GALLOP-A-PLOT OR DREDGE-A-SUBCONSCIOUS

My in-laws used to winter out west. Their goal was to get from Point A (eastern Wisconsin) to Point B (southern Arizona) at breakneck speed with not a wasted moment at sub-points between.

When my family vacationed, Dad chose every road less traveled, and stopped to read every historical marker. We were fortunate to get out of the county.

Some authors write like my in-laws travel.

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They gallop the plot along, leaping from high point to high point, pounding deep-seated emotions and backstories into dust. They might squeeze in a pit stop at a motivation way-station or grab a snack of love interest, but these are primarily fuel to hurl on toward the next adrenaline rush till eventually—BOOM! The story slams directly into the climax. Ian Fleming, Zane Gray, Clive Cussler and the like have written books brimming with action. If you’ve read The Three Musketeers, Hondo or The Bourne Identity, you know the type. Want to impress your friends? Refer to these as ‘plot-driven’ books.

Then there are the novels in which the storyline is so incidental, the author sometimes loses track of it all together. Like my father who found much of interest right where he stood, these writers grab a spade and dig deeply into their characters’ psyches. No recess of a protagonist’s or antagonist’s brain is safe.

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No emotion is taken for granted, no sidelong glance is without meaning and context, no childhood event has less than earth-shattering ramifications. For obvious reasons these novels are known as ‘character driven.’ The Great Gatsby, The Help, The Catcher in the Rye, even many of Shakespeare’s plays—you know WHO these stories are about more than WHAT happens.

Between the galloper and the digger we have a range of writers who craft various combinations of dashes, pauses, probes and stops. Jane Austen, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien all wrote memorable scenes. But their characters are three-dimensional complexities able to tuck the plot in their fully-formed arms and nourish it to intriguing fruition. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Once and Future King, Fahrenheit 451, the Harry Potter series, all have a strong storyline accompanied by strong personalities.

These mid-range novels are my favorite. It is the writers at the far ends of the spectrum who baffle and bother. Constant cliff-hangers with routinely strong-jawed heroes and/or stunning size-nothing heroines with the strength of ten Grinches plus two—after a few hundred brushes with death I find myself hoping that the next inescapable predicament will truly be inescapable.

Or take those authors (please) who dig so deeply into the hearts and minds and histories of their characters that they scrape bedrock but burrow further. After disgorging countless words, pages and chapters of secret emotions, hidden happenings, fruitless longings and repressed scars, the writer can’t persuade these characters to do anything. They just sit in the rubble of their exposed innards hoping the author will type ‘The End.’

It’s a wide world out there. We can read books that buckle us in and careen across mountain peaks and seven seas in 300 pages or less. The world is also deep, and some authors require that we get down on our haunches and appreciate the riches below the surface. A truly skilled and passionate writer can make folks like my father appreciate whirlwind tours, or help people like my in-laws linger at a previously-overlooked pitstop.
Bless these authors. They are in the business of bringing us places we never would have visited but for them.

The Evolution of Rewrites or, Can I have that conversation back please?

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Forsooth! Toss that dog-eared word back to me and I’ll send back its better!

Commenders recommend, viewers review, tractors retract, and writers rewrite. It’s what we’ve always done. Somewhere out there are the perfect words to express the abstractions roaming our brains.
Between the rough draft and the final draft are more do-overs than Kardashian relationships.

This isn’t a new problem. With few exceptions, writers as a breed can’t leave well enough alone.

Cave Writer: “Ooga, hand me some charcoal. I’m changing this bull to a reindeer. It adds some vulnerability to the wall, don’t you think?”

Aesop: “I should have left it an elephant in donkey’s clothing. So satirical. But I had to revise it and now I’m out of papyrus. A wolf in sheep’s clothing! What was I thinking?”

Shakespeare: “‘A nose by any other name might as well bleat.’ No no no. Bring me another bit of parchment! ‘A nose by any other name could smell feet.’ Good, but not perfect. Rose! More parchment! Bless you dear Rose, you’re sweet. Say…”

Mark Twain:The Adventeres of Tom Sawyer. That doesn’t look right.” (Unrolls paper. Crumbles. Inserts fresh sheet. Rerolls.) “O.K. The Adventures of Yo, Saqyer. Blast these newfangled typewriters! Who put the letters in that order?”

Agatha Christie: “Dear Ms. Christie, Thank you for the submission of your most recent manuscript. The mystery is engaging and we are all stumped. Really stumped. When you whited out the name of the killer (Spelling error?) you neglected to re-type it. The entire office at our publishing company has placed wagers on the identity of the villain and we hope to hear from you before the Gaming Commission hears about us.”

Stephen King: #sickofwritinghorror #newstyle #rewrite #CookingwithCarrie

The Bright and Distant Future: “I can’t believe I said that. In front of all my friends. Awkward syntax, inane content, and way too many ‘uh’s.’ I’ll just recall that conversation, erase it from my friends’ memories, and substitute deep, cleverly worded, effortless sentences”

Writers know the clean joy of the rewrite. The pleasure of taking not-quite-right words and replacing them with choice tidbits of wisdom, perfectly balanced alliteration and assonance, and deft bits of punctuation.

Writers, at least this writer, are less impressive in face-to-face conversation. We grasp for words, mutter cliches, and embarrass ourselves with injudicious, frivolous, tedious pronouncements.

We want the power of the re-articulation. The super power that would allow us to recall every insipid word, replace it with the synonym of choice and no one would be the wiser.
I look forward to the day, friends.
We can dream, and anticipate.
We long for the era of a word fitly spoken.

Until then, this particular writer could try to speak less, listen more and hope against hope that conversation-mates will allot an extra measure of grace to season my plethora of rough draft words.

The Frankenstein Next Door

Say you are a tall, willowy brunette with peaches and cream skin, cornflower blue eyes and an upturned little nose. When you laugh, the listener is reminded of merry children romping through a meadow, performing catch-and-release on butterflies. The average person would gaze upon you and say, “Ah. She is a package deal. Can’t imagine changing a thing.’

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How a fiction writer sees the world

Unless your observer is a writer of fiction. You will be scrutinized and your pleasing internal and external parts assessed as this Dr. Frankenstein of the literary world prepares to operate. The scalpel comes out and the dissection begins. Your limpid blue eyes will be tossed in a corner atop your pert nose, and your flawless complexion cast aside willy-nilly with your chestnut locks.

All the author really wants from you is your laugh.

It will be tucked under the pseudo-surgeon’s arm, hauled to his/her latest novel-in-progress and injected into someone’s great aunt. Or a vegetarian nun. Or the mad serial killer who duped everyone with her tinkling giggle.

The diabolical nature of the fiction writer is no respecter of persons or property. A neighbor child’s Spiderman boots will be handed over to a socially misfit detective. The novelist’s sweet grandmother, who uses ginger as the secret ingredient in her blue ribbon tuna casserole, may have it snatched away, only to be credited to an Albanian dictator. The college basketball star’s loose limbs, warm brown eyes and honeydew popsicle addiction could wind up in a haughty socialite’s cocker spaniel.

Writers hoard their ill-gotten plunder to use when (or if) they see fit. They stockpile dozens of eyes in all colors, shapes and luminosities, every conceivable nose, mouth and ear form, hair in every hue from the heavens above or earth beneath. They stash a massive variety of body types, strides, voices, hobbies, and clothing. You might be horrified to find your Great-Uncle Joe’s suspenders hanging next to your retired pastor’s false teeth and your librarian’s sensible shoes parked by your mail carrier’s misheard lyrics of ‘Blinded by the Light.’

Or, worse. You recognize your penchant for examining the ear wax you’ve extracted with the tip of your pinky. And the author has given it the soap-and-water phobic hermit with 98 cats.
No one is safe from this Frankenstein of a creator who slinks here and sidles there, ruthlessly collecting bits of this one and parts of that one and a soupçon from someone else. All to be force-fed into the lifeless character languishing in the writer’s imagination. A few complex maneuvers, some mishing and mashing and a huge jolt of imaginative electricity and . . . The Creature. Is. ALIVE.

Like Frankenstein, the novelist may take one look at their resulting wretch and run screaming in horror. Writing fiction is harrowing, folks. Please refrain from gathering the townfolk and setting upon your local author with torches and pitchforks. Remember. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely ‘coincidental.’