Saturday, July 30, 2011

In the Trenches: The Details I Didn't Dream About

I'm convinced right now (as in not forever) that I'm not meant to be a fiction writer.  You see, I'm just not in the mood to be "in the trenches."  You know, those days when you're actually writing, butt in chair, ignoring the internet, and not just dreaming about your story as if it had already been written.   Yes, those trenches. 

Lately, my time in the trenches has been spent deleting much of the story previously written (all versions saved, of course!) or feeling like each new word makes its way into existence with the ease of pulling teeth.  Ouch!  Surely, this has been a waste of time.  Not to mention painful.  And another thing, it almost feels morally wrong to expose the perfection of the fairyland I dreamed up to getting banged up in such a battle of advancements and retreats.  Really, when things are going really wrong, it's better to protect the story from yourself.

Don't you think so?  Have I succeeded yet in writing the least motivational blog ever?  No wonder I haven't posted since...I don't know, a while ago.  I've been protecting you!

How's that for logic?  I can always make a good argument to myself on why to stay away (from the story, from the blog, from the kitchen cabinets that are still missing refinished doors...etc.), but actually, I'm split on the writer's debate on whether to write even when you don't feel like it, or take that "break."  It depends.  Truthfully, when life makes its claim on you (school, work, family, etc.), it doesn't do any good to beat yourself up about not writing.  Until we can clone ourselves that is.

But to be leary to get back into the "trenches" on the principle that you might do more harm than good?  Well, I guess the only way to get past that one is to find that "good" in the process to hold on to when you feel like the greenest soldier who ever enlisted...the one who shoots the good guys by mistake.  Oops.

Okay, so find the good.  First, we acknowledge that life in the trenches is hard.  Sure, the big stuff you watch out for, or at least think you do.  Plots, motivations.  Got it.  But just when you congratulate yourself for dodging a bullet and yell, "ha ha, missed me!," you might fall face down into the mud.  Then the day gets worse with crawling your way through a patch of prickly burrs while being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  Or at least that's what writing one sentence after another can feel like.  The devil is in the details you didn't dream about.

Wait a minute.  I dreamed everything.  Not only did the action unfold like an Oscar winning movie, but the very essence of the emotions rang out and resonated, bringing tears and laughter in its wake.   Good triumped over evil.  It was heroic.  It all happened just as it should, clear as a bell, perfect and wonderful in every way. 

Huh.  Sounds great.  Now try writing that essence down.

Back in the trenches...Things come up in the doing of writing that you would never dream about.  For instance, you start to think about questions that are at once never going to come up in real life but are very practical concerns on the written page.  For instance, how long does it take to think?  After all, a dream for the scene doesn't spell out, word for word, just the right about of time a character can spend thinking about important stuff in a short period of "real time."   Just how will this foray into a character's internal thoughts affect pace, suspense, or just make sense for the moment?  Oh no, those kind of things, along with many others, are only implied in The Dream that seemed so clear. 

Take, for example, a character in a taxi only a block away from his home.  A simple situation but a small part of The Dream.  Now, this character, the hero of the story, has a lot to think about and notice on this short, final leg of his trip.  In fact, as only the writer knows, because she knows all, she can get teary just imagining what's coming up when he gets home.  It's only several pages later that the writer realize the timing is off.  The pace, the action, the internal thoughts...so many concerns.  Something has to be cut, moved, rearranged.  Something!  What now?

Yes, in the trenches, things get hard.  There always seems to be a lot of pesky mosquitoes and prickly burrs just waiting to attack the perfect and wonderful dream.  On a good day, these are fixable problems -- mere annoyances to be dealt with and swatted away.   How about the repeated phrases that sneak in that make it look like you know one and only one way to describe a character's body language?  Actually, if you think about it, a "devilish grin" probably wouldn't seem overused in The Dream!  I don't think so anyway.  Personally, I don't have a maximum quota in my dreams on "devilish grins."  *shrug*  Go figure.  Grumble grumble. Swat it away.

But on a bad day, oh, those bad, bad days, the accumulation of too many words not cooperating can seem like too many hurtful pests to fight off.   And another thing about this "in the trenches" writing probably shouldn't be mentioned, but as long as I'm venting...Uhm, historically, there's never been a lot of progress in a trench.  

But try, try! the characters insist.  There is more.  We haven't told you everything in The Dream.

The Details. They must be found, but the Dream is notoriously stingy with details.  For something so clear, it's amazing how inadequate our store of words can be to describe what's in our dreams. It's a feeling we know in all it's complexity just by thinking about the characters we imagine. All of their deepest longings, their most secret insecurities, and their lovable faults we understand in an instant because they are echoes of ourselves. We want to write it down and share this amazing story. If we can only find the words to do it justice, that is, and possibly not worry overmuch with how the words we choose can seem to tarnish the perfection.

But did I dream of rooms of a house with two or three feet sections left unpainted near the ceiling because the heroine was afraid of heights and the hero was often away from home?  Maybe, I'm not sure.  Did I dream the hero tripping over a loose brick in the walk?  No, that just sort of happened.  And did I dream in chapter three how, "Crickets chirped in the warm, muggy air, and a cat in heat wailed its hoarse, god awful cry?"  No.  I just knew the hero felt alone, sitting outside his home in a taxi, unable to go inside.  It's what he would hear, while I'm with him.  It's beyond the lonliness.  It's beyond the dream.

Lots of writers have some degree of this don't-mess-with-perfection worry and still dare to step beyond the dream.  As Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, the story is built out of "materials long in use for constructing castles in the air.”  I think he could have meant that the dream is like a department store of fancy displays, but nothing is built to be functional or solid for us mere mortals.  If you sit on the bed, you will drop through the cardboard to the floor.  But it sure is pretty. 

And something else he said,

"I have sometimes produced a singular and not unpleasing effect, so far as my own mind was concerned, by imagining a train of incidents in which the spirit and mechanism of the fairyland should be combined with the characters and manners of familiar life." (Hawthorne, Nathaniel)

The details that are more than you can dream are only found in the trenches. Go ahead, tarnish the perfection with the characters and manners of familiar life.  This is the good, burrs and mosquitoes and all.

2 comments:

  1. I think the only good thing about being in the trenches is knowing that ALL writers spend time there. In fact, I'd be surprised to hear of any writer who didn't experience these same feelings! Especially the ones about making things worse in the manuscript--it's always been my fear, which is why I have forty-eleven versions of the story on my hard drive, so I can change things back.

    We tend to expect so much perfection from ourselves, and our writing, and that can keep us from getting those words down, and we all know improvement comes from writing and writing and writing (even when we don't want to!)

    I hope you're getting to do some relaxing during your school break, so that it won't feel like you've traded one trench for another!

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  2. Donna, I think we forget sometimes how universal our writing fears are to what other writers are experiencing. I guess that's what writing blogs are for -- to remind us the problems that come out of the woodwork when writing aren't sent to torment us because we're worse than anyone else. LOL

    Thanks so much for coming out to my lonely blog to share! :) I really appreciate it!

    As for the relaxing break from school, I'm doing an at-my-own-pace tutorial to help me prepare for the next higher math course. But I've come a long way in a year and actually find math relaxing in an odd way now. It's like doing puzzles. :)

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