August 31, 2010

Asking Robin more about the writing process

 

I shouldn’t be this tired.  I feel like I must have just reinvented the wheel or something.*   And I’m supposed to write a blog entry?**

            However I did have an important bit of story delivery today.  You can fake around the holes to some extent and for a while, especially if you can feel the main story dragging you on*** but eventually you do need to know certain things.  In this case I have a war to direct.†  And the particular consignment that arrived today had some fairly critical Background World Development stuff in it:  I know this world fairly well at this point†† but I mainly know it as, ahem, I might know it.  And I’m not a magician.†††  Magic.  Feh.  If  this were your standard swords, archery and leather armour with some chain war, I could just research the freller.  As it is I have to wait for somebody to send me something.  And you know how delivery companies are.

            But I am reminded of some comments to the forum ten days or so ago, in response to The Cluelessness of Writers.  

EMoon wrote:  I have a character in peril. He may end up dead, or inhabited by a demonic presence, or suspected of same but not inhabited, or fine. I don’t know which it is. I have written all around the critical moments from other viewpoints. I have been inside his head to find out and…when I get near the critical moments there’s a blank . . . not one…single…person will share what’s actually happened. He’s important. . . . But they’re all in hiding from their writer. . . . thus I have to chase that fast-moving blurred shape down a very uninviting hole until I finally catch it and bring it up to the light, squirming in fright and biting my hands. . . .

Yes.  Sometimes they bite.  Sometimes you’re groping around in the dark and you know you’ve found something because it hurts.  YOW YOU LITTLE RATBAG.‡

             On the forum I answered: . . . I had one of those GOOD GODS OF COURSE moments out hurtling this morning–about some other story than PEG II of course, but it’s one that I even know the shape of . . . ‡‡ and there has been something Not Quite Right about it . . . which I think I now know. Where has it BEEN all this time? And what finally flushed it out where I could see it? (Actually . . . Pooka did the flushing. Which I hope means she IS in fact a force for good in this universe. There have been moments when I wonder. And I’m sure there will be MORE such moments.‡‡‡)  

Aaron wrote:  So I gather it is not always seeing new action that resolves these matters. Sometimes you realize you know something that you hadn’t realized you knew, perhaps because you asked yourself a different question. Do you also do detective work on the things you have seen? As if watching a mystery movie over again to see if you missed a clue?

Both ‘seeing’ and ‘action’ are mutable concepts.§  In this case it was more of a kaleidoscope turn:  somebody moved the endpiece and all those same flecks and fragments fell into a new pattern.  Eureka!  Sometimes—as in this case—there is an almost physical jolt to it—like having something bite your hand in the dark.

             Sometimes it is a kind of seeing that there’s been a cat curled up on the cushion all this time and it’s your own fault for thinking it was just a shadow—but cats are treacherous, and maybe it wasn’t there the last time you looked.  –Don’t give me that fat purring sleepy-eyed thing. 

             I wouldn’t call it detective work, the way I do it, which sounds much too calm and rational.  It’s more like looking for the car key (which is supposed to live in your pocket for just this reason) when you’re about to be late for an appointment, or trying to get your shoes tied while being cavorted on by a brace of happy hellhounds looking forward to their walk.  It’s got to be here somewhere/aaaugh I can’t see what I’m doing if you’re licking my glasses.   But going over and over stuff you already know—you think you know—you hope you know but you know you’ve missed something?  Yes.  Very much so.

Diane in MN quoted me:  Meanwhile I’m well over halfway through PEG II and I still don’t know if Fazuur is a good guy or a bad guy. And this is starting seriously to get on my nerves.

And wrote:  Do you find that this is a character who wants to grow as the story has grown? Given that you say he hasn’t been an important character yet, is he trying to become one? I can see that if you don’t know his ultimate role, he could really affect the arc of the story by becoming a bigger presence.

Oh, arc of the story, please, you’re going all rational again.  The arc of the story is one of those hindsight things for me.  Climaxes, for example—and all of PEGs I & II began with a climax that comes I think about halfway through PEG II—are merely the Really Exciting Bits that I don’t get to write unless I write all the stuff around them so they’ll be climactic enough.  The pulling down of a mountain on someone’s head§§—which is where SWORD started—wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it hadn’t taken over two hundred pages to get there.  There are writers who plan extensively—there are even writers who follow their extensive plans—I’m not one of them.  The nice way of describing my lack of method is to call it organic:   I write as the thing grows.  It grows longer as it goes through drafts, and there are always the bits you know, the bits you don’t know, the bits you wished you knew, and the bits that you think you know and don’t.  Fazuur is a bit I wish I knew and don’t.  The fact that it’s bothering me that I don’t know is probably significant—like one of those hunches fictional detectives get just before they uncover an important clue.  But whether Fazuur has a significant role to play . . . ask me at the end of the third draft.  When I’m handing it in to my editor.  I should know by then.  I hope. 

* * *

*The elimination process that involves dragging all those things that aren’t wheels is really hard work.  It was a very thorough elimination process.  And my condition has been intensified by my being too stupid not to go to Colin’s bell practice tonight—which  for arcane reasons, was held in his garage.  No, really.  He has a mini-ring, which is to say a bunch of bells the size of flower-pots hung upside down above the specially-soundproofed ceiling of his garage (and under the specially soundproofed roof of his garage:  there are neighbours).  And they (the bells) have (teeny) ropes with (teeny) sallies on them and everything.  But because the bells are so small and the wheels they turn on are also so small, your stroke—which is dependent on the rope going round the wheel to spin the bell—is very short.  So your bells are making their 360 degree turns forward and back really fast.  Which means you are ringing whatever method you are ringing really fast.  And I can’t handle the flighty little monsters, they keep going grand battement SPROING at me—and because they’re all so little they sound way too much alike,  dingdingdingdingding, so picking out the sound of your own bell or the treble for guidance is not an option—let alone ring the wretched things at twice the usual proper-big-tower-bell speed.

             They didn’t quite put me out on the kerb after practise for the dustbin men to take away tomorrow morning, but nearly. 

** Remind me what that is again?  I believe I do it every night?  Is it anything like falling asleep in the bath?  

*** Author as square wheel 

† I was really hoping I wasn’t going to have to run any more wars.  Two^ of the several Third Damar Novels have fairly comprehensive wars in them, which are among my reasons for not having got round to writing them.  Damar seems to be a curiously bellicose place. 

^ Probably three.  

††  !!!!!!!!  How do people survive writing series????? 

††† In this world.  There have been worlds I could do magic in.  Ahem.  

‡ I think I’ve mentioned here that there are, as there always are, stories that I don’t dare let loose my feverish grip on PEG II long enough even to write down rough outlines of^ hanging around TORMENTING me.  One of them, which I know I’ve mentioned, presumably here because where else is there^^, is about a middle-aged soldier who unexpectedly survived the assassination attempt she knew was coming, and now has to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.  While she’s escaping further would-be murderers, since it seems ungrateful to let them get her after all, various of her old colleagues catch her up and say ‘I’m coming too’.  The king who wants her dead is not popular.  She’s perhaps a little cranky^^^ about picking up an entourage. . . . And now there’s a baby.  A what?  Her feeling exactly.  And mine.  I strongly object to being kept awake nights by the screams of a fictional baby I’m not even writing about.   

^ I belong to the philosophy that says that if it’s important, it’ll either stick around or come back.  And if it comes back as something else, that’s okay too. 

^^ The idea of multiple blogs—which, for example, EMoon herself keeps—is more horrible than vampires to me.  

^^^ Now, where would that have come from 

‡‡ Tam Lin, in case you’re interested.  It’s a sort of . . . long short story.  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  Short stories are a little like wars.  I know going in I’m in trouble.  Although the first draft of this one exists, and it is a short story.  Well, maybe a novella. . . .   

‡‡‡ Er.  Yes.  

§ I want, irrationally, to call them verbs.  Which is perhaps a minor metaphor for the peculiarity of the writing process. 

§§ Please admire my lack of spoiler here, although I’d be surprised if there are any regular readers of this blog who don’t know THE BLUE SWORD.

comments

Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.