Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lottery - Last Discussion on the Book Club Blog

Today we are wrapping up the book club blog discussion on Lottery. If you missed the previous discussions, you can find the first one, discussing Lottery’s presentation of society’s view on mental and financial success, here, and the second one, on the presentation of love and loyalty, here. I want to thank Patricia Wood once more, for her wonderful participation in an excellent series of discussions... She took a lot of time out of her schedule and carefully answered readers’ questions while inputting her own thoughts on the themes and writing process.

I’d like to take the time now to close the discussion with a special emphasis on the writing process. I know some of the readers on this particular series are not writers by trade, though I hope they will find it interesting, none the less. I thought, for this particular blog, it would be a fitting way to close. If you scroll through my entries you’ll notice a vast majority of them have something to do with the writing process. We did, briefly touch on some of the writing devices used in this novel in the comments from the first post, Stephen Parrish so eloquently started us off by pointing out the brilliant way in which Patricia allowed the reader to hear exactly what Perry’s relatives were saying in front of him. This allowed the reader to know exactly what was going on while Perry, who could hear but not completely understand, remained unaware of their exact intentions.

The most prominent thing to me was the use of first person here. First person has been used before, of course, but it’s a difficult type of writing to master for a number of reasons. One key reason for the level of difficulty in writing first person being that the audience can only see things through the eyes of the main character, thereby limiting their own understanding of events. With a narrator like Perry, at the outside you would think this point of view would be a detriment, but Patricia skillfully makes it a poignant positive. As Stephen mentioned earlier, the ability to hear what people are saying around Perry without him really understanding is an amazing, yet realistic way to see the entire picture without detracting from Perry’s character. The fact that people will often speak openly around a person of Perry’s mental ability works as a plus here.

What I found most compelling was Patricia’s ability to maintain the character’s voice throughout. This has to be a far harder task than people automatically assume. Reading just a few blog posts or interviews by Patricia, one can see that her usual writing voice is far advanced in both language and flow, than that of her character’s. I wonder how many times during revisions she had to have picked through, thinking, ‘there’s no way Perry would say that...’ I also applaud her deference to the story because I think it’s a natural thing for most writers to want to impress with their poetic prose – Patricia let simplicity of language and power of story do the work... and I don’t think that’s any small task.

Here’s what I would love to discuss, and anyone who cares to participate can. (of course we’d all love to hear from Patricia on this as well) How do you make your choices during the writing process? Do you have the story in front of you and decide it works best in first or third person? Do you start writing and see where it goes? Are you a researcher? Do you have the idea and then spend a good amount of time researching before you put pen to paper? Do you outline first or do you write by the seat of your pants?

Okay, guys, I hope you’ll all take some time to enlighten us with your own process or tell us what literary devices in the novel really impressed you. This will be the last post on the book club blogs for Lottery, but I’ll be sure to post something soon to let you all know where and when the next book club blog will be... in other news, the holiday is sneaking right up on me, so I will try to make it over to everyone’s blog at least once, but likely won’t post until after Christmas... So Merry Christmas to everyone out there. May it be full of great food, good company, and lots of love.


ORION said...

Merry you make a good point. Many people think first person is easier and of course you feel more immediacy - but it is difficult not to have it become "yourself." I think this is why it's hard to do. I think for me the key is "becoming" my character for the duration of the writing period (somewhat like acting) and setting parameters of what my character understands and what he doesn't.
After the first few chapters I had a good sense of Perry's voice- I made sure I re read the last few parts before I started writing each day to make sure there were no jolts and my editing /revising process was like that also- starting from the beginning and going straight through. I struggled how to portray people "talking" around him and finally chose italics for this purpose then had Perry essentially not react to what was said. Readers have said this worked for them and really made them worry for Perry.
I know some reviewers have said that Perry's voice is repetitive - but again that is a choice I made to keep the voice authentic with someone with a cognitive challenge- my first task what keeping Perry authentic and my second was to make the arc of the story compelling.

Jerseygirl89 said...

What an amazing discussion/book club you have hosted here. I loved reading it all.

I have more outlines than I have written work, so while that's my method I'm not sure if it's a good one for me!

ORION said...

When I get an idea I do a minimal outline of the story and then I put it into my idea file.
While writing a story I'm always messing with the structure and am not satisfied to start unless the first chapter and last chapter are written. I need to know where my story is going before I proceed. I also try to get my characters names chosen so I can begin to picture the them. I'm a really visual writer.
The novel I'm doing now has gone through tons of restructuring as I decide who's going to narrate the story.

Stephen Parrish said...

Lottery HAD to be in first person. Third person ran the risk of coming across as either condescending or empathetic, the line between them too fine, at any rate, for the likes of me to handle. But most importantly, there's no way we can see Perry's reasoning from outside his head. Flowers For Algernon was written in first person for the same reason. I bet the perspective chose Pat rather than Pat chose the perspective.

Another choice, of course, was present tense. Pat had more leeway here, but when I imagine Perry telling the story in the past tense, employing the past perfect (had gone) when necessary, the writing elevates to a level of sophistication that is probably too high.

I think it’s a natural thing for most writers to want to impress with their poetic prose---Patricia let simplicity of language and power of story do the work.

Excellent point. There was no author intrusion, no evidence the author had a higher IQ (you know what I mean!) or different gender than the protagonist. One good test of this was Perry's take on Cherry as an object of sexual interest. It was honest. It worked. I didn't get a sense of Pat sitting at her keyboard struggling with why men like T&A so much and trying to write her way through it.

What impressed me most, to answer Merry's summary question, was the voice. It was consistent throughout, and I agree with Merry, accomplishing that couldn't have been terribly easy. The voice is set, as it should be, in the very first sentence: "My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded." That's a pretty good introduction to the story's theme, too, and readers don't have to wait long to get it.

Family Fun & Faith said...

Merry, I write a lot, two sermons a week and other articles, etc. The only fiction I have written has been in response to blog challenges in the past couple of years, so you know the extent of my ability to add here.

I am always impressed when someone can see a whole story before it is told. Very God-like in a small sense. My imagination doesn't work that way. When I start an article, or a story for my grandkids, I have no idea where it will take us till I tell the story or write the article. Sermons are different, I usually try to make one point or move us from point A to point B.

I doubt that will be of much help to anyone reading the discussion, but I have really enjoyed this exercise and am looking forward to the next.

Do you have any idea what Shelly wants us to read?

Sun Singer said...

Thanks again, Merry, for hosting this discussion, and to you, too, Pat, for chatting with us.

As Stephen mentioned, the voice is set well with the first sentence of the book. When I was growing up, most novels were written in restricted third person, so that's where my comfort level is when writing. Like first, it, too, doesn't allow readers to see anything outside the knowledge of the protagonist.

While I think Lottery could have been written well in restricted third with interior monologue, first was a very good choice.

It's hard for me to imagine outlining a novel because, when I begin, I don't yet know where the characters are going to take the plot. One needs strong, well-defined characters in order to do that, and this was one of the Lottery's strengths.

I liked that you said, Patricia, about becoming the character. I do this as well, so I (as author) cannot intrude because I am not me when I am writing and thinking for that character. One lets the writing flow and one hears the character talking.

I am a fanatic when it comes to research partly because when I'm writing magical realism and stream of consciousness passages, precise facts not only anchor the material, but make it more likely the reader will believe the material. Had I written a book with a sail boat in it, my long-ago days of sailing would not have served me well enough, so even though I've always liked setting the sails "wing and wing," I would have looked it up anyway to make sure there wasn't the slightest error in my showing of it.

I liked the sailing and other marine-related parts of the book because, while I couldn't have written them, I knew they were right when I saw them.

Continued success with the book, Patricia, and with the WIP as well.


ORION said...

Stephen I never had a doubt that first person was the right vehicle for the story. I do struggle with people thinking that Perry's voice is how I write. To me present tense kept Perry's narrative simple- so did the use of contractions in dialogue but none in the narrative.
family- Some writers don't have a plan where they go with their stories and others (like me) have a story fully formed. That's not to say you aren't open to change. I did not know Keith was going to die until I typed the words- and then I was bereft!
Also Stephen I took great pains to have Perry's sexual awakening authentic- I had several guys read it over to make sure - interestingly there is a program at temple U that determines whether an author is male or female using cut and paste text and each time I put in text from LOTTERY it comes up with 80% that the author is male...interesting

ORION said...

Malcolm- re research
I try to place stories using my background but even though I sail and live on a boat I had sailors read and give feedback. When I thought the reader might not know a sailing term I had Perry define it or I used his memory of his grandfather. I didn't want my reader lost in definitions "a la Tom Clancy" LOL

Anonymous said...

As I'm not a writer, I don't think I can add anything to this post other than to say Thank you so much Merry for recommending this wonderful book and hosting the discussion. Patricia I absolutely loved Lottery - thank you so much. A very safe and happy holiday to all!

Angela WD said...

Wow, a lot of questions and some great responses here. I didn't read the book so I respond from my own writing.

I usually have a mood, scene, or image in my mind when I start a fiction piece. The voice and tense comes out of that, though (like a lot of people) sometimes it's a challenge to make it sound like the character and not just me.

I always have a sense of the basic plot that I'm writing but rough out the details as I go. I don't outline unless I'm getting stuck in the action. Sometimes I'll do a sort of mind-map to keep relationships or events straight. But mostly I plow through and take it where it goes.

It's so interesting how different people write in such varied ways!


silken said...

my only writing really is the daily/weekly blog, so that is nothing to speak of! I find myself often "planning it out" not an outline so much, but definitely falling back on the "format writing" I teach w/ my kids. I often think I know what I want to write, try to come up with a first or last line to "hook" and then proceed. There are times, though, when, as I've heard many of you authors mention and Patricia mentions here, something will just "appear" on the screen that I had not planned out.

I love the way the book began here. It really set the tone and drew the reader in immediately. I also appreciate the way Patricia really knew her stuff. I have mentioned to Malcolm before about one author I have read who keeps forgetting his details or getting historical facts wrong/mis typed. It is frustrating as a reader, and I've since stopped reading his novels, because of that and the predictability. I think this novel was handled well in those aspects.

good discussion Merry!

Merry Christmas! Enjoy the holidays!

Merry Jelinek said...

First, what a great discussion you all have contributed to!!! I'm sorry I've been so absent today, but this was a joy to come back to when I got back online.

I have a particular fondness for hearing about the writing process, because I find it so different from author to author. I am a write by the seat of your pants type. I have the characters firmly in mind, though they flesh out through the course of the first draft - by the time I go back to revisions I know even the side characters intimately... this method, though fun, makes for many, many revisions. The story forms as I go and the characters pretty much lead the way. Basically, I know the conflict and the resolution, but that's about it... the twists and turns it takes are a surprise to me, and I wind up having to tie up a lot of hanging plotlines in the revision because it is unplotted in the organized, outline sense.

I am going to try outlining on my next one to see if I enjoy the process as much that way because, logically, it seems like a much easier way to write with fewer revisions... okay, maybe not fewer... but at least not as extensive... on this one I've had to cut several characters and insert chapters... that was hard, because I liked the characters a great deal... but maybe I can use them down the road somewhere.

I think one of the things that drew me so much to Lottery was the intense character development. I don't think, however, that it could only be told in first person, though I do think it was an excellent choice for Patricia, and one she handled with a great deal of skill. First person reads comfortably, but it really is a difficult type of writing to master and I don't think just any author could have done so well.

I agree with Stephen, too, that mastering a male voice is another tell that the character was fully formed and real in the writing. Often you'll read a female character from a male author or vice versa and there is something distinctly off.

I did a little experiment some time back, blogging in character. Though the character was female, I looked at it in much the same way that Patricia described writing in first person, as method acting. I made mistakes and slipped out of character a number of times that I caught but it was a great exercise because it wasn't just having the character and thinking up obstacles and situations for them to react to, they were actually commenting with other people who I had no control over...


Shelly hasn't made it in yet, so I'm not sure when she's starting the next book club blog, though as soon as she lets me know I'll post about it here... that should be a great one to, Shelly's literary discussions are always fabulous.. I hope she will make it in before everyone's finished here, but I know she's been traveling a great deal this month.

ORION said...

Thanks everyone! I totally enjoyed myself and it was great fun to talk about LOTTERY and be a bit analytical. I welcome anyone to my blog or to email me with questions or comments about LOTTERY or the writing or publication process.
Happy Holidays everyone!

Merry Jelinek said...

Merry Christmas, Patricia!!!

I've blogrolled you under my 'Authors to Watch' section and I'll be stopping by when I can... can't wait to hear about your WIP!

Thanks again for the fantastic discussion and taking so much time for my blog and your readers.

Ello said...

I agree with SP - lottery had to be written in first person and I think Pat you did an amazing job with it. I'm sorry I was too late for the discussion, again. I've got a house full of sick kids since MOnday and now my hubby is home sick too! But I have really enjoyed reading the post and all the comments.

Have a wonderful Christmas holiday1

ORION said...

You're never too late! I will check back periodically to see if there are any more questions. Thanks for being a fan of LOTTERY!
(Sorry everybody's sick!)

Sustenance Scout said...

Just a quick note: Another great discussion thread! Interesting the lives a single book can lead before it makes its way to the reader. I usually outline the heck out of my novels with emphasis on plot plot plot and am trying to advance beyond that by writing short stories on the fly during this school year. A helpful experience, especially when you really want your characters to compell the action and not your preordained plan. Character consistency and development ring so true in LOTTERY! It truly is a gem of a read. K.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Ello,

Thanks for stopping in, believe me, I understand sick kids and holiday strain, besides you can comment whenever you like the posts aren't going anywhere... I haven't been making the rounds very much in the last week or so, either. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Hi Sustenance,

It is so interesting the different routes that work for different authors. But I agree with you that the character is the most important aspect of good fiction... I'll be trying the outline method on my next, I'll let you know which I like better...

Oh, and definitely, Lottery held its voice throughout - the characters were brilliantly done.

Shelly said...

Hi Merry, and again... apologies for being so late!

I'm going to put up a list of choices for the next book blog discussion, and see how everyone feels about these. I'll post it over at my place too.

Here's what I have in mind at the moment:

Noises Off by Michael Frayn
This one won't necessarily be an easy read. It was recommended to me by Malcolm in response to my recent post on the TV series "Slings and Arrows." I haven't read it yet, but it looks fun, and challenging, and like something worth discussing.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I'll be a doing a lecture on this early next year. Maybe a good in-blog discussion would help me get my thoughts together. (And also give me a place to discuss the things I can't cover in a lecture where the topic is more limited to what "has" to be covered.)

The Plato Papers by Peter Ackroyd
This is a novel set in AD3700, but there's nothing sci-fi about it. It is funny and satirical. It is all about how we interpret the things that have gone before us, and our relationship to all of that.

The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher
It's a travel narrative about the first trip afoot through the Grand Canyon. I haven't read this yet either. It's one that Pinhole recommended to me, and it is on my wish list.

I'd be happy to lead a discussion on any of these. I'll leave it to a group vote, if that is ok. I'll put up a post now, giving these options. If you don't mind linking to the new post, maybe that will help us make a decision and set a date.