Monday, July 30, 2007

Novel Update

I owe it to my readers to provide some kind of status report about my work, since you've been so patient.

I mentioned the hero of my current novel in this recent post. Well, he's still alive and kicking; I haven't given up on him and he hasn't given up on me. To the contrary, we've become pretty good friends over the last few months and I'm reasonably confident that he's going to have his adventure after all.

If only I could tell you more about him. Unfortunately, writing isn't like painting in the sense that I can't offer tantalizing views of my progress the way Bryan Larsen does over at Rational Art. It would be perilous for me to describe the background of my story or even to mention the theme. Doing so would be like trying to bring a pre-term, unborn child out to look at him; you can't really put him back in the womb. (Besides, most pre-term story ideas sound stupid and unconvincing.)

Here's a safe hint: The story is set partly in an imaginary portion of the PNW. The rest is set, well, somewhere far, far away. And my hero? His name is...a secret. (It happens to be thematic.) I will tell you only that he has a very hot disposition. Beyond that, you'll just have to settle for some comments about my progress.

My goal with this novel has always been to learn how to plot, and that is what I'm doing, though not very efficiently nor even very gracefully, which is perfectly fine with me. I expected this story to present all sorts of trouble along the way. After all, one learns by taking on challenges and overcoming them.

I've been patiently probing the plot and the characters, which has started to pay some dividends. In one sense, the story has grown more complex, and in another sense, stayed rather simple. By complex, I mean that I'm beginning to see a web of actions and circumstances that are at times intriguing, mysterious, and—I hope—suspenseful. By simple, I mean that the overall story remains true to my original idea. Even better, the basic action-line of the story remains straightforward much the way the central plot of Lord of the Rings—getting Frodo Baggins from the Shire to Mordor—runs through all three stories despite the many conflicts and subplots along the way.

The situation hasn't always been this good. I've taken several wrong turns, both with the story and with how I approached the novel-writing process. Novels seem to provide endless opportunities to make wrong turns. Sometimes I wonder how anyone ever figured out how to get from "Once upon a time..." to "...happily ever after." If only someone would invent a compass for novelists, but then again, there aren't very many good maps of the terrain, so what good would a compass be?

And that brings me to the final subject of this update: I'm learning how to better avoid some of the details early on, to get out of the way of the story, and to let my muse have his say. Am I going New Agey? No, I'm just dealing with reality, which means: I'm looking for the right mix of planning-with-a-light-touch coupled with the freedom to let my brain do what it does best. This is how I already write my short stories, and I once read an essay by Edgard Allan Poe in which he asserts that most writers need to work the same way when they write novels, else they'll fail. I can attest to the wisdom in his claim.

My brain is highly visual. This makes me good at rendering scenes but not nearly as good at planning them. I have to be careful not to ignite the visual part of my brain, which is my muse, before it's time, else my muse takes over and the planning process gets trumped. So I skirt around the periphery of my story in a kind of phantom dance with my subconscious, first getting a hint of an idea, then checking it against my overall plan, and quickly backing off when the images start to form too clearly in my mind. Right then I have to say to my muse, "Get back behind the starting line; I haven't fired the gun."

I'm sure that after having written several novels, not only will I know better how to stay out of my muse's way, but also my muse will begin to accept some of my direct mental processes in the early stages—or so I hope. Until that time, your continued patience with my progress is much appreciated.

P.S. I just finished another short story. It's something like high fantasy, which I only now realize I haven't written before. (Tolkien is high fantasy; Rowling, Dinesen, Shelley are not.)

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