Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bass Ackwards

One of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes is something along the lines of 'you never really learn to write novels- you only learn how to write the novel you've just written'. (Except, of course, probably better phrased than that, since he is, after all, Neil Gaiman...)

Certainly true in my case. Over the course of a dozen-ish novels (including the graphic novels) I have plotted and pantsed. I've thrown my carefully crafted plots out halfway through. I've outlined a scene or two ahead so that I'd have an idea where the words were headed. I wrote my first graphic novel from an outline on a single page of notebook paper, from an idea I got while face-painting children at a public pool.

I've pounded out pages on a 1920's Remington typewriter, tippity-tap-tap-tapped them on a variety of laptops, once even forged my way through some ugly writer's block by slowing down enough to use a 19th century dip pen. A. Dip. Pen. 

No two novel-writings have been alike. Maybe I'm still finding my particular groove. Maybe I'll never have just the one method. 

All I know for sure is, I've never had anything quite like this. 

I've been working on Paris Blues (not it's real name, I'm sure, but we gotta call 'em something) for some months now. I started as usual, vague idea of a plot arch, tapping at the laptop (well, HP mini notebook these days- easier to cart around) and well aware that my plots rarely go where I think they will. I was happy to roll along for the ride. 

Things got weird. For reasons I can't remember anymore, about 10,000 words in I found myself scribbling away in a blank notebook with a fountain pen. No complaints out of me: I find the shush of nib on paper, the glistening trail of ink to be the most sensual writing experience possible. And as sometimes happens, slowing down my hand speeds up my words. 

I was prepared for characters who seemed important in the beginning to fade as I went on. I was just as prepared to find new characters walking on with plenty to say, knowing they'd mean a pretty big rewrite at the beginning to fold them in. I was even ready to find that my gangster story was more of a murder mystery. Maybe. Or not. All part of the fun. 

What I wasn't ready for was the story to come at me out of order. I love Stephen King's analogy of writing a story as pulling at a buried thread. Well, this here thread seems to be one big tangle. I can see (kinda, sorta) where it's all going. Going-ish. Okay, so there's a sense of it all hanging together, but I keep getting scenes that DO NOT fit chronologically. 

On the one hand, I could leave them as they came, be the next Vonnegut, maybe win some kind of literary prize. More likely, I'm going to end up opening a second draft as I transcribe them into the laptop and start monkeying with things until the whole shebang makes sense. 

No Whitebread or Booker for me, but hopefully a story that's fun to read and hard to put down...


Angie said...

My first novel (which I only ever got five-point-something chapters into) was started by hand, in pencil, in a composition-book-sized spiral notebook. I was thirteen, and it was a really awful story. I learned a few things from the attempt, though, so it was worth the time and effort. :) The thought of writing even a short story by hand now kind of horrifies me, but whatever works, right?

Writing out of order is something else I don't do. Or try not to do -- occasionally I'll get an idea for a pivotal scene however far down the line and I'll jot it (or part of it) down to prevent losing it before I get there. In general, though, I'm a chronological order sort of writer.

I hope your knot comes untangled eventually. I have a knife you can borrow if it gets stubborn. :)


Steve Malley said...

Believe me, it's not my idea of a good time. So much of my suspense comes from the characters trying to outflank, outdo and outTHINK each other that I pretty much HAVE to right in chronological order.

Except, apparently, this one. Where I keep getting, 'oh yeah, this needs to happen earlier- need to write that now' and 'shit, I need to develop this relationship a bit more before I take it here' and...

Ugh. :)