Tuesday, March 02, 2010

God Complexes and Other Handy Writing Tools

My muse is an airhead. Just thought I’d get it out there. Okay, airhead’s a little strong – she’s just not detail-oriented. I often say things like, “The characters tell me the story, I’m just along for the ride.” And it’s true in its way. There is a certain element of my story that kind of lands in my head. I don’t feel right taking credit for it, because it doesn’t seem like there was any work in thinking those things up. Blam – there it is.

But then there’s the other thing. See, my muse hands me emotions. My muse drops things, like these great, witty lines and vivid pictures into my head. She shows me who my characters are when I’m doing something mindless, like singing in my car or zoning out in front of the glowing computer screen. But my muse only works in the abstract. She only cares what it makes me feel – and she doesn’t give a shit about the story.

Do these scenes make sense in a chronological order? Where are the plot points? What’s the point of that quirky character my muse keeps bugging me about, when they don’t have any part in the overall story but they can drop a killer line that makes me laugh out loud?

My muse doesn’t care about any of that. That’s my job. There’s the easy, effortless part of writing that’s all about going on the adventure. It’s all about feeling and being in the scene and loving these people who really only exist in my skewed little noggin. But then there’s the hard bit – plotting and pacing and paying attention to the facts of the world I’m writing. Not allowing myself to get so lost in the fun stuff that I let the real pieces of story slide. Because my muse might not give a damn, but I know that the story is all. Without it, all of the emotion and wit and work on craft mean nothing.

So when I say that my characters told me the story, it’s only part way true. I think they lead a lot, but there’s a very real, very hard bit of work involved on my end – the end that thinks it out logically. The end that cuts characters who I’d really like to hang out with – like Logan from Missouri who had this awesome bit of fiery dialogue with one of our antagonists. I loved Logan, but he was only necessary in one scene. No where near the overall arc. Out he went, into the world on his own... maybe my muse will bring him back one day. I think she’s still a little mad at me for axing him, but I had to.

We like to put all of this into romantic terms – we’re writers, regardless of our genre, poetic romanticism is our true currency. But the story is really ours. Our responsibility. Our job. Our decision. While I think it’s important to be true to the story, it’s our story we have to be true to – so when we make these mighty decisions on our characters’ futures and struggles, we chose it. Down deep in there, it wasn’t a predestined muse, or at least if she was involved, we made the decision to go with her there.

So what do you think? How much of your writing is you being true to the story and how much of it is hard-earned, well thought out decision making?


jjdebenedictis said...

This is an interesting topic, Merry!

Lately, most of my work seems like the laid-out, logical sort, but that isn't quite true. When I'm plotting a scene, I'm constantly interrupting my own thoughts to scribble down bits of dialogue. My muse seems to take her inspiration from the logistics.

It hasn't always been that way; I'm familiar with the POOF! MAGIC! sort of scene creation too--the kind where you have to wrack your brains to figure out where that stuff would fit...

Demon Hunter said...

I'm true to my writing, until it's revision time. ;-)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I spend a ton of time on organizing. It's my greatest fear as a writer. I still can't trust myself because I do major plotting after the first draft (or 5th who's counting) and try to force the story into a three-act structure. If feels like stuffing a pillow into a sandwich sized bag when I'm doing it.

And inevitably, I find the story always WAS three acts, nearly down to the page, to start.

And yet, I fear it. Really fear it.

I find more and more I must start with well-developed characters, live their fears and dreams, etc. Saves a TON of time on the back end.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi JJ,

I'm just now starting to really see the beauty in the logical, laid out scenes. I used to be very proud of my 'write by the seat of my pants' form of writing, but the further along I get the more detrimental I think that is for my process.

The WIP what killed me has been a long time in the incubator - too flippin' long for a productive writer. And I think that's largely because I resisted outlining for so long - to the point that when I tried to outline, I would get sidetracked on other projects which I think is my own little fear of failure rearing it's ugly head to thwart me.

A few months ago, I finally buckled down and wrote out the full outline, and then this past weekend I pulled it back out and revamped most of it, making notes, adding scenes - I spent almost the entire weekend lost in my novel with very little actual writing going on - but this week, it's flowing.

I'm still not sure I want to do to one character what I have mapped out, but I've come to the conclusion that it's my choice. It's my choice depending on the type of book I want it to be. It's not a matter of being true to the story, some indefinable destiny that's beyond my control. It's more about being true to the story I want to tell. There's a subtle difference, but it's there.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Demon Hunter,

:-) That's a good way to look at it, everything's on the table if it will improve the novel.

Hi SS@S,

I think my problem has largely been that I have been spending all of my time on character. The characters and their development are of more importance to me than the story or plot - and for me, that's a problem.

What I was doing was getting lost on little side excursions that had nothing to do with the story (because I hadn't made the plot strong enough), and because I found the characters, themselves, so entertaining.

Knowing the characters is an integral part, don't get me wrong. But I think for me, that was always my strong suit. So now I need to work more on the things that I'm weaker on, like making sure the plot and story are tight and the pacing doesn't lag.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think it's worth the time putting in on organization. It makes me realize the magic. Every book I've written has it. Like SCAR, when I realized what the Barren actually is I realize how many things (like ten or more) in the story had pointed me in that direction. So call it magic or whatever, but I guess it's really my subconscious talking.

I'm trying hard on the next book (not started yet) to focus on my FEARS. Why do I want to write that particular book? Therein lies my theme, like you said, what kind of story I want to tell? Knowing why helps me a great deal.

Sigh, though, I have a bad feeling that I have to actually write and let the story tell me. Lots and lots of character examination helps me get there quicker though.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi SS@S,

You know, I think there is a bit of subconcious knowledge that comes out in the writing process, that we might not even be aware of... and then you look back and analyze your own writing and, blam, you get more layers of thought than you intentionally put in.

It's actually pretty awesome when it happens that way.

There's so much of writing that's really a study of humanity. I think as long as you're growing as a person, you grow as a writer. It's when you stop believing you need to learn anything, that the stories lag.