

Mad Scientist 16
Connections are important whenever you’re working on a manuscript. As I’m going through The Mad Scientist what I’m realizing is the connections I make seem to be different than the ones I made in the first draft.

It’s coming together more now. Like I just realized a message my main character got earlier in the novel wasn’t right. It needed to be more specific because it didn’t really add anything to the later action.

So I went back and changed it and that changed the later section. It made it more real. These connections are so important. Everything has to come out of everything else in an organic way. Everything has to fit together, add to narrative and character.

Mad Scientist 17
I think I’m writing something into my character that is unearned. Not to say I’m stealing, you understand. No theft involved. Just that he hasn’t earned the thing I’m saying he has.

We talk about character arc. Well, I don’t, but I’ve had editors who have—as in, “Brian, this character doesn’t have enough arc.” BUT the character can’t just arc because I want him to. I think it’s right that he should change in the way I have him change in the manuscript, but now what I have to do is go back and, beginning at the beginning, change him so that later changes seem true to his character.

Writing is rewriting and rewriting and rewriting—at least for me. I need all the chances I can get.

Friday, September 2, 2011

To Outline or Not to Outline?

A break in my diary concerning the way I’m writing A Mad Scientist’s Son to ask:
To Outline or Not to Outline?
Whether it is nobler in the mind’s eyes to scratch out an outline of short or long length or suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without even a written hint of how you’ll transcribe them onto the page before you begin? Yep, that’s the question.

It seems to me that if you do not outline at all, if you’re one who stumbles along through a first draft, then that’s all there is to say about that. Just do it. Most writers are like this. I am like this about my first draft which is really just a discovery draft. I’ve been thinking about the story for some time but I haven’t written anything down. I just start writing. However, there many places in the manuscript when I just write a few lines for a scene and write something like MORE LATER. This is sort of the Swiss-cheese method. There will be big gaps or holes in this draft. So it will be on the short side, but (VERY IMPORTANT) it will go from beginning to end. I know my end by the end. Next draft I write toward that end.

So in a sense my discovery draft sort of works like an outline except it’s not. Some writers do outline. Some outline a lot and some a little before they begin. I once interviewed Sherman Alexie and he said he always knew the last line of his novel before he started and wrote toward that. Check out how much John Irving outlines here—amazing to me:.

As with all elements of process, you have to do what works for you.