Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing about Writing, How Novel.

I have been writing a lot more these last couple of months, which is actually quite nice. I am working on a “novel” that I have been endlessly prewriting and researching for literally years. In those years my life has changed a lot – new cities, new jobs, new relationships, school, blogging, and all sorts of different kinds of mental states - but all that time I have had this “novel” kicking around in the back of my head. Now that I am not in school and am single and have managed to finally find a groove at work that eliminates a lot of my stress, I have been tackling this writing thing with a renewed zest. I’m very proud of myself because this past weekend I sat down and wrote for SEVEN HOURS and completed about twenty-five pages. And this was not fun, lazy, stream-of-consciousness writing, no, this was writing with goals. Things needed to happen, dammit! Characters needed to be introduced, themes initiated, places described, clues dropped, mysteries begun, storylines tantalizingly interconnected with just the right amount of subtly.

Well last Sunday I finally cleared the 100 page mark. Although it is a completely arbitrary benchmark, it is a big deal for me personally because I always give a (big) novel about 100 pages to lay it all out for me, especially if there are multiple storylines involved (I am writing three main story lines with offshoots here and there for fun. And some point-of-view shifts in there too, just to make things more complicated and interesting. Plus there is some movement back and forth in time depending on the character(s) involved. This sounds needlessly complex, right? I know. Please don’t judge me. I’m building a fun house, okay? And a fun house has a lot of stuff in it.).

So I am very pleased at the moment. I feel like I have moved out of the beginning. From this point on I am writing the meat of it; the real story. A lot of writers like to break everything into a three-act structure just because virtually every story can be broken down this way if you look at it hard enough. I don’t think that way when I am building a story structure, but sometimes it can be hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re in the writing and I find it helpful to step back and try to see the three-act structure as I’m bumbling along. Well I’m 100 pages in and I have to confess that I am not yet at the end of my first act, but I’m getting there. And, more to the point, I’m excited about it!

If the first act is introducing your characters and setting the scene and laying out the conflicts, then the second act is all the stuff that actually happens and then the third act is your climax and trying everything up. Think of it as Who, What, and How. WHO is in this movie? What is this movie about and WHAT happens, and HOW it all ends. (I’m just riffing right now, none of this is scientific or English Department approved) Well lots of writers hate the second act, and I understand why, but I am really looking forward to it. As a reader or – say – someone watching a movie, the second act should be the good part. This is where all the car chases happen and the bank gets robbed and the protagonist gets double crossed and all that good stuff that you know and love, but the reality is that it can be a real drag to write because it’s all sort of obligatory at that point. The first act is fun to write because it’s like you’re creating these interesting people and getting to know them and there’s really no pressure yet. This is when you start to think, “Oooh! And later there is going to be an awesome car chase!” But by the second act you have already invented this person and they’re starting to annoy you because they aren’t doing what you want them to and you’re all like, “Listen motherfucker, you have a car chase to get to!” and you feel all of this pressure to get to the car chase already, but you do have to get there and you realize that nine other things have to happen before you can get there and you just don’t feel like writing any of those other nine things today, so you don’t and before you know it you have sixty pages of a story that you haven’t worked on in a year.

That’s what happens normally anyway. I will admit here that I am kind of a free-spirited, tree-hugging hippie when it comes to writing though, because I do not chart out - in great detail - what needs to happen in every single scene, and I often spend (too long) letting my characters wander around and find the world interesting rather than scooting them along to that car chase. Incidentally this is why I can’t write a decent script treatment to save my life (self-described screenwriters often consider this to be lazy, but I consider most self-described screenwriters to be fake writers, so, you know, there’s that).

Please now put your tray tables into the upright position because the captain has turned on the No Digression sign and we will now be returning to the main thread of this longwinded blog post …

The point is that I am actually excited about getting into the second act. I think because I have been living with these people (in my head) for so long and spent so much time working out the details (in college I took a mythology class specifically as a preparation for one day writing this story) that now I just want to get out there with them and make everything happen! So sure, the first hundred pages have taken me like five years (more or less) but I’m hoping that the next hundred pages (and all the pages after that) take months and not years.

These are very exciting times! And I’m remembering what I enjoyed about all of this writing stuff in the first place, which is a nice bonus.


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