Sunday, December 26, 2010

The box is not always bad

So I've been typing pretty much stream-of-consciousness style as I try to discover what plot changes need to happen.  I'm nowhere near done with the process, but I'm going more in-depth with plotting than I ever have, because now I'm not just writing for myself.  I used to think that writing out scenes would move the plot along without having to plan stuff out ahead of time, and that may still work for me when I'm not writing for anybody else's eyes.

I'm not used to having to change major parts of my stories; I tend to think, 'But that's the way it's always been, and that's the way things happened.'  Keep in mind, I've had the major characters in my head since somewhere in the late 70s.  That's a lot of time for ideas to become cemented, whether they work or not.

However, my recent writing course, my helpful critters on CC, and reading Cohen's book have brought home to me that I must break open the box of my own making.  I wrote a couple exercises for the course in first person; I always write in some variation of third, and I want to stretch myself.  Art pointed out specific things in my first-person exercises that he felt worked well, and I was so surprised!  While writing the first one especially, things felt forced and unnatural at times.

I've learned that the proverbial box is all right to help one get a grip on the basics, and then you have to bust it wide open to let air and rain in so new ideas will grow.

The plot issues have chips and cracks in them now.  I feel the answers are there, hidden beneath years of assumptions and mistakes and a not-helpful fondness for the way things used to be.  I'm taking individual plot points and looking at them from other angles.  How does this point move the plot forward?  What am I trying to say with this idea?  If I want to keep it, what's the most effective way to get my intention across?

Exploring different possibilities for scenes also lets me peer into my characters' souls more.  Trist is the girlfriend of gang leader Coyote; Neal has feelings for her though I've wondered how to realistically portray that.  In cutting windows into my box, I've glimpsed her human side.  She will eventually turn against Neal, but in the beginning, she has moments of thoughtfulness.

Out of seemingly nowhere, it recently came to me that Sophie, a singer who becomes important later in the story, lives in a house decorated in a Moroccan theme.  That part may make it into the WIP.  Sitting looking at the Christmas tree in my house, I sank into a seconds-long scene between Sophie and Sandy.  He admires her Christmas tree, dripping with obviously old ornaments.  She says that on every tour, her people search for antique ornaments in every country she stops in. 

I like that scene a lot, because it gets to the heart of who Sophie is: she loves being adored by her fans, she has no trouble throwing her weight around to get what she wants, she doesn't apologize for being rich, but she believes deeply in family ties and traditions.  Those expensive ornaments are reminders of tours and the places she's visited and the traditions of the people there.  They remind her of Christmases growing up, when her family moved around a lot and sometimes all they had on Christmas was each other and the tree.  Other people might look at them and say, "Wow, she's a show-off."

Without the foundation of the first draft of the WIP, I wouldn't have known that Sophie is sometimes very contradictory.  She'd be a one-dimensional character.  Now, I can have fun finding out what motivates these people, and their humanity will come through in my writing.

This is what Art meant by "what do your characters want?"  What makes them who they are?  Who they are dictates what they do and say.  My inner editor will tweak this information to make it workable for fiction.  And gradually, I'll have a compelling plot with convincing and persuasive characters.

I'm so excited!  It's like discovering the characters all over again!  I get to explore new scenes with them, finding hidden gems.  Our relationship has the depth of years, with the shine of newness.  Damn!  I love writing!  It never gets old!

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