Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You think you know, but you're still on first draft

Perhaps because of your own experiences with your own attempts to learn effective techniques, but also in some considerable measure from your experiences as an editor, you have arrived at a significant dictum: Don't think. You are able with some confidence to tell students about this approach and it is appropriate to note here that you remind yourself from time to time of the discovery. Thinking has caused many stories to lose any sense of immediacy, with as little fizz as a bottle of Wal-Mart champagne. Thinking comes later, after the early drafts have been set forth and must now be held up to the light of your vision, which more often than not comes only after all the available material has been written.


This is another such time, a time to hold up the hand, open palm perpendicular to the floor, that classic gesture of stop--nothing beyond this point. You have begun to think in relationship to the novel in progress. You have even allowed yourself to reach the point of asking yourself questions, the most notable ones relating to the number of characters in the story and of the continuing appearance of points of view away from your protagonist. Each time you begin a work session on the novel, you have the thought of your protagonist scurrying about, trying to keep up with the proliferation of additional points of view, a distraction that cuts into your work time because, having let that genie out of the bottle, you struggle to get your protagonist back on stage. You become the editor for the project before the project is finished.

You already know the answer to the question, Whose story is it? If your protagonist were not in the story at all, the texture of the story would change measurably, possibly devolving entirely to the character who has hired your protagonist to find answers to her major question. In that scenario, she would still need help and the likelihood is that she could only get it from you as intrusive author.

Because this is the week in your review schedule to be working on a Golden Oldie, you have returned to a tale from your distant past, the chivalry and knights in armor landscape of Ivanhoe and your favored representative of antagonistic forces, Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, that quintessential, sneering Norman. You are also painfully aware of the way Scott stops the story with long sketches of detail and observation, addressed to the reader as though the characters were not there or could not hear the intervention. Thus are you loaded against authorial intervention.

Additional thus: You are reminded that the key to this narrative is the universality of secrets inherent in every character. You are reminded that you have, with this story, set out to break a mold, not because you thought that would be all that great an idea at the onset but because of your growing reality that the thing that will hold the story together is the picture of secrecy the story radiates. You are to be reminded that you are on a journey of dramatizing and further that this is not the time for thinking. Not now. Not yet.


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