Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dreams of the Awake

October 4, 2006
I wrote yesterday about point of view, and how I had been more conscious of this because of Robert Gregory Browne's comments on this. Rob weighed in to say now he felt insecure about it and I commented back that I had been thinking about it because of comments he made on his blog. A literary Catrch-22, I suppose.

All of which makes it sound as if writers are conscious of every little detail, of the depth of our characterizations, the distance of our POV, the percentage of dialogue, etc., as we write.

I doubt it.

As I write "I doubt it" my brain is saying, "Well..."

Here's the thing. When I write my first drafts, I'm writing a story as it occurs somewhere in my head. I don't really "see" it like a movie, not exactly, but I do, well, "see it." A part of me, a very integral part of me, is not sitting in the chair at my desk typing at the computer. A part of me is off wherever the story is, in the case of ANGELS FALLING, in a Colorado resort being held hostage by a group of terrorists. (Although sometimes I'm in the PEOC in the East Wing of the White House, or at Guantanamo Bay, or in the cockpit of a Navy jet over the Gulf of Mexico--it's a far more exotic life than a basement office in a Detroit suburb might suggest).

As I write, I try to get the hell out of my own way. I try to get the story down and not worry too much about things like technique and grace. Over the years I have trained my brain to describe actions in a reasonably efficient, graceful, effective manner, and I'm not thinking too much about it. I'm trying to imagine more thoroughly, to puzzle out the story, to get important details... does the catwalk quiver and shake as Derek crawls along it; how much pain is he in from the various assaults he's experienced; what is the taste of adrenaline like and how does his fear manifest itself; is the air filled with dust from various explosions, can he see, does it make his eyes water, his sinuses clog, does it make him sneeze? What is the bad guy thinking as he conducts what is most assuredly a suicide mission? What does he feel? What is it like to take an MP-5 in hand and threaten the most powerful people in the world with their own deaths?

All those things and more are what I'm trying to EXPERIENCE as I write my first drafts, hoping to create that metamorphosis that a writer and reader cherishes--my dreams transferred to paper so the reader can experience them. And I want them to be as effective as possible so the reader's experience is a memorable, powerful one.

It's later, when I'm re-writing, tweaking, polishing, that I'm thinking things like:

Did the POV shift? Do I need more internal dialogue or less? I used "main" three times in that paragraph. Use something else. I've used "slammed" too many times. Use something else. Is that character responding too much like that other character? He seems like a cardboard cutout--at least tell us his hair color and something about how he's dressed or his nicotine craving or his stomach pains.

The first I think is art. It's magic and it's totally addictive. The latter is also art, but it's even more craft, the attention to a million details that have no written rules, no objective guidelines, no real way of saying, "Yes, that works, it's perfect."

So I and all these other people writing about writing try to suggest that it's more than a gut reaction, that there are rules. And some of it is logical and some of it is a gut reaction based on reading thousands of books and writing millions of words and internalizing what works (we hope) and what doesn't.

But the dreams... they're glorious, aren't they?

Best,
Mark Terry

8 Comments:

Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Boy, here we go. You see, when I'm writing, I think of ALL of these things. It's such a juggling act that sometimes I want to flee the scene and get away from it all, it's killing me.

Because every sentence I write has to be the right one, every bit of dialogue, every piece of story puzzle, every character trait -- all of it has to be right before I'll leave a scene. And it's important for me to juggle all of this, very consciously, because it DETERMINES what follows in the next scene or chapter.

It is such a complex tapestry, each thread adding to the whole, that it can often be overwhealming. I wish I could go for the quick draft, then go back and fix it all, but it just isn't meant to be that way for me.

So I agonize. And I can't WAIT to be done. But once it's done, it's DONE.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Boy, here we go. You see, when I'm writing, I think of ALL of these things. It's such a juggling act that sometimes I want to flee the scene and get away from it all, it's killing me.

Because every sentence I write has to be the right one, every bit of dialogue, every piece of story puzzle, every character trait -- all of it has to be right before I'll leave a scene. And it's important for me to juggle all of this, very consciously, because it DETERMINES what follows in the next scene or chapter.

It is such a complex tapestry, each thread adding to the whole, that it can often be overwhealming. I wish I could go for the quick draft, then go back and fix it all, but it just isn't meant to be that way for me.

So I agonize. And I can't WAIT to be done. But once it's done, it's DONE.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Mmmm,
Well, I think I simplified the process a bit. I rewrite as I go, so every chapter--which in most cases IS a scene--gets rewritten before I continue on. And then of course I rewrite again... and again.

And although I'm a fairly rapid writer, and this may sound a bit bipolar (but hey, I'm a writer), that editor thing is constantly arguing with that writer thing even as I'm writing, but it seems important for me to keep the writer guy in control when writing, and when I'm re-writing, to put the editor guy in control.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I write like Rob. Exactly.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in TIMEQUAKE: "Tellers of stories with ink on
paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or
bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy,
crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again
painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn't
work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right
before they go on to the next one. When they're done they're done."

So I guess Rob and I are bashers. Mark, you're just all higgledy-piggledy ;)

10:57 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

That may be. Or somewhere in between, which would make me a higgledy-bashum-crinkum-piggeldy-crashum.

And on some days... I am.

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