Saturday, March 31, 2007
Finding the Story
There are writers who sit down to a new project filled with joy and excitement. They write quickly through the first few chapters, reveling in the thrill of discovering new characters and creating the setting in which they live. I envy those writers. I am not one of them. For me, the hardest part of any book is the beginning. Every page of the first 100 or so is utter agony as I deliberate over every little gesture, weigh the far-reaching consequences of every decision, and try to find the character I'm writing about. For every action in a book, the character has a choice of numerous reactions, and every one of those will tell the reader a different thing about his/her character. Since I know very little about the characters when I begin writing, everything she encounters from page one--from dirty laundry on the bedroom floor to the guy who just totaled her new Mercedes--is going to tell me something about her I don't already know. Sometimes I wish I could just relax and let the character pour out of me, but I don't seem to be wired that way. I've done character profiles, character interviews, character journals, letters from the character, letters to the character. I've role-played, so that I've become the character, and still I agonize over every decision from whether she's wearing jogging shoes or boots, short pants or long, how she feels about dresses, makeup, and hair. And let's not even get started on the internal conflict that makes up her family dynamic! I'm at that stage right now with my current hero and heroine. I know their story. I know what's happened so far, and I know what's going to happen next (sort of.) At least, I know where they need to get by the end of the book, even if I don't know every step along the way that's going to get them there. But I don't know them. Until I do, every word I write is drudgery. On the positive side, once I get past 100-120, the writing becomes a little easier. Not easy, mind you, but easy-er. By that time, the characters have become familiar to me. I better understand how they're going to react to the events life places in front of them. The one downside to this is that frequently this means that they refuse to react to something the way I thought they'd react, and because they don't react the way they're "supposed" to, I have to rethink plot points and argue through the logic again in my head until it feels right. That's why, if you knock at my front door and find me sitting on the love seat, my feet on the footstool, my notebook computer open on my lap, my head back and eyes closed, don't make the mistake of thinking that I'm flaking off. Some of a writer's best (and hardest) work is done while the rest of the world thinks you're slacking off.