Archive for the ‘Larger than Life’ category

More of the same

November 21, 2010

The story of my WIP, Larger than Life, is slowly revealing itself to me. It seems that each week I better understand my protagonist and can better envision him not only in plot-forwarding situations but in how he will behave in those situations. I make my copious notes when I’m away from my laptop, and I manage to transcribe them and even put some of them into fresh words when I’m before it. I managed to put down more than 2,000 fresh words in a recent writing session, which I consider highly productive (for me) but probably not sustainable on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve mentioned here a few times that I really have no use for NaNoWriMo as a tool. (I’m happy if it works for others, though.) I can see from my process that it would not work for me. The reason is that I am discovering my story as I write it. While The Sleep of Reason (still no news) is predominantly plot and tone based, Larger than Life is mostly character based. I am getting to know my characters at a measured and thoughtful pace that I don’t think would work under a month-long, artificially imposed word count system. If all I were doing was writing a plot-based story, maybe I could see some value in NaNoWriMo (again, for me). Or if all I wanted was to get the bare bones of a story’s plot in place in a hurry, that process might work for me. But I would have to have the plot mostly fully realized in my head before the month began in order to work productively under such high pressure (for me). This is how I happened to write my recent short story, “Diaspora.” But as I said, I had the plot nearly fully worked out for that one, and it is a short story, not a novel.

The point of all of this babbling is that Larger than Life continues to gain critical mass and momentum (if I may mix a metaphor), and I know I will finish writing it. (There had been some doubt. I have other projects I really want to get going, but I can’t do two such things at once.) It may be the novel I had to get “out of the way” or it may turn out to be a finished work. Either way, I’m getting there.

Percolating

October 31, 2010

I wonder how many stories I would have written by now if I weren’t waiting for them to be “ready.”

Somewhere along the way I came to the notion that I needed to have a story fully imagined in my head before I started writing it. And it’s true that I made an embarrassing number of false starts with stories — really just ideas, images, characterizations — that didn’t have legs, so to speak. My hard drive is littered with the corpses of these failed attempts.

Still . . . I’m not sure this is a fruitful stance. My hard drive is also filled with “notes” for stories that I may never write as I wait for them to be fully imagined in my head. Lately I’ve found that if I just push my way past this imagined barrier, I tend to produce the core of something worthwhile.

I come to this realization because I am reflecting a great deal on how different it has been working on my WIP, Larger than Life, compared to the completed-and-being-shopped-around The Sleep of Reason. The latter wrote itself. There were many times when I felt the story was being revealed to me and that I just had to keep up putting it in writing. Larger than Life, on the other hand, is only coming grudgingly from that murky creative part of my brain. Every writing session is a chore, a voyage of uncertainty, and yet each time I am pleased with what I have done.

The fullness of the story is percolating in my head. Hardly a day goes by now when I don’t have some realization or insight about it, some really substantive understanding of the characters’ relationships or the implications of an act (or the foreshadowing for the act). The writing isn’t getting any easier, but the connectedness of it all is growing more clear by the day.

And I think this is happening, in part, because I am forging ahead with the writing even though I know the story is not “fully imagined.” I think the act of forcing it forward is compelling me to achieve these insights and understandings. If so, then this has been a valuable lesson to learn.

It makes me think that I should take up some of those short story ideas I have floating around and pushing my way to getting the core of something about them written as well.  (In fact, my recent success with the story “Diaspora” resulted from something much like this.) Now it’s just a matter of stealing the time to do it from the myriad of other things that need doing.

Looking for momentum

October 26, 2010

As of today, I have more than 23,900 words drafted for Larger than Life. That is comprised of six and a half chapters of wildly divergent sizes. (Chapter one is only 1,732 words while chapter two is 5,471.) I am making progress; I am moving through this, but it still feels as though I am swimming in molasses. I know where I want the story to go, how it must march toward the required end. And I now have a clearer sense of the narrative voice to use (though I haven’t really applied it yet since I’m still assembling the skeleton of the tale). But the story is not yielding itself to me easily, not in the way The Sleep of Reason had when I was writing it.

Some of the time I think that this story is not worth the telling and that I would better spend my time getting started on a completely different novel. I realize that’s a commonplace reaction, apparently at about this point in the process, so I try to ignore those thoughts and forge ahead. I have two novels that I abandoned when this happened to me before. One truly was not worth the trouble and the other was more a political screed than a novel, so I don’t regret giving up on either of them. But I don’t want that kind of surrender to become an easy habit.

At other times I think that if I can pull this story together, it will be the best thing I’ve ever done, with perfectly realized characters and relationships. If The Sleep of Reason is more fantastic, Larger than Life is grounded in real life, in mundane, day-to-day actions and reactions. The former is more plot driven; the latter is more relationships drive. Perhaps that is why it is both challenging and full of potential.

I’m embarking on the pivotal chapter, the introduction of the second most important character and pretty much the halfway point of the story. True, if this really were the halfway point, then I would end up with a novel of fewer than 50,000 words, but that’s not going to be the case. On the one hand, a wholly new chapter presented itself to me in the last few days, one I had not imagined before in the rough outline in my head, so that will increase the word count and the texture of the story. On another hand, I have a new character to begin depicting. She will be both an antagonist and a friend for my central character, so that dynamic should fuel a lot of growth in the story. And finally, there’s that narrative voice I keep hinting at. Once I begin applying that I expect the telling to go off in some interesting directions.

I just wish all of these factors would come together for a while and flow through my fingers without a fight.

Flesh and bone

October 17, 2010

I wish I could tell you that I’m making dandy progress on my WIP, Larger than Life. Or I wish I could tell you that I’ve given it up as a failed effort and moved on to something new. But I’m lost in some nether region where I can’t get to either place.

I continue to scribble words for the story, and I’m making some headway in getting it told, but I sure don’t feel the momentum I’d felt at this point with my earlier novel. Half the time I think my story isn’t worth the trouble of telling. (For another view, have a look at this.) And then I’ll go back and read some of what I’ve written and really like the kernel of what is there and get enthused again. Even so, it still feels as though I’m assembling the skeleton of the story and not yet writing the real thing. Yet hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of some detail to go back and add to what I’ve already written, so maybe I’m putting some flesh on those old bones. In fact, I sat down the other day and wrote more than 2,000 words — pretty good words — in one sitting.

I did have a pretty big thematic realization that will color everything I write about the story. My character is hungry, which doesn’t seem like much but just go with me that this really affected my understanding of what is going on.

I also have reached a conclusion about the narrator of the story. I had jokingly told myself I should do this with the narrator, and then the more I thought of it the more I both liked it and saw how it could work. So now I think I have control of the voice of the story too. (Hence I am heeding my own advice.)

On balance I’d say I’m winning more skirmishes with this story than losing, so I’ll keep at it.

Bit and pieces and Life

October 3, 2010

There are plenty of metaphors for the creative writing process. I’ve sometimes likened my process to a train ride: I know where I’ll get on. I know where I’ll get off. I know some of the stops along the way. But the people I will meet and the things that I will see are always unknown at the start (even at the halfway point sometimes).

Larger than Life has been poking along. I’m writing it, and I’m making progress. But so far I just don’t feel that same momentum I did with The Sleep of Reason. I’m sure it will come once I get more of it written but right now it just feels as though I am assembling a skeleton of a story. And that seems to be my new metaphor.

I’m writing my chapters, but they seem too brief to me. I have the bones of the story, and I’m putting them together in the proper order. Yet where is the fleshy substance? I tell myself that as more of the story gets in place I’ll see more relationships between the events and characters and themes and tone, and I’ll know to go back to chapter whichever to fill in some gaps and prepare the reader for later revelations.

I suppose it will fill out over time, and I’m not really writing toward a deadline or a specific word count, so I’ll just keep on keeping on and see what may come.

“Straight on till morning”

September 15, 2010

I’ve mentioned here before that the first chapter of my WIP, Larger than Life, will be radically different in tone and narration from the rest of the story. And because it will presage much of the protagonist’s subsequent state of mind, I wanted to save the writing of it until last so I’d know better just what it is I wanted to presage.

Okay, so I’ve changed my plans. I found that as I wrote the rest of the story (I’m somewhere in chapter six right now), I was going back to my notes file for chapter one to work out how this or that symbol or foreshadowing would work. And what I found was that I had already worked out enough of chapter one to simply go ahead and write the thing. Which I did over the last few days.

It’s pretty good as it stands, but I consider it mostly just a skeleton. I’ll hang more substance on it as the rest of the story evolves. Still, it was satisfying to get the draft done. Right now it stands at 1500+ words, which is a little lean but maybe okay for a first chapter that is going to be so utterly different from the rest of the novel.

I had a hard time with chapter five, but I think I have its skeleton finished as well. I knew what I wanted to do with the chapter, and I did it, and then I looked at it and felt it was insufficient. I expect that as I work on the rest of the story, I’ll return to this chapter and flesh it out some as well. It’s an important chapter, the unrecognized beginning of the protagonist’s shift in character, so I’m sure it will need revisiting.

As to the title of this post, I’ve borrowed it from Peter Pan, and I’ve used it as the thematic last line of chapter one. The intention, of course, is to show my protagonist’s state of mind as the story begins.

Another pointless word count

August 30, 2010

Now that I’m back to working in earnest on Larger than Life (having finished the crash diet on the manuscript for The Sleep of Reason), I’m finding my way back into the narrative and moving it along.

My protagonist is growing more clear in my head. He visits me constantly with little revelations of what he would say or do or think or feel in various situations, and I make my notes. I’m finding that he really is an interesting character (though he doesn’t think so), with more complexity than I had first envisioned. As pathetic as he is (or sees himself) he’s grown challenging and fun to write. And the arc of the story has grown more clear to me as well as I’ve seen how I’m going to lead my protagonist through it. I had doubts about this story, that it didn’t add up to anything worthwhile, but those are gone now. While The Sleep of Reason is a more fantastic, thrilling story, Larger than Life is a more focused character study. It’s going to take a different kind of hard work to make it pull together, but I see that it can be done, and I even relish the challenge of making every single word count.

Anyway, I’ve only “completed” three chapters in first draft (and 39 words of a fourth — 39 good words), but already my word count stands at a fraction greater than 13,000. That feels like a healthy number for so early in the effort. I think it is the critical mass I so often feel I need when embarking on a story to sustain my motivation. The road ahead is long and winding, but I’m on my way. Feels good.

Noted

August 16, 2010

It isn’t all the latest rewrite of The Sleep of Reason around here (though that is going tolerably well). I have been working on Larger than Life, especially in the note-taking department. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have a few insights for the tale that I jot down to copy into my note file later. Mostly their little bits of texture or description, but sometimes I see a way to develop one of the themes in some fresh way.

I’m also pleased with the short story I managed to throw together during that blissful week I spent in New Mexico. It still needs some work, but the foundation is there. I’ve even identified a likely magazine to send it to. Good old Duotrope’s Digest! If the submission works, I’ll be sending them money again to keep doing their fine work.

Larger and Larger

August 2, 2010

I knew when I reached the inevitable crisis of doubt in writing my current WIP, Larger than Life — my certainty that the story was no good, that the writing was no good, and that my talent was no good — that I just needed to press on and the worth of it would come to me. This happened to me (more than once) as I was working through The Sleep of Reason (for which I have no news yet — good or bad — about landing an agent). I was hopeful that Larger than Life would pass through its own dark night of the soul and into a fresh hopefulness.

This happened over the weekend. Two revelations presented themselves as I was making notes about the overall story that gave me the perspective I needed.

One was that I identified a very good controlling metaphor. I’ve already spoken a little bit about it in this post, but I’ve since developed it a great deal more. I’ve often thought that a float trip is an ideal metaphor for life. Long stretches of ease punctuated by quick passages of excitement and challenge. The potential for surprises waiting around each bend. The occasional upset and recovery. I’m not exactly doing this with Larger than Life, but the idea of floating through life, and the various ways one can be seen doing so, will influence how I conceive and thus write the whole novel. I’ve already noted a number of ways a person can feel a weightlessness, literally and figuratively, that I’ll use. Weightlessness, in this sense, can be both good and bad for a character in a developing plot. In fairness to my mysterious creative mechanism, I already had several chapters planned that used this kind of metaphor, but I didn’t realize it. The flash of hopefulness I had over the weekend came in recognizing that this element was recurring in my plot. Once again I am beginning to feel that my story exists somewhere “out there” and that I’m being given the privilege of scribbling it all down.

The second flash of hopefulness came in a realization that my title, Larger than Life, had a second, deeper meaning than I had originally understood. A good character, especially a protagonist, will grow in some way over the course of the story. My protagonist, let’s call him Chris since that’s what I’m already doing, must get outside of himself in order to achieve the change he desperately needs (and sees that he needs). He’ll be able to do so when he makes his life larger than it is. (I also hinted about this idea in this post.) I suppose I had this understanding about the title in some unconscious way from the start. It is a title that just “popped into my head” and I suspect those things don’t generally just happen, at least to creative people.

Anyway, I think perhaps I have achieved the critical mass I mentioned in a recent post. The story has developed sufficiently for me to believe it is whole and worth pursuing across the distance.

Lies he knew

July 27, 2010

I mentioned yesterday that my protagonist, let’s call him Chris, gets contradicted about what he thinks of himself. His unspoken response to the good words spoken about him is,

Lies he knew.

That was how I wrote it the first time, but I think it is punctuated wrong. Better it should be,

Lies, he knew.

The former, I think, would mean there are some lies he was aware of and some he was not. The latter suggests — and this is my intent — that he knew what he was being told wasn’t true.

But what do you think?