Friday, September 3, 2010

the point of a scene

I spent the day writing a transition chapter. I need to move my heroine from Pittsburgh to New Mexico but I decided she needs to stop and see her ex on the way. She hasn't quite hit bottom yet and I think he can be instrumental in getting her there. But I don't yet know how. That's the next chapter to write.

But this chapter of travel, of road trip, needs to have its purpose too. While there's the possibility of using an occasional brief scene or chapter for glue, just to paste some things together, I'd rather not do that. So when I sat down to write the road trip, I felt a little stymied. It wouldn't take many sentences to have her drive to from southern Pennsylvania to Houston. In fact, I accomplished most of that in about 6 sentences and still said something about her state of mind.  But that wasn't enough.

So I thought about other things I could convey that would contribute to the plot or character development. Her distrust of men. Her fear of the killer. Her desire to stop being in fear. Her sorrow at leaving her best friend behind when that friend might also be a prey. Somehow I needed to convey all of this too. I wrote a draft of a chapter in which she thinks about some of these things but my challenge next time I write will be to see how I can create that through "show," not "tell." But at least I've identified what I want to communicate.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pushing beyond what you know how to do

I'm getting ready to forward a difficult email to a friend who's a writer. I've many comments for his novel and I suspect he's not going to like what I have to say. In preparation, I was reading Leonard Bishop again: his brief commentary on "Completing Impossible Scenes." This little gem of advice is mislabeled for it's really about pushing ourselves as writers.

By the time most of us start writing, especially those of us who come to the craft at midlife or later, we have already absorbed many writing techniques through all the reading we've done. But that doesn't mean there isn't an infinite amount to learn ahead of us. Bishop enourages us to write the scenes we don't know how to write, to keep pushing the idea or the character or the plot deeper, further. Of course, we risk writing something that doesn't work, but all artists have to do that, create junk that teaches us something.

Too many writers, he says, get pretty good and then rearrange what they already know how to do. That's the place I think that my friend has fallen into. He knows how to write clever sentences, and introspective first-person narration, but he hasn't pushed the plot into an original place. I'm hoping I'll find the right words to encourage him to do so.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Writing from limbo

On Friday, I wrote the final Pittsburgh chapter of the novel, which has two consecutive plots. I hadn't known it would be the last chapter. I was writing again from the imaginary seat of my pants and while I knew I was close to getting the protagonist out of town, it happened. It was good writing and a satisfying departure for her but now I'm a bit stymied.

Will Ellie go directly to New Mexico and encounter Al or will there be some adventures in-between? Will she hook up with Danny, an old boyfriend, in Houston? Will the killer be on her trail and will she have close calls? I don't know.

It's an opportunity for me to practice 16 solutions. What 16 things can happen to Ellie now that she's on the road?

I have a love-hate relationship with this kind of not knowing. I like ending a writing session with a clear idea of what to write next. It doesn't have to be the whole story splayed out in front of me but to know the next piece is comforting. But there's also some excitement in not knowing, in waiting for the muse to instruct me, the characters to speak to me.

I know that not everything is possible, that it isn't that wide open. I'm at 55,000 words and I've lots of loose ends in Story 2 to deal with so this part can't be more than 2-3 chapters. And those 55, 000 words and their events will circumscribe to some extent what's possible. But surely there's time for another big wrinkle in the adventure. I can't wait to find out.