The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Very busy. An interesting thing happened, though. I've been spending hours and hours thinking about other people's work, and I'm at a point in the semester where most of that thinking is teasing out different story threads by looking at scenes and pieces to see what they say about character/thematic arcs. I have found that when you're writing organically and have a decent grip on your characters, this stuff naturally rises to the surface and starts to fall into place--if you keep your eyes peeled and stay focused on the work and not on finishing/publishing. You can begin to figure out that your character starts out ___ way, and since you like him and know what you want for him, you understand that by the end he's going to be ____ way. And you can use that to put your book together.

So I've been thinking about this stuff, literally, for hours and hours, over days and days, for many different characters not my own (but that I like and sometimes also love). I've been picking out the main idea a scene or snippet gives the reader, and thinking, among other things: what does this tell us about the character, and where does it go along his/her arc?

Last night I finished up late, no time to work on my own stuff, but I wanted to clear my head and just pull up my ms and write something--not for the purpose of making progress, but just to touch base quickly with my story world and my people. I opened the file, and decided to see if I could pin down anything about a transitional piece I haven't written yet, one that takes place near the end.

I can't remember if I blogged this, but during another mind-clearing session last week, I took some more structural ideas a writer friend had been talking about from The Plot Whisperer, and made a list of all my scenes, written and unwritten. I wanted to see if I could get anything useful out of laying TPW ideas over what I had, and trying to see my ms in those terms. When I did this, nothing changed much in a concrete way, but considering my ms in terms of the story points that Alderson emphasizes made me think about the ms in a slightly different way that I think will provide energy to the story.*

While I was doing all that, I also got more specific about the part that leads from the middle to the end, and added a small transitional scene to the list: Two of my guys prepare to leave, and this other character comes out trying to follow them.**

So last night I decided to see if anything came to mind about that scene--maybe what the two guys would say to each other, or what would happen when the other character came out. I ended up sketching out a "moment."*** I'm pretty big on "moments," and I felt one was needed here to set the main secondary character in our minds before he heads off into the ending. And a moment is a perfect thing to write when you don't have much time and can't get into the flow of story.

I knew this guy was just sitting there, on a rock or stump or wall or something, waiting for my MC so they could leave. That's the "moment"--we see him as the MC is approaching him. I knew what the secondary character's intentions were, going into the ending sequence, so I thought about his hands, his face, the way he sat, his general attitude, and I was playing around with the best words to evoke all that. And as I played with it, I started realizing how different he was from the way he started out at the beginning. All the words to describe him were different, everything evoked in the beginning was the opposite from what was being evoked here, near the end.

I suddenly saw very clearly that this was the end point of his arc. He started out ____ way, but now he is ____.

I suddenly saw very clearly: all my middle-of-the-book scenes that need to accomplish a plethora of story jobs also need to do this: step by step, they need to show how story events make the guy change from what he is in the beginning when the MC first considers him, to this guy who is sitting here now, at the end.

When the middle scenes do that, they'll have nearly the last bit of power and grit that the story's been needing to give it traction and momentum all the way through.

My mind only made those connections because it's been thinking about and looking for the same types of patterns over and over for days if not weeks, in other people's work. That's why, when I was just putzing around with a paragraph of description before quitting for the day, my mind automatically dove in to tease out the same patterns in my own ms.

Another funny thing: this morning I was thinking about the way the character sat on that rock/stump/whatever, the way he held himself, etc., and I thought: this guy knows who he is. Then I remembered sometime back in a fuzzy distant past asking myself what this character wanted--what made him leave his old home and take off into the unknown. Back then I thought about it, and had a dim feeling that he left because he didn't know who he was. I didn't like that; I was very doubtful and suspicious of the feeling, because "He wants to know who he is" is a vague, unhelpful, generic goal. It doesn't tell you anything. It's like an answer that fills in the blank on a junior high English test. I felt that it was really true about him, but I also felt that it was probably just a side thing you understand about your character, and I proceeded under the assumption that as I wrote more, his problem and his longings would take on some texture and depth.

But no, there is it: he starts off shapeless, soft, unformed, naive, passive. And by the end he's firm, solid, knowing, capable, competent. In the beginning, he doesn't know who he is. By the end, he does.

And now that I think about it, he also....acts. He's sitting there waiting because he's made the decision to leave and he is about to act on it. And he will. That's why he'll be there in the climactic scene and in the very final scene, too, with my MC.'s also why he'll be able to influence the story outcome and present the MC with his climactic choice.****

So, there you go.

And now, back to work. On other people's stuff.

*This is what happened when I looked at my beginning-to-middle transition in TPW terms, too.

**And then he gets his eye gouged out!

***I don't know the technical word, but that's what I call it. It's where you stop, like a freeze frame, and give the reader something, hit them with it strongly so they absorb it. A moment can be as tiny as emphasizing an idea by using white space via a new paragraph, or it could be a whole page of description.

****Which I haven't quite nailed down yet. But I will, if the creek don't rise, a meteor doesn't strike, and I don't get hit by a bus.