Sunday, August 19, 2007

Progress: Halting, but progress just the same


I am a true five-words-forward-six-words-backward kind of writer. I seem to remember that way back in the mists of time (i.e., when I was newly published) words flowed from my fingers like -- well, like something fast and easy. (I'll let you supply the simile. "Water" has been overused.)

Those days are gone. I agonize over every word, sentence, paragraph. I cut more than I keep. I make plotting mistakes that will probably still make me blush after I'm dead and buried. It takes me 3/4 of a book to fully understand my characters, what they want and what they need and what they're actually going to end up with, and the last 1/4 is all about realigning everything that came before in order to be true to them.

It should be easier. Other jobs grow easier with time. The more you do something, the more proficient you should become, right? I mean, that's what they tell you. So far it hasn't worked that way for me.

I decided I was going to try a new method this time around. I was going to flip through magazines and clip photos and build my fictional world with real world components. Faces, landscapes, news photos, whatever caught my fancy. One day it was Reese Witherspoon. The next it was Catherine Zeta-Jones. They were quickly followed by Liam Neeson, Jeff Goldblum, and an aerial shot of Vermont that was beautiful enough to make you cry. Individually each of those components is terrific but together? Not so much.

I finally realized that this new method (a great method and very popular) isn't for me. How can I put this and still make sense? It's too external for me. Too grounded in the real world and not grounded enough in the even-more-real world of my imagination. These fictional people have to begin deep inside my imagination, not on the pages of People or In Style. They have to spring from some place I've never seen or heard but have trusted to steer me right for a very long time now. Ultimately it doesn't much matter what our heroine looks like. It's more important that you know what she thinks, how she feels, what she wants from her life. When you read one of my books, I don't want you to just be an observer. I want you to become my characters, to feel what they feel, see the world through their eyes.

So it's back to the old way for me. It might take me longer, I might still stumble around in the dark, but somehow I'll find my way to the finish line.

How? My characters will lead the way. So far they've never let me down.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
--Douglas Adams

3 Comments:

Anonymous georg said...

I prefer the questionnaire approach to defining characters. What's their favorite color? Comfort food? Favorite flower? Hobby? Do they have a passionate cause or volunteer? What's in the glovebox? Favorite breakfast beverage? How would they answer various memes? This gives them depths that a shallow picture doesn't help. Besides, a picture doesn't show you how they move. And sometimes one of the above can be critical to the plot.

August 20, 2007 at 7:38 AM  
Anonymous Brandy said...

I'm not a writer, so I can't really chime in here except to say however you reach your goal, I love your books!
(And I have nothing but the utmost respect for authors.)

August 20, 2007 at 10:05 PM  
Anonymous Nicole said...

The pictures are lovely, but I've found that approach doesn't work for me either.

Good luck with the progress!

August 27, 2007 at 4:21 PM  

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