Monday, March 10, 2014

Abstract Thoughts: Two Steps Forward

Writings of the Muse
The Inner Editor is upset with me. She claims I keep messing up her outline. She's demanding an apology and is considering lodging a formal complaint.

I'm not sure who the complaint is being lodged with, exactly. Probably Renee. Poor Renee is pretty much always drowning in complaints from at least one of us. Though I suppose it could also be with her local chapter of the Inner Editors' Union instead. They do love their paperwork.

But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter, as I won't be apologizing either way. Because, of course, I'm not messing anything up. Her outline is wrong.

It wasn't always wrong. It was just fine when we were starting out. But we've gotten into the messy bit of it now and things aren't quite. . .  right. The characters have gotten to know one another. And, well, they just don't want to do things the way we originally thought they would.

I did try to follow the outline. I really did. I pushed and shoved and cajoled and outright forced those characters to march through the planned out scene. I'm not going to lie; it hurt me to do it. And it hurt Renee as well. Those words scraped themselves out of her skull like shards of broken glass. Shards of broken glass that also just happened to be on fire.

Can shards of broken glass be on fire? Hmmmm. . . . I feel like that's probably not a thing that can happen. Glass seems like something that's probably fireproof. Otherwise things like light bulbs would be a really bad idea.

Never mind. Back to the point. It's a metaphor anyway. You get the idea.

But after a couple of days of banging out these words that hurt and really just felt flat out wrong, Renee and I decided it just wasn't going to work. We scrapped the whole last scene--not set it aside, not excised it and sent it to the graveyard, just full out Ctrl-A, Delete scrapped it--and started over.

There's a school of thinking that says you should never delete anything while you're writing the first draft. There are Muses out there who won't even let their writers read what they've already written, for fear that said writer will start hacking away at the thing instead of moving forward.

And that last bit is the key, really. Moving forward. Because that's where most writers foul it up. They spend so much time fixing what's come before that they lose sight of the important thing. Advancing the story.

They delete a bit, write something new, and then realize the new bit messed up something else, so they have to go and delete that bit and write another new thing, but now that new thing messed up the first new thing, and so on and so on and so on. The "messed up" scene, which may or may not really be messed up, becomes quicksand.

Earworm alert! I'm hearing a flash of an old country song from Renee's youth. . .  "One step forward and two steps back; nobody gets too far like that."

Whole novels can be tanked by one bad patch of quicksand. Whole careers. And then Muses have to start doing things like making rules about not reading what you've already written.

Renee used to be a quicksand magnet. It took years before she finished anything, because she'd basically just flounder around from one patch of muck to another. But she's getting better about it now.

We both felt the scene wasn't working, that the characters would never actually have the conversation they were having, but we wrote it that way anyway, just to check. Sometimes those niggling little doubts are, after all, just doubts.

(We try to keep the Critic locked up in a soundproof room where Renee can't hear her delusional ranting, but sometimes a snippet or two slips through the cracks.)

When it became apparent that the characters were being stubborn for a reason, we stopped--no sense in making Renee continue to write something once I know it isn't going to work--thought the problem through for a couple of hours, and came out of it with a better scene.

It makes more work for the Inner Editor, because she's got to adjust her outline and such now, but in the end, she'll save time. I imagine it's a lot easier to rework an outline than it is to untangle a bad subplot once it's firmly knotted itself all through a completed manuscript.

But the important bit is that even with the slash and burn, Renee and I still ended the week with a net of 2000 words (the goal, by the way, is 5000 words a week right now, Idea Salesman) and a scene checked off the to-do list. We went back a little and tried something different, but we didn't stall out there.

No, we didn't make the word count goal for the week, because that backtrack cost us some time, but in the end we were further still along on Friday than we had been on Monday. No flailing around in the quicksand. Instead, we were. . .

Oh dear. I think I've pulled this metaphor too far. We were. . .  doing whatever the opposite of flailing around in quicksand is.

Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward, after all. Though it would make for a very boring song.

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