Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rummaging in the Plotland Midden

I swore to avoid editing until I finish writing the first draft of this novel. I had good reasons, I thought.  Too much early editing and the story would lose vibrancy and a sense of immediacy.  Too light a touch and the story would remain  unfocused, lacking logic or being inconsistent in the drive to a conclusion (as opposed to THE conclusion, which probably won't be clear until the fifth or sixth revision, if then.)  The reason was also, as I've discovered over the years, that the act of editing changes the story instead of merely imposing structure and clarity.

Such is the case as I struggle onward with this damned novel.  At sixty thousand words of vignettes and encounters I suddenly found clarity of purpose, an overarching plot element that has been at the source of my unease these past weeks.  I had four or five minor arcs but nothing to coalesce the story into a unified whole.  But the halfway point is NOT where you suddenly inform the reader of what the story is really about.  Groundwork must be laid early in the book, foreshadowing must be employed, and you must also add metaphor and imagery of the objective.

But doing that means revisiting the earlier parts and inserting the necessaries. It also means cutting away some crap that no longer fits, adding more stuff to replace it, and perhaps changing the order of events.  Naturally (I am unable to resist) I HAVE to line edit as I do these things - a task I swore would wait until I finished the whole thing and reached the ending I'd only vaguely conceived as I scribbled along.

The conceptual endings for most of my stories, the endings I work toward as I set up the very first scene, inevitably changes by the time I reach them.  They change again during the rewrite when the story's flaws become apparent.  I usually put them into a Swanwick bread safe for a week or two after what I imagine might be the penultimate draft, and upon re-reading, usually fine tune the ending, only to write a completely different one right before submitting.  Don't ask why I do this because I don't know. Is it a flaw of character, of training, of lessons not learned, because every time it happens I swear I will never, ever do it again.

As I will no doubt discover when I reach the end of this piece.   I wonder if there is a malevolent muse sitting deep inside my mind who takes glee in torturing me before finally revealing what should have been apparent at the outset.  So too will it do with this.

As a result of all the foregoing I seem now to be free writing the last half of the piece while modifying and editing the first half so the two will match.  It provides an interesting dialogue as the writing informs my editing and vice versa. Perhaps this combination of focused editing and free association will work best for me.

I hope I learn more as I race to finish this on the schedule I've set up. Stay posted.


Friday, April 18, 2014

A Fork in the Road: Revise or Continue?

Over the last couple of weeks I've complained about being Lost in Plotland and then thrashing about in The Plotland Swamps for sixty-some thousand raambling words. Several times I've lost courage and wanted to abandon this writing free of structure, allowing whatever comes next to mind as the words pour forth.  It has been a confusing effort for one who usually takes an engineering approach to composing stories.  This scene, description, or discussion needs to go earlier, I sometimes think as I'm pounding out words upon words.  I pause and ponder where I might put that fragment and then, recalling my promise to write, write, write like the wind, I continue on, with a note to correctly place those bits during the inevitable revision.   But I worry.  I seem to be writing a LOT of these misplaced pieces.   Perhaps I should put them in their proper places now and ....

No, no, no!! That's my Structure Muse trying to take over the controls.  Has your time come, I whisper to him/her?  Should I continue to write like a careless fool, paying little to logic or consistency in the headlong drive to a conclusion (as opposed to THE conclusion, which will probably appear on the fifth or tenth revision, if then?)  Maybe it wouldn't hurt if I stopped to revise and edit the material already written before attempting to finish?  Or would it be a mistake to arrest the flow and step back?  Should I unshackle SM to revise and edit the material already written before attempting the finish?

Then I remember my promise to dive headlong into this experiment and decide to keep SM locked away until my raw creative fires have burned away and the story is at last abandoned, if not "finished."  Only after the tale is done I will avail myself of SM's editing skills.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Plotland Swamps

Last week I complained about being Lost in Plotland.  This week's contribution relates to the thrashing about that continues as I plunge ever deeper into the swamp of misdirected plots.  The more I try to untangle the vines of confusion, the tighter they seem to embrace the characters.  Soon, if I do not figure some means of extricating them, they will become one with the rigid trees, not only unable to change, but unwilling to do so.  Already their feet are immersed in the plodding mud, straining to take each slow step forward.  Instead of moving the plot along they talk about the surrounding morass, chatter of past experiences, go on and on about relationships, and complain of how miserable they are to have come so far from the bright path they set upon at the Introduction.

"Blah, blah, blah," they say, filling pages with empty dialogue that does not advance either the main plot nor even advance this byway in the slightest.  "This should not be," the writer screams.  "I have set them on their quest, established the POV characters, and had them encounter the first of three setbacks. Why is this story wandering so far from my three part construction?  Why is this story NOT bending to my will?"

Since I began writing fiction (to escape from the more technical stuff that actually paid decent money) I have taken an engineer's approach to crafting the story's structure, detailing the parameters of each (necessary) scene, describing characters in fuller detail than will ever appear in the final version,  and of course doing the research so the story will seem "real" to the reader. I will shamefully  admit to using verisimilitude where accuracy wouldn't work.  So far my scientific approach to writing has allowed me to write hundreds of stories, a few of which I've sold.

But back to the point of this rambling, so like my cloudy story:  Could it be that my writerly mind is  rebelling against the way I work?  Could it be that by forcing a structure on the first draft, of trying to bend the plot to my will, of trying to make the characters behave, my brain is telling me to let the story go where it will? Is it insisting that writing without an outline, without a known plot, without determining where the story will go is how I should proceed?

That seems an anathema, insane, and extremely risky. Dare I let loose, write without forethought, babble on and on with little sense of purpose?  Others tell me this works, but I have only their word for it. I suspect in my heart of hearts that they, like me, struggle endlessly to keep their stories under control and feign to admit it. Yet, yet there is the chance that such a radical departure might be worth the risk. All I have to lose is this sorry draft that remains mired in the swamp of confusion.

Do I dare?


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lost in Plotland

You've been there, I am certain.  You have a great story that's developing well.  The words flow easily.  The scenes can be conjured up on the spot, and the dialogue seems realistic (well, as "realistic" as fictional speech can be*)  You kicked it off with a great premise and the story development using flashback and foreshadowing are working.  Things are going wonderfully.

And then an idea occurs to you (and when doesn't it?) - something not in the original plan for your story, but which is really, really interesting and/or fun and abruptly takes the story off on a tangent.  Sure, you say to yourself, this brilliant new subplot might add a little more length to the story, but why not if it pays off in the end?

With that in mind and the confidence of hubris, you begin to flesh ot the subplot with bit more description,  add a character or two, scribble a bit of explanatory dialogue, and frame the whole thing in already established settings. You roll along, feeling wonderful about the way things are going to go, quite unaware that your unconscious writer's brain, aka "Muse" disliked where you were originally heading and wanted to divert you.

Suddenly you find your plotting vehicle has gone twenty miles off the road you so confidently set upon and cruising in territory not completely thought through.  In a panic you try to bend the plot back to where you thought you'd left the road, but it is no longer where you thought it was.  You are lost!  Panic sets in as you figuratively cast about, searching for a path that will take you back without success.  Every twist and turn you attempt confuses matters more. The plot compass isn't working any more.  In desperation, you try diagrams, outlines, chronological lists, everything you can think of to bring clarity to your story, but nothing seems to work. The draft is such a complete mess and beyond redemption that you contemplate dumping the entire subplot, but the new story is in YOUR head and so interwoven  that you cannot ignore it.  It would be like revising history.  No, there must be a better way to align the stars and plot your course.  There must be some magic that will clear the confusing mist away.  There must be.

And it is called editing.

*Real conversation, usually transcribes to sound like the babbling of rude idiots