Posted tagged ‘Larger than Life’

Out of my mind

February 28, 2011

Not an hour goes by that I don’t have some idea or impression or solution for my novel-in-hibernation, Larger than Life. (As I noted before, I’ve even had this happen in my sleep.) If I’m not near my computer, I jot my note on a piece of paper (with a mechanical pencil, of course) to transcribe it and incorporate it later.

By the time I’m at the computer, I usually have a pile of these notes waiting for attention. And if it’s not for Larger than Life it’s for Finnegans Deciphered (the one I am working on right now) or for any of a half dozen novel and story ideas I’m gestating.

I have no complaint about this. It’s how I evolve my ideas, and eventually enough of it gels into a whole.

What’s curious to me, though, is that absolutely none of this is happening with my novel, The Sleep of Reason. I’ve finished that novel, and I’m (still) shopping it around, but unlike everything else I’m working on, no fresh ideas are coming to me for it. Zilch. Zip. Nada.

Is it because that novel truly is finished? Or is it that I have closed my mind to it, believing it is finished? Or am I simply not allowing myself to give any more creative effort to it. I don’t know, and I don’t suppose I care either. The ferment that I’m currently experiencing for my other efforts had happened to me at the same pace when I was toiling through The Sleep of Reason. I was in the thick of it back in those days (not so long ago either). Which is why I’m a little surprised that it’s not still happening.

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.

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.

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.

Larger gets larger

June 29, 2010

I’ve had a productive time with Larger than Life since I last made a progress report. I’ve gotten about a third of chapter four down in first draft. (I consider that if I can get a 3,000-to-5,000 word chapter in first draft written in about two weeks, I’m making excellent progress.)

I’m not planning to number the chapters (as I had with The Sleep of Reason). Rather, I’m going to give them thematic names, each using the word “light” in some way. So I have “Travel Light” and “Making Light” written, and I’m working on “Light Headed.” (Next up, “Seeing the Light.”) Even though they won’t be numbered, they will need to be read sequentially for the story to make sense. It’s that first chapter, the oddball one that is going to be so different from the rest of the novel, that requires me to be rigid about the order. (That one will probably be titled “Lighter than Air.”) Plus, my protagonist makes progress through the tale, so it’s important to maintain a sequence.

I know many modern (and not-so-modern) novels barely show chapter breaks, much less use numbers or even titles. I’ll confess that when I read most Iris Murdoch novels, I can never tell why a break might be a mere two lines, half a page, or a whole page. Does she have some thematic reason for this that I don’t get? One novel I read in graduate school, Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, had instructions for how to “hopscotch” through the many chapters seemingly randomly, including the last ninety-nine, which are said to be “expendable.”) So maybe I’m being old fashioned using conventional chapters.

Anyway, I’m satisfied with my progress, and I’m delighted that several times every day I get little insights about this or that in the plot or about the characters that make it better. I just had a big revelation about the theme that has helped me refine the plot and delineate the growth of the character better. So Larger is getting larger.

Another progress report

June 21, 2010

When you don’t have anything else to say, you can always fall back on a progress report.

I’m pleased with my progress on Larger than Life. I now have chapters two and three finished in first draft. (Chapter one, you’ll recall, will be written after I have the rest of the novel finished. Even so, I’ve referenced it in chapter three.)

Chapter three currently sits at 3,740 words. I’m not really paying much attention to word count at this point; I’m simply writing the story as it requires itself to be written. Even so, the chapter seems short for what I want it to do. I have no worries though. As more of the novel evolves and presents itself to me, I’ll very likely go back to the earlier chapters to supplement what’s there so they mesh better with and feed into the rest of the novel. We shall see.

And since I’m not paying attention to word count . . . my notes file is now more than 13,600 words long. By the time I had the whole of The Sleep of Reason in first draft, the notes I compiled for that were nearly 42,000 words (but a lot of those were redundant words or text drafts rather than true notes). So I am confident that the momentum continues to build for Larger than Life.

Chapter four is revealing itself to me now more clearly. It will be another back story chapter, but it will also give insight into the protagonist’s state of mind and set the stage for upcoming developments. I don’t yet have the same feeling for this story as I did for The Sleep of Reason that it is a story that exists “out there” somewhere and that I have been chosen to tell it. Yet while that was an encouraging feeling with that earlier novel, I don’t feel the need for such encouragement with this one.

As for The Sleep of Reason, I’ve had no fresh news from any of the agents I’ve sent the query to or from the four who are currently holding partials (and one complete). Nor have I heard anything about the half dozen short stories I am currently circulating. I just try to stay busy and keep myself from checking my email more than once every hour.

LtL – Chapter Two

June 1, 2010

I’ve made dandy progress on chapter two of my next novel, Larger than Life. I’ve begun on chapter two for mysterious creative reasons that actually make sense to me. Chapter one will be unlike most of the rest of the novel, but chapter two is also different in many ways from the rest of the novel (at least as I envision it right now). The setting is completely different. In fact, the setting of chapter one with the counter-protagonist is much closer to the rest of the novel. (Does any of this make sense?)

So I have chapter two completed in more or less first draft. It’s nearly 6,000 words though I am sure I can cut that down a decent bit in later work on it. Regardless, it really establishes my protagonist as well as sketches most of the supporting characters. And I think I’ve achieved the tone I’ll sustain through most of the novel.

I’ve read a lot lately about novelists who finally get an agent for their first novel and then can’t get started on their second novel. (I’m probably only thinking I’m seeing this a lot because it’s pertinent to my condition.) Well, I haven’t heard back from any of the agents who have asked for the full novel, but I did wonder if I’d have the stamina to keep writing. Seems I didn’t have to worry at all.

Larger than Life embarks

May 24, 2010

I can say that I’ve embarked on the writing of Larger than Life in earnest now. I had written a couple of hundred words last week as a way to dip my toe in the water, but now the voyage has truly begun.

The metaphor is apt since the chapter I’ve begun with is about a float trip a group of people take on a river near my home. If you’re not familiar with my home state of Missouri, most canoe trips there are taken on Ozark streams in the lower half of the state. These spring-fed streams run clear and swift, with fast-moving riffles separated by placid pools. The trip my characters are taking, however, is on the Kaw, a sluggish, sandbar-ridden river in nearby Kansas, and the fact that my protagonist’s canoe gets bogged down on hidden sandbars speaks to his state of life as the story begins.

My word count on the story has swollen from 200 words to more than 900 words in only a week. My blistering pace is awesome! As I noted in a recent post, after reviewing my notes for this novel, I identified several themes that will govern it. (The protagonist being bogged down in his life is one of them.) As a result, just about every word I write (or more correctly at this point, rewrite since I had done a slapdash draft of this chapter several months ago) is influenced by supporting these themes. I ask myself if I’ve chosen the correct word or the best phrasing or a suitable metaphor to keep each sentence within these themes. It’s much too early in the writing for me to get bogged down with this level of the process, but I’m also enthused by having these themes in hand in advance. (For The Sleep of Reason, I was discovering such controlling ideas late in the writing.)

I’m not intending to follow a conventional narrative with this novel, though I’m not going to get overly experimental with it either. At least one chapter, and many passages throughout, will be about a different protagonist, though the bulk of the story will be about the true protagonist. I have a reason for this, of course, but the reason pretty much prevents me from writing any of the different-protagonist sections until the other sections are complete in first draft. Those different-protagonist sections are going to be fun to write, altogether different in tone from the rest of the novel, but beneath them will be the seriousness of the whole novel, which, I think I have mentioned, turns out to be a love story. It will all end up with a blending of the two styles in what I think will be a satisfying synthesis and a hopeful conclusion.

I had some of the elements of The Sleep of Reason knocking about in my head for a decade by the time I began pulling the novel together. Even so, it took me two years to write it (though that included completely rewriting it, changing the narrative from first to third person). I’m hoping that Larger than Life won’t take as long even though its elements are much younger. But a story demands what a story demands.

Larger than life

March 25, 2010

It hasn’t all been procrastination and dithering around here. I’ve been making copious notes about the next novel I plan to work on, and I’ve written some short story drafts — one is currently in submission.

I know I had written earlier that my next novel would be one of the Finnegan stories I have knocking about in my brain. That’s changed. Due to some shifting motivation or benevolent Muse, I’ve decided to work on a completely unrelated novel with the tentative title of Larger than Life. (It is one of the three I mentioned as possible in that earlier post.)

To that end I’ve already written one of the chapters, probably the second chapter according to the structure I currently have in mind. I wrote the draft of this chapter in more or less one sitting (when perhaps I should have been focused on something else). Then I set it aside and got back to The Sleep of Reason.

Now as I look at that second chapter of LtL, I stumble over what I’ve written. It’s really not well done at all. That’s not surprising given that I wrote nearly 6,000 words in one sitting with lots of distractions, but I don’t want it to influence what I write for that novel next.

The story within it is fine. It’s the telling of it that bothers me. I don’t want to keep writing the rest of the novel in that clumsy way.

My solution is to avoid reading it. When I embark on the writing of the novel in earnest, I’ll simply write around that chapter and come back to it after I have found the voice and tone. Many writers confess that their current work has been influenced by other writers they are reading. Usually this is to the good. I’m chagrined to think that I might be influenced by my own bad writing.

October 24, 2010 Update: This chapter has polished up nicely. I’ll probably still go back to it to refine it further as my characters evolve more, but this chapter has a nice stand-along quality. I think it is whole and well done now. I think I could even submit the chapter as a short story of its own.