Saturday, September 15, 2012

You. Behind the 8-Ball, Corner Pocket.

In recent days, you’ve been focusing on the need to avoid bringing out tricks and devices that got you out of narrative difficulties in previous work.

True   enough, there are some themes that seem to have been hard wired into you.  These are apt to remain with you for some time to come if not for the remainder of your writing life, but these themes, say privilege or entitlement, or expectations, are Petri dishes wherein new strains of story may evolve then flourish.  Themes are not your target here—taking it easy is a target, underestimating or undervaluing a project is a target.  Comfort zones are splendid targets.

Why should a writer be comfortable at work?  Your answer to that is a trifle defensive.  Of course a writer should have the tools she or he requires, close to hand.  If not a computer, a note pad and enough pens or pencils to help get the work down.

A writer should have, in your case, sufficient coffee at hand, perhaps not Peet’s espresso forte or Garuda, but at least a can of Medaglio d’oro or Chock-full-of-Nuts hidden away in the bowels of the refrigerator and a reasonably alive coffee maker.  Some writers seem to prefer cats as companions.  Indeed, one of your early collaborators was a neighbor’s cat who’d become curious at the constant, Italian thunk thunk of your red Olivetti portable.  These days, your own preference is not just a dog but Sally.  On your evening walks, you’ve taken up with a few cats and thought having another at closer hand couldn’t hurt.

These are not the comforts you’re thinking about when you posit the need for a writer not to be comfortable at work.  Not enough coffee, a cranky computer, a snoring dog, these will have an impact on your work.  So, too, will fearlessness have an impact.  The wrong kind of impact, just waiting there to send you back over the work until you get the message.

The process should work like this:  You start with an intriguing, energizing idea that begins, almost as if on its own volition, the begin complicating itself.  You bring in characters to represent the charade players of the venture, sniff the air about them until you can smell their fears and sense the protective coating they’ve slathered on themselves like a sunscreen.  With some deliberation, you write them into a corner, where they might sense feeling hemmed in, perhaps even caught or, better still, trapped.  They are about to be discovered in ways or situations that are intolerable for them.  The beauty of the process rests in the fact that you cannot merely say, “She was nervous, uneasy.” Or “He began to fear for his life.”  You have to surround your characters with that great dramatic word “circumstances.”  They have to be surrounded by so many circumstances that even you, the creator here, begin to fear they will be caught out, discovered, revealed.  All of this will have the effect on you of making it easier for the characters to experience the tension you intend.

In some novels of suspense, a character with such fears of being “discovered” or “caught out” might well resort to murder to silence the person or persons who would bring to light the very evidentiary material the primary character wishes to reveal.

So there you are, trying to force your characters into a corner in order to make their circumstances seem more intense and compelling, thinking you’re like some organist, pulling out all the stops.  Only problem is, it doesn’t come out well enough because, you see, you’re manipulating.  It only works when you experience the inner pinch, your size eleven ego stuffed into a size nine.

You need to write your own way into corners where you yourself fear being caught, where your comfort blanket is jerked from under you, where you have no protective coating whatsoever.  You are almost at the point where you are too embarrassed to be seen, thus naked, in front of your readers.

Then and only then does your story begin to come to life, you via your characters, wondering how you got into such a mess and how the bloody hell how you’re going to extricate your sorry ass from this one.

Last week’s rescue cuts no ice here.  This is a newer, more fraught situation.

You take another pull on your coffee, take a peek to see if Sally’s doing okay, maybe needs to go outside for a quick pee, but then you’re back in, already noticing your hands with a slight shake, your tummy with that slight quiver signaling a potential eruption of the entire digestive tract.

Now you’re out of comfort and, for a moment or two, ready to get to work.  You will not find it easy, remaining there, in that state of readiness.  Welcome to the club.

This was what you wanted, wasn’t it.

Louder, so they can hear you.

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