It's been a little while since I wrote anything here. It's also been a little while since I've been able to write a lot of novel pages. However, that doesn't mean I haven't been doing a lot of work on the story. Really hard work that is already beginning to bear fruit, thankfully. Because this has been a tough couple of weeks.
So this is what's been going on: Part of my research has involved reading and watching accounts of some pretty tough stuff that my characters would have experienced. The thing is, unlike the way counselors and doctors are allowed to distance themselves from what their patients are feeling, it's the writer's job to dive into at least some key parts of that emotional territory so they can express it as well as they can. Often, while the writer isn't necessarily writing at all autobiographical work, it can also touch deep corresponding emotional springs in the writer that they then have to deal with.
Virginia Hampton Wright talks about this necessity in her book The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life: "Emotions, when tapped, bring a dimension to a scene or a song that will make all the difference. [But] sometimes we pay a price for the emotions we work with when we are creating. It can be difficult to delve into an emotional scene while I am writing a chapter of a novel but then to pull out of it by dinnertime. An artist sometimes has to live with certain emotions long enough to understand what they mean to a creative work. This can be exhausting" (p. 113).
Actors who are using method acting, I'm told, experience the same thing, and they call it character bleed, which is a perfect term. That's exactly what it feels like. Talk about the ability of fiction-writing to build empathy. Sometimes it would be nicer if it wasn't quite so up close and personal. But it is. At any rate, in the last couple of weeks I've been experiencing a lot of character bleed. It's made me incredibly glad that I'm teaching 2 days a week this semester, which means that when I delve into my material in this intense sort of way over the weekend I have a bit of time to recover before being called on to do another thing I love that can also be draining if one's dealing with other emotions at the same time: enthusiastically presenting to my students. Thankfully the flexibility has worked well in allowing recovery, and I think the worst of it is over, for at least awhile, allowing me to step back and get more distance from my material, which is another important writing function to craft the story well.
The up side is that the very emotional territory I've had to deal with has brought forth some great material going forward. I've timelined out some key material that will be revealed over the course of the story, which will allow me to make more educated decisions about how and when it should be revealed going forward. I've created character sketches and referenced ways each character is connected to the central material. I know my characters better, which will hopefully make decision-making much much faster going forward. And while the background research keeps begetting more research, I've been making good progress in that area too. I'm hoping I can dive back in to the actual writing very soon--perhaps even today--with a much better sense of direction and strategy and control over what's happening next, so it all ties together well.
I certainly hope so. No matter what, I know all of this work has been crucial to moving forward. Not the most favorite part to deal with, nor the part that feels the most like making progress in terms of that page count I'm pressuring myself to put out, but it's such important foundational work.
Okay, I think I can actually go write new pages now. Thanks again for any cheers from the sidelines you're willing to spare. We're entering the part of this process where they're getting increasingly important.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
NaNoWriSpr: Character Bleed and Outlining
Labels: author-character relationships, character bleed, compassion, emotions, empathy, NaNoWriSpr, research, vulnerability, writing process
I'm a writer, an incurable reader, a narrative theorist, a media researcher, a scholar/author/writer/consultant, a PK, and the Queen of Soup Making. I write a lot, and I've taught a wide range of topics in universities. Along my journey I've picked up a PhD in Communication from Purdue and 2 degrees in English. I've been turning my ideas about communication as author-audience relationships into a communication paradigm that can be applied to a wide range of situations. I'm also writing a historical mystery series. I'm a member of Sisters in Crime, and the co-chair of the Mystery and Detective Fiction Caucus of the Popular Culture Association. My MA thesis focused on connections between T. S. Eliot and Thoreau, who each wondered about how to remain still and still moving. Before I went to grad school, I spent 7 years working for a division of HarperCollins Publishers.