Saturday, August 11, 2012

Genesis of a Novel - Into the Fray

While I never doubted that I would finish, I often worried how I would start the next chapter or from where the next conflict would come.

I needn't have.

The answers came.  They always came.

And off I would go on the back of that horse across the plains.  The pace I wrote really did have a Pony Express feel.

I would love to say that I created these characters however complete or fragmented they are.  But I can't.  Each presented themselves to me.  I tweaked a trait or two here and there, and have since incorporated suggestions of friends.  But my sense is that each walked up and said, "Here I am, Rock.  Take me as I am, and be gentle."

Well, obviously in a novel a writer can't be gentle or there would be no conflict, so I figured to put them through their paces.  Had some great ideas, too.

Didn't work that way. 

They took over and showed me where to go, and it was a far better place than the one I had in store for them.  Better story wise, conflict wise, everything wise.  I know this sounds so out-of-body as to be ridiculous, but it's the best way I can describe what happened.

I struggled to maintain control, even butted heads once with my female protagonist.  She won.  I tried to force something into the story, and she wouldn't let it happen, plain and simple.  So I walked around my apartment a few minutes, rubbing the back of my neck, and then sat down and wrote it her way.

Her way was the right way, too, I've since learned.

To give a better illustration of my lack of total control, two characters I imagined to be minor characters worked themselves into major supporting roles.  They presented their case to me, told me what was what.  I went with it, and am so glad I did.

Let me say that I was not channeling a story from the creative deities.  This is, ultimately, my story, and I did have the final say on all matters.  No character controlled the words I typed, though they often disagreed with them.  No automatic writing happened during the entire process I assure you.

Everything happened within the walls of my imagination, and maybe that was the biggest thing I learned about myself in this process.  On draft one, the imagination is a playground.  Let them play.

I did, and am damn happy about that.

What it allowed me to do was to get all of them emotion on the page.  Let the love affair happen -- more on that next week -- before the marriage.

What I have, then, in draft one is the sculpture of a story.  I look at it and see the details I need to carve out to give it depth and dimension.  It's not there yet.  A reader unfamiliar with the writing process would come out of it wondering about how in the world a writer could be so careless.

Here's an example.  The entire novel is set in northwest Arkansas, from Ft. Smith, all the way up to the Rogers/Bentonville area.  In fact, I actually used Rogers to start with.  I decided it would be better to create a fictional town in that area so I gave it a name, then continued on without going back to make changes.  I just noted on a pad that it was a change to make later and powered on.  A few chapters later I change the spelling of the fictional town on the recommendation of a friend, so we have two different towns and two spellings of the fictional town.

Not to worry, I thought.  These changes are fodder for draft two "with the door open."

In this case, not pausing to go back and make those changes immediately, allowed the characters to play and for me to get all of the emotion on the page, all of the guts.  I hope I did that.  I think I did that.

I know I did that to at least a certain extent.

Stay tuned next week for Part Three

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