Saturday, February 23, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: Character Bleed and Outlining

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.

Monday, February 11, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: On Getting to Know One's Characters; Or, Authorial Guilt

I realized this weekend that I was still avoiding something I rather had to do if I wanted to move forward in pumping out solid pages of interesting story.

I needed to sit down and get more acquainted with my characters. Especially my secondary characters, who are about to be introduced, but my main characters as well.

Please excuse the bad reality TV reference, but this makes me feel like the girls in The Bachelor who are always saying that they realized they need to take down a wall of self-defense and disclose more about themselves.

Interestingly, in this case, it's not me that needs to let my characters into the secret of my personality and past. It's the other way around. (Or one would think.)

What I realized is that I'm scared to dive deeper into some of my characters' lives and psyches. This is something I predicted earlier, but so far it's been pretty painless with the main ones--even gleeful. But since I'm writing from a first-person narrator, I've really only had to dive into my narrator's thoughts.

The thing is that the other characters are about to get more involved soon, so I need to understand them not only from my narrator's perspective, but from theirs as well, though ultimately I'll write it from his perspective.

I don't like doing this part. Some of these characters have deep dark secrets I'll have to disclose, or I wouldn't have an interesting plot. I feel like if I proceed I'll become the author character in Stranger than Fiction who is writing a story when her primary fictional character discovers she's creating and narrating his life. In the movie, the character blames the author tremendously for a raw deal. And I think I imagine that these characters might pop out of these pages and do the same to me.

Still, as with those I love in life, I can't protect my characters from bad things happening to them. Nor can I entirely protect them from themselves. (Nor, for that matter, can I protect myself from any emotional wells that may pop open in myself through writing about my characters' lives and emotions.) And so I must put my fears aside and get to know them better.

Especially since, let's face it, getting to know these characters better is much more statistically likely to produce a long-lasting and satisfying relationship than The Bachelor.

Okay, I've just received a date card for a group date with my characters. Hopefully if I persist, they'll give me a rose and allow me to finish these next couple of chapters.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: Ups and Downs

So it's been an eventful couple of weeks since I posted last. The honeymoon of writing 31 pages in the first couple was disrupted by a week filled with insomnia and panic at thinking I was losing key Interlibrary-loaned books to due dates.

I only wrote 1 page that week, and I was both pretty cranky and pretty hard on myself for it.

But then this Tuesday at my writing class (which officially began my 4th week of the experiment) we workshopped my first chapter.

Did I agree with all the comments? No. But I was able to apply grains of salt as required and it was exhilarating to get audience feedback. One can get so much in one's own head when one's writing that it can be a relief just to know that they mostly got what you were going for.

Plus, putting together the patterns of feedback can help you to discover where the reader gets stuck.

As it turned out, I needed to throw out my first 2-3 warmup pages, which weren't as active, and replace them with an actual scene that served the same purpose as the pretty warmup description had.

At my followup conference with my professor, I showed him the new version and got lovely lovely confirmation that I'm on the right track.

This--THIS!--is why I'm taking a class while doing this while I have the opportunity.

And so the workshop got me back on track and inspired again. So far this week I've written 12 pages, and there's a very good chance I'll get more done by Tuesday's class.

Plus, not only was I able to renew the key book I thought I would lose--I now have it until the end of March--but I discovered that the work I did during my seemingly dead week was intensely useful as it was a highly important source for me to get the gist of before going any further into the plot.

The insomnia? Now that, I have yet to realize the purpose for. Maybe I'll have some characters who will have it before the end of the book, and last week's experience will help me to empathize with and communicate their experience of disrupted productivity.

I don't know. But the great thing about being a writer is this: It's all potentially material. I love being back in the thick of the process because even on the down times, it never fully feels as though anything in my life will be wasted.

And I deeply, deeply love the way so much of my knowledge, skills, and experiences of the last few years are able to be applied in this particular project. It very much feels like I've been training my research and writing and narrating muscles for this moment.

There will be more weeks like last week, I'm sure--I won't always hit my page goals. But getting 42 pages of new manuscript, almost half of which has been revised into a second draft of sorts, down in less than 4 weeks is pretty exciting.