Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Making the Words Dance

I'm pretending that earlier post today was a tutorial and not a proper daily post at all.  I've been frittering away my time, not really doing more than one or two things that are productive, working some, playing lots, making music... and making the words dance.

See, I'd been out of the dance for so long....  Last year, I wrote a novella (Passages) and poured my heart into the charries.  Then I wrote, last minute, and in three months flat, a full-length novel (Allemande) and poured my heart into the entire blooming thing.  I adored it.  I still do.  I wondered if I could ever top it, and where I would go next.

It was, in short, as if I'd danced so hard and so fast and so long that I couldn't even pick up my feet anymore.  So I slouched away to a chair in the corner, hid behind a potted plant, and waited my turn.

I thought something was wrong with me.  I looked at my numb toes, my numb thoughts, and said, "Is this it?  Was that my big bang?  Is it over?"  But I could still hear the music.  It itched at the base of my skull, in the back of my neck, and I couldn't scratch it.  It tortured me.  From time to time, I'd stand up and try to take another turn, try to finish just a minuet, just a gavotte, something small and light and cheerful.

I blundered Allemande's sequel, Canzona, out onto the dance floor, and stepped on her toes so badly, and she never deserved it.  For a moment or two, she danced for me, and I distinctly remember feeling the words dance (where Allemande had been a romance with sound, Canzona was a romance with sight).  But I knew I was hurting her, that she needed to stand on the sidelines awhile until she felt her own rhythm and didn't need me to lead, but could go the other way round.

I thought I knew the sort of dance I wanted to try :: the feel of the book I wanted to write.  (We'll talk about the Feel's very important.)  So I thought I'd try to build a book around that Feel, pulling parts here and there to kind of custom-build a story.  I pulled out Aishe and her secrets, and her sharpness and clear simplicity, but I just couldn't make her dance.  I wasn't good enough for her.  She was a good story, but I just could not write historical fiction in such an obscure location.  I left her too after only two chapters.

Then I floundered, trying to find someone who would dance with me, but no one came to ask.  You stop believing after awhile that you know how to dance.  You forget how it feels to be caught up in it, day after day, to commit to it.  You start to think it should be easier than this.  And you don't know how to picture yourself doing it again.

I kept humming along to the music, so to speak.  I wrote almost every day, scenes here and there, flashes and bits of short stories, things that I hated and did not grip me, but had to write just to WRITE.  Just to know I could still do the mechanics part.  To hone my skill.  With the vague belief that eventually, the inspi part would also arrive, and then all the hard work on my form would pay off.  At OYAN right now, there's a quote up, saying ::

Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.  - Madeleine L'Engle
Anyhow, then I read this fantastic book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which was highly interesting from all perspectives.  I fell in love with its Feel.  Its rhythm.  I thought, "I want to write a story that sounds like this, that feels like this."  Bright, spirited, clever and calculating, with the short story style, but just keeps going.  I'm  not even sure if I've accomplished it, but the point was, that was when I started working on Helen.

Helen is not finished.  I am in the middle of writing Chapter 7 and it's going poorly.  But I do like the chapters that come before, and especially all of the characters, who are surprisingly unique and likeable.  Helen has a distinct feel, and her story reflects that.  What makes the story stand out to me is that it's a romance with a very distinct concept :: very clear, very colorful images, distinctly human and real, yet so bizarrely unreal at the same time.  Unlikely things, but things you might expect to see if you looked out your window.   There are a few of these snapshots in the book so far.  That is her special quality.

But I still hadn't quite gotten the words to really dance.  They could walk around in time, and keep the pattern, like an English country dance, but couldn't really flow.  There was nothing above the amateur quality. I don't know, maybe I just need to learn how to write a mediocre book, but that terrifies me.  There is nothing I abhor more than cliches, but only slightly less abhorred is mediocrity.  Shows my character, I guess, but there it is.  I just believe that if a book doesn't change ME, doesn't grab ME, it won't be anything but something to waste other peoples' time with.

But today, after dogged pursuit, and lots and lots of little bits of really really bad writing, I think I got the words going.  Or they got me going.  I know the song again.  I'm ready to take it further.  Old story, new feel, new dare, new flight.

It's good to be back.

1 comment:

  1. Wow...I didn't realize...just wow. I'm in the corner too, I guess. And I only wrote ONE book last year. The forum's been depressing me these days. My own sister has been, typing away at not one but THREE stories. I've been writing for so FoL all I get?

    Stupidly enough, the contest still stings too. Why do I care so much what someone else thinks of *my* words, of the story that was a gift to ME?


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