bookmark_borderMore comparisons, music to fiction

One of my more recent large projects is revising a 3DayNovel from a year and a half ago, and, at the same time, revising the sequel that I wrote last NaNoWriMo.

These are very plot oriented stories, mysteries, action stories to some extent, and so there is a very definite structure, key points, key activities, key discussions that have to take place. And because of that I notice that I’m really short on character, internal dialogue, and setting, other than the bits that are key to the structure of the plot.

I had a writing instructor who insisted that there are plot writers and there are character writers, like there are boys and there are girls. Not her metaphor; mine, but she was almost that definite. But for me it depends on the writing situation. When I don’t know the plot at all, such as with writing exercises, I happily write building on what I’ve got in front of me, expanding the character, filling out the scenery, plot-less. The difference in this writing is that time progresses much more slowly and the world is filled out much more substantially. I listen to what I’m writing and pick up threads and ideas the same way that I do when I’m improvising jazz well; listening, building on ideas and interesting material, generating something that’s coherent and musical and says something.

The difficulty is how to get that depth of writing in when I’m focused on the plot. When I know I’m here and I know what’s next, how do I not go straight there?

I still remember in high school, Earth Sciences 11, my teacher gave me back my one page report with the grade of B, saying “I’ve never given that high a grade for so little writing.” He went on to add, “You have a talent for saying a lot with a few words.” Maybe I should have been an ad writer, but this still remains a tendency of mine; when I know the points that I want to reach, I focus on them and I get there right away.

And, going back to some things that I said in the previous post, I don’t listen to the story well when I review. I see the skeleton, the framework, I see what it means and how it relates to what has come before and to where I know I’m going,  and I don’t see the missing flesh. It’s like writing a piece of music that consists of only the lead lines and no harmonized or thickened or textured lines, no music for the violas or second clarinet or French horns to play, all first violin and trumpet and one percussionist and maybe double bass or tuba. That’s fine if you’re sketching a lead sheet for a jazz quintet or pop band and you let the other musicians make up their own parts, but not so good when you write for 20 piece jazz band or orchestra. And yet I’ve done the composing and arranging for large ensembles, as well as the MIDI composition where I have to create the bass and drum and piano parts myself. I need to be able to transfer that skill over to writing larger works of fiction.

bookmark_borderCharacterization exercise: Mother of a murderer

Carol sits at her dining room table, her right forearm resting on the table, hand wrapped around a tumbler half full of merlot. She’s leaning forward, elbows supporting her, almost oblivious to the cigarette in her left hand. Her expression is fixed, and she moves only to take another sip of wine, or a breath of her cigarette, or to tap ashes into the crystal bowl that other people might use for candy. Her ex-mother-in-law probably intended it for candy, but Carol gets more use from it as a pretty ashtray.

The other times were Joshua’s fault. Stupid things; B&E, selling drugs, things he might eventually outgrow, but this time, this time it was just bad luck, and bad judgment. He should have just come clean right away when the cops arrived. She sighs. Just like me. Thinking that the less information you give them, the less trouble you can get in. He should have just told them. After all, the guy was known for his temper problems. He beat his girlfriend. He carried a knife. It’s obvious that it wasn’t Joshua’s fault; the guy was a walking menace. It’s just Joshua’s bad luck to run into him.

“God, I wish I could be there,” she says aloud to the empty room and sinks back in her chair. “At least I wouldn’t be sitting and waiting.” But there’s no way I could, she thinks. Not with all the media there, not when my own sentencing is less than two months away. There’s no way I could hide if I were there. She takes off her glasses and places them on the table so she can rub her eyes, one by one. No, this is my own punishment for being a mother; I have to sit here and wait.

She glances at her cell phone lying on the table, and it shocks her by ringing. She sits up, grabs the phone, checks the number; it’s David, Joshua’s lawyer.

She puts the phone to her ear. “Hello, David?”, and then she listens, and listens. There is a pause and then the voice asks “Carol? Are you there? Did you get that?” That’s the cue for her veneer to break, for her emotions to erupt, and for her world to shatter.

“No! No, not again. That’s bullshit. Why is the world out to get us, David, why?”, she wails. David’s voice says some more things but Carol doesn’t hear. The phone is still talking on the table beside her elbow but her eyes are buried in her forearm as she sobs. “How can they do this?” She pounds the table with her the fist of her other hand, tipping over the tumbler and sending a splatter of red across the table. “Why are they all out to get us? Why can’t they all just,” she raises her head and shouts, “LEAVE US ALONE!” She puts her face back into her arm and continues to cry.

bookmark_borderBob (characterization excercise)

Bob had worked in sales for years. He and his three co-workers had kept the organization going, kept it moving. They were the ones who enabled the company to reach its goals, each and every time. The city was divided into four sections and together the four of them covered it all, out on the road, always working together. Sometimes they might rotate, to keep things fresh, but like pallbearers they relied on the others to each shoulder their share of the load.

They were all well rounded people, and Bob shared many interests and activities with his partners. Golf, bowling, bridge. One was rarely seen without the company of the other three, and sometimes people suggested that the four of them were interchangeable. Little did these outsiders know that once or twice a year the four of them and their wives would get together on a Saturday afternoon and swap partners.

Over time Bob started to notice some wear and tear. Years of being out in the sun had caused his skin to lose it’s elasticity. His hair, once a source of pride, was now thin and he was close to being bald in some spots. Sometimes he found it difficult to get a grip when conditions got tough, and his body found it very hard to get moving on cold winter mornings.

For a long time Bob’s doctor had warned him about his blood pressure. As a result of the economic downturn, money was scarce and the owner of the company tried to get as much mileage as he could from everyone, including his aging sales department. Bob and his partners were driven hard, well beyond what is safe and recommended. The pressure was too much, and Bob suffered a stroke.

For a while Bob tried to keep up, but it was difficult. He could still communicate but often his favorite jokes fell flat.

It didn’t take long for the owner of the company to notice and to slow down in order to get things under control. The first thing he did was to let Bob go. Then he let Bob’s partners go too, and brought in a group of shiny, fresh, young salesmen to replace them. After all those years of faithful service, Bob and his partners were put out to pasture.

Bob’s condition continued to deteriorate and he was no longer able to keep up with the other three. The other three kept themselves busy by hanging around in playgrounds with children, by working around the garden, or by going to football games and track and field events to support the athletes, but Bob wasn’t able to do any of that. Instead Bob went off to an assisted living situation, and spent his last days watching seagulls search for food as other unwanted items piled up around him. The last any of his friends saw of Bob he was reading through a Michelin travel guide and dreaming of all the places that he had never had the chance to experience.