Thursday, June 14, 2007

And now for Something Completely Different...

Mea Culpa.

Reading over my last several posts, I have come to the conclusion that I may be in mortal danger of Taking Myself Much Too Seriously.

I cannot afford for this to happen, since I would then start writing Literary novels, the thought of which brings on a desperate need for a good dose of Pepto-Bismol.

So today I want to write about some things I really like about Writing. I realize that in doing so I may be revealing more information about myself than I really want to, or indeed more than you, gentle reader, may really want to know, but there we are.

I'm not going to write about great Themes, or having Something To Say, or the Need to Be Relevant (all of which would make great names for rock bands, an idea I stole from Dave Barry). I won't even write about the fact that Fantasy is not an escape from Reality, but a back door to it.

I like - strike that, I love those times when the scene in my head writes itself on my pc screen without conscious intervention on my part, when the screen itself disappears, so that all I see is the scene I'm writing. At such times I almost feel like a conduit, rather than a translator, and the words overflow the banks, burst through the dam, and its all I can do to manage to direct the flow, and I stop only when the stream runs dry. I call this 'being in the Zone', and I have tried, to no avail, to recreate at will those conditions which precipitate the Zone, and other writers that I've talked to confess something similar. This has all the earmarks of addictive behavior, I know. Ask me if I care.

I especially like creating characters that readers fall in love with. Characters that readers discuss with you as if they were real people. I also like, perverse imp that I am, to propose writing death, dismemberment, or humiliating scenes for these characters, just to see the reaction. Some of these suggestions have actually found their way into a WIP, and some may still do so.

I love watching people read my work: will they gasp at just the right moment, or laugh, or cry; will their eyes go all round like blackboard zeros; will I have to call their name twice before they hear me; will they shudder at that scene? If you're not going to write so as to elicit an emotional response, why write at all?

I love to write cliffhanging ends to chapters. Or books. Well, I might as well be honest, I love to write chapter endings that dangle readers over The Black Abyss of Doom. My beta readers usually only get to read a chapter at a time, and their reactions to NOT being able to turn the page and go on have sometimes been priceless. AW told me once, after trying (vainly) to scroll down after a chapter ending: "You did NOT end it THERE! You SO SUCK!" Which of course I took as a compliment of the highest order, and thanked her profusely.

I love being told my novel should be made into a movie. If only the readers that told me this had the ear of Peter Jackson....*sighs*. Current suggestions for actors among my readers: Johnny Depp as Jonas (... most of my betas are female...), Kate Beckinsale as Diane, Daniel Craig as Alex, Drew Barrymore as Liz, and Anthony Hopkins as The Elder. Such a movie would, of course, never be made: too many stars. But it's a great Dream...

And I love drowning my readers in the Dream that is the Story, when they tell me they can see the scene, smell the Nightmares, hear the waves lapping zhoop-zhoop on the powdered sand. I love finding that one vivid concrete detail that puts the reader there, so that they are in the Story, not just reading words on a page.


In reading this, I find I may have escaped being Too Serious only to become Too Full of Myself.

What can I say?

I am a writer.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Introspection, Part 2


You may not want to read this.

That's because I want to post about Introspection now not as a tool, a skill in the craft of Writing, but as a necessary part of the Writer's character. Why, not how.

I said in my last post that we all need to know, as writers, what we are capable of. Some of us are quite capable of finishing a sentence with a preposition, or starting a sentence with a conjunction, or writing sentence fragments. But others aren't. Pubbers, in particular, when they sit down to write something (for a lark, or just slumming), fight with the Watcher at The Gate about everything.

We are capable, for instance, of deluding ourselves into thinking we are the next J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown, except better. Nevermind that the chances of a virgin writer being published nowadays is about the same as being struck by lightning while being eaten by a great White Shark right after winning the Lottery...

This same lust (why not call it what it is?) drives us to think better of the written record of the outpourings of our souls than we ought, and to resent Pubbers, or other writers, attempting to change it. We are like Pilate, who famously said, 'What I have written, I have written,' when the Sanhedrin tried to edit him. Come to think of it, he was right, too.

On the other hand, we (perversely) think nothing of suggesting any number of perfectly obvious changes that should be made to writing shared with us by our fellow writers.

But the green-eyed demon really begins to claw its way out of our chest when we see, or hear of, writers we know getting published, receiving an Award, or Lord defend us, seducing an Agent: we are more than capable of congratulating them to their face while fantasizing about casting them as the villain in our next novel. And we're convincing; after all, we make up stuff all the time, that's what we do...

Sometimes we begin to write in order to become famous, or garner applause, or Awards, or to get Pubbed. We begin to stray from writing what we want to write into writing what we think readers want to read, or worse, what Agents and Editors want to read.

Which leads us back to the how again.

All of these feelings and thoughts are usable. You can place them into the mind and heart of your antagonist, as I mentioned last post. Or you can place them into the mind and heart of your protagonist.

The protag must have a 'Fatal Flaw' after all. Why not give him a couple - of yours? Or a couple from people you know well? This is 'writing what you know' I suppose: If you can describe your own conflicted feelings about something, take those feelings, nurture them well in the compost of your own mind, grow, prune, and water them. And then make your protag conflicted about something, anything, make him want it but feel guilty about that desire, make him hate it (her?) but desire it with all his being. Make him want to do the right thing but fear the consequences more than Death itself.

The antagonist need not provide all, just the primary, conflict: and conflict is the throbbing heart and weeping soul of a thumping good Story.

Of course this is the literary equivalent of streaking. Would you take off all your clothes and run through a public place, say a Mall at lunchtime on the day after Thanksgiving? If you do the kind of introspection I'm writing about, and then use it in a Story, that's what you're doing, except it's your emotions and thoughts on display, not your Adam or Eve costume.

This why some people never become writers. It's also, incidentally, why some people become Pubbers: so they can indulge in literary emotional voyeurism.

So all Writers are emotional exhibitionists to a greater or lesser extent.

How deep are you willing to dive into yourself? What are you willing to dredge up into the blistering heat of public scrutiny? What will your loved ones say? Can you really write about that??? Would it be worse if you did, if you dug up the most painful, pitiful thing about yourself, sweated blood and wrote it into your character - and no one gave a crap?

Remember, I did say you might not want to read this.