Day 12 isn’t quite over, and I’ve written over 23,000 words. It’s not hard for me to write this much. I can spit out large volumes of crap pretty fast. The thing is, I have a strong vision of where this story is going. I have three major events in my head that conclude it. I’m not sure the order, exactly, but I can picture them. That’s important. Everything has to support my ending, and so far it does.
Oh, I am rambling here. It will not become clearer, so if that bothers you, go read someone’s blog about writing short stories or limericks. Novels are long, complicated, beasts without form. They are not easy to set your sights on and take down with a single bullet. It’s like trying to beat a fog with a tennis racket.
I like to think my story contains literary elements and that it’s character based. But I’m also male, so I tend to write stronger plots than the ladies. Take my use of strong for what it is: male plots tend to be more concrete and linear. They contain more stuff that happens rather than stuff our characters make happen. I can draw the plot, the narrative graph, with a pencil. Not always, but often women write stories based on character actions and choices. I write this because I think my novel is sterotypically male but also contains strong female elements. I’m now trying to save my butt from criticism.
I’m following a couple of broad guidelines as I write: this is a word painting and an iterative project.
I recently read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. This is a right-brained read, so be careful. It’s not the type of plot I just woefully described. It is messy and sticky, and it is not easy to discern, even at the end. It is largely a character painting set over a Hamlet template. Yes there’s the Hamlet tragedy plot, but the character painting of Edgar Sawtelle is deep and grabbing. It is not easy to let go of him in the end, and many reviewers cannot handle this conflict.
I don’t build such structural conflict in my story. I want my character painting to lead to a transformation. I wanted to move from the tragedy to the victory, through a bit of deep sacrifice, of course. It can’t all be fun and games or a bed of roses. If a story doesn’t include pain and suffereing on the part of the reader, then it’s not much of a story. Yeah, I’m sure that’s always true. I still have no idea what The Sun Also Rises is about.
But this idea of a story as a painting has intrigued me. The plan of course is to make a series of seemingly unconnected brush strokes, and slowly show the shape of your character and story. I’ve freely zoomed into flashbacks and into the mind of my protagonist. At the risk of losing the reader through head-hopping, I jump around quite a bit. I try to mitigate the concern my making such things vivid and important and keeping the same POV. I try not to fly to Bermuda for trivial reasons.
I write following the ideas and structures laid out in the article Writing The Perfect Scene. It works for me; though I’m trying a few things differently. Again, in Edgar Sawtelle, I noticed that the author didn’t follow a simple alternation of scene and sequel. It felt more like many little scenes culminating in big sequels. This makes sense to me: build up tension in small bits by showing several points of conflict, then let it stew, let all of these partial scenes fail in one big failure and let the character react in one big sequel. I’m calling this the umbrella pattern. Of course I haven’t followed it completely. My writing has been more linear with scenes followed by sequels. So far I’ve had strong actions where important stuff happens. It’s grabbed me and pulled me along. But now I’m starting the middle phase. A middlegame in chess can be slow and tedious as players battle slowly for position. I’m just now employing my embrella pattern more fully. I think I am successfully building both tension and empathy, and that’s the bottom line.
I can’t sit down and write a complete scene of say 1500 to 2500 words. Maybe they could even be longer. I like to get my ideas down quickly. I’ll write my entire scene covering objective, conflict, and failure, and I’ll think it done. I’ll scroll from top to bottom and discover I have only written a page or two. 500 words is not enough for a scene or sequel, especially not important ones. I’ve discovered I focus on action, motivation, and reaction when I write. It’s powerful but shallow, poignant but not sensory. I set it down, make some coffee or watch politics on TV or read, then I come back. My sole purpose of this revisit it to fill in the gaps. “Dan drove to the west side of the city” became three pages of details covering feelings, choices, descriptions, details, etc. My intial three pages that felt good but at the same time gnawed at me turned into seven. Yeah. But was I finsihed? No. I revisited again and added another page. I needed appropriate transitions and some of the motivations and reactions were lost, out of synch. It needed more words. Those 1000 initial words turned into 2500, and the sequel that felt alright, felt like it had potential, now felt fleshed out more completely. I know it still needs work, probably lots, but it feels complete enough for draft #1.
I now visit each scene and sequel three times on three different sessions. My morning’s 400 words turned into 1450 tonight. I think I might add a thousand or more tomorrow or later tonight after blogging.
I don’t think I can write any other way. I don’t seem able to write plot, character, setting, conflict, description, theme, or whatever aspect I want in one sitting. My mind needs to focus on one aspect at a time: write the plot and conflict, then add description, then character reactions, then add some thematic attributes I missed, then … the point of marginal return hits and I move to the next scene. During NaNoWriMo or any intial dump of ideas, at some point it requires too much effort per word. You need to move on. There will be multiple rounds of edit to make it tidy.
I guess what I’m saying my interative sessions are different from editing. While I do edit during these sessions, I’m adding a lot of prose. The point my editing becomes greater than prose-addition is the point of needing to move on. Or a count of three, whichever comes first.
One final point. My narrator is a dragon. This is not a fantasy novel, more a device a I came up with to keep my POV straight. I am writing third person limited, but I want to try to extend the voice to omniscient in certain, rare intances. My story invlolves a dragon tattoo, and the idea that my narrator, typically an it, could be a dragon, came to me out of nowhere. I’ve learned to trust these flashes of idea. The cool factor kicked in a bit, but I intially wanted to try it for the voice as well. As I write, pretend I’m a dragon and it will come out different. Pfft. Anyway, here’s a little snippet where I zoom up to the clouds and write as my Dragon. I even throw in a little reference. In 58 pages I have four paragraphs in this voice. I couldn’t read let alone write an entire novel like this. But this was fun word padding. 🙂
If you asked Dan before that moment if he had willpower, he probably would have laughed at you. If you asked him at that moment whether he had any willpower, if he had a strong mind, you’d likely receive an empty stare, a blank, uncomprehending face, an unbearable fog. If you asked him after he stopped in front of the door, after he looked at that sign full of words with the realization that a strong mind is one that both absorbs and disseminates ideas, one that comprehends love and hate, courage and fear, if you asked him after those women in the high heels and trench coats passed him, if you had asked him after those tears came to his eyes, you might have lost him forever.
What saved him from himself we’ll never know. Maybe he saw a vision of Jill, maybe he heard Jen’s encouraging voice, or maybe a mythical spirit visited him at that moment. Maybe he found a god. Or maybe he even discovered dragons were real. Whatever it was, whatever light bulb went on, whatever revelation he saw, it made him smile.