i will be mostly pruning dead plot threads.
i will be mostly pruning dead plot threads.
this story has converted me to the virtues of plotting.
i always believed in letting the story take free rein, leading you where it needed to go . . . but with 375,000 words written, with scenes great and small and still not at the end, i could feel myself losing focus. too many threads started and forgotten, raised and dropped and raised again: it would take another 375k to wrap them all.
which is not to say they all must be wrapped. part of the point of the story is to be a little more life-like than other such tales, and IRL people pass in and out of each other’s lives without resolution (remember, this is before google, before we can type a name and find out exactly what happened to the kid that sat next to us for one semester in algebra 1). but too much of that and even i start to get irritated. all my little pauls and jeans and adelaides, what will happen to you?
so i reverted to plotting. mechanical, just three pages of “this happens and then this happens and then this happens”. who dies, who lives, who’s zooming who . . . cheers to the 1980s for filling my head with such nonsensical song lyrics . . .
it felt stupid and annoying but it worked. and i should remind myself that perhaps it took the 375k to make it work; i tried plotting it twice before and would trail off halfway through; perhaps it took all this writing to see everyone clearly enough that certain events would become foregone conclusions, others rendered impossible simply because of these particular personalities. but it works, now: a skeleton to fit all this flesh onto, a direction to use when tightening. things will get rearranged. there is room now for two long stretchs where i can flex my descriptive muscles. i have good, if rough, breaking points with which to end books one and two.
i was hoping the relief would let me sleep better last night; i haven’t really slept well since i began this project, save for a few key nights when a huge scene would finally be done. but instead my mind was a riot of details yet again—if so-and-so is even more duplicitious than i first imagine, what does that entail for scene x? y? would they even bother doing z at all? and so on.
in other news, found a lovely edition of voltaire last night, a little pocket hardcover from the 1940s, printed in england . . . and on the back flap is an advertisement for the bbc extoling its virtues as a means to fight axis propaganda. as much as the e-reader tempts me (all my books in one little form! easy highlighting and notetaking!), you can’t download that.
i am flagging a bit. perhaps it is a kind of seventh-inning stretch. if there are two great narrative arcs at work, i am nearing the big finale of one, while at the same time building heavily on the second. all the while feeling just how far i’ve come (lots of looking over the shoulder) and my word count issues don’t help.
there is much received wisdom out there, about writing. to write what you know (hah!). to write what you feel, to write from your heart (as long as your heart is telling you to write what you know?) because if not the plot won’t feel genuine, the characters won’t feel real, the twists and turns not honestly reached . . . as if all of writing was not one massive act of artifice, as if you are not immediately distorting the world in the simple act of choosing to skip ahead from morning to night, from character a to character b.
and, more pertinent to me at the moment: that there is nothing said in 50 words that can’t as easily be said in 20, that you want clear, concise prose, with every word pulling its weight. a nice idea, and when done well it can be a pleasure to read. but not done well and you lose texture, depth, any sense of being in this world you’re creating: you’re left with a script, not a novel.
do they do this elsewhere, or is this an american thing? i’m not sure. but it is yet another example, to my mind, where the received wisdom and the mediocre products it engenders does a massive disservice to the general public. they can handle a bigger book; if anything, the more lost we can get in a work these days, the better. it’s the same with movies (see that recent n.y. times bit on slow film), the same with visual art which lately seems to be more about simpler line illustrations, rather than big, epic paintings. nothing wrong with quick and straightforward, but when it becomes a requirement of the market it starts to feel like our very culture is anorexic. depth, patience, care, detail, poetry . . . these things are not the enemy. so-called excess is more than OK, it can be downright delightful.