Friday, July 30, 2010

Confessing to murder

 I did two things today that were out of character for me.

First, I worked on my novel all day when I should have been working for pay (I have a fair number of editing projects stacked up with short timeframes). I'm usually a very good girl but today I just needed to play hookey. I wrote for four hours, wrote three chapters, and it just flowed like water. What a treat!

The second thing I did was kill off a major character. There's been death already in this book but it came unexpectedly, almost as if I had nothing to do with it--I just wrote it down. But this murder was carefully planned and executed. And it was grizzly and shocking to the listeners in the closing circle at Writing Friday. But it had to be done.

Of course, the nice thing about fiction is I can undo it if the story needs it to be otherwise. A very satisfying writing day, all told.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Other ways of working on a book

At Writing Friday last week, I made a commitment to do two sessions of writing on my novel before the next Friday. Today is Wednesday, it's nearly noon, and I haven't done anything. Well, maybe that's not true. I haven't done any physical writing. I'm deep in several editing projects that are requiring a lot of computer time. So maybe more computer time just isn't it this week.

So instead, I've been working on the novel while I do the treadmill at the gym. I'm playing out scenarios, asking myself some good questions, imagining scenes.

Then I come home and take notes, write down the questions and some possible answers, explore possibilities.

I'm declaring myself fulfilled on my commitment!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Write what you (don't) know

This afternoon I watched a most interesting TED talk by a Turkish writer, Elif Shafat, who argued that assuming that writers from other cultures should write fiction that depicts their culture (some of her critics have chided her for not writing stories about unhappy Turkish women); in other words, they should be fictional cultural ambassadors). She observed that this is an unfortunate way of clipping a writer's creative wings.

She also mentioned the old adage that we should write what we know. But if that is the case, how then does a man write from a woman's point of view? Or a gay person lovingly craft straight characters? Or a creator of detective fiction write from inside the mind of a serial killer? Research will only take us so far.

Even more importantly, how do we create fictional worlds (science fiction or fantasy)? How many of us are on speaking terms with werewolves, zombies, or vampires?

When I started writing my first novel, Witnessing the Creation, it quickly became clear that the protagonist was going to be a male painter in his 30s. I've never been male, am no longer in my 30s, and while I do paint, I'm not sure I can describe the internal life of a painter. But Jake, the painter, had clearly chosen me and readers have found him a highly sympathetic and successful character. Similarly, they loved hating my villain, an older male alcoholic.

Fiction, Shafat argued, is fiction. It's made-up, it's created. Maybe there are some biographical pieces. Jake and I certainly shared some emotional characteristics. But it was my imagination at work, my ability to weave story out of the truth and out of some capacity that we humans have to make stuff up.

Whether we're from Turkey or from Kansas, we should be encouraged to write what bubbles up for us, not boxed into genres or subject matter that suits either the marketplace or preconceptions.

If you want to listen to Shafat, here is the link: