Friday, April 10, 2009

Magical Montage Moments

Writing is an art that must be accomplished over time with much effort, toil, and revision. We write, write more, scrap, write more, rewrite, scrap, write more, with the hope that someday, somewhere, we'll get it on a bookshelf for an unsuspecting reader to shuffle home with, open up, and be whisked away to another kingdom with our mystical guidance. Chief among the things we must do to reach that goal is to WRITE. Sit down, pull out the tools, and get to work.

There is no 80's montage.

Don't get me wrong, there are magical moments that occur between the pen and paper - when everything is perfect, never to be revised again - but these are few and far between. That is why they are called 'moments'. Truth: If we had it that easy all the time, they would be hardly magical. They would be normal. And we wouldn't appreciate them quite so much.

There is no sudden soundtrack of 80's pop music that will explode in your head while you are writing, somehow defeating time and space to bound through the task of writing 300 pages (in 2 seconds), selling your book for the quadruple-million figure book deal (in 5 seconds), watching your book fly off the shelves (in true omnipotent fashion), and finally, as the final notes of the montage taper off, panning in to see yourself from above, happy and relaxing, a job well done.

Cherish the moments, and cherish the toil.

The toil is what gets us to the endgame. The moments are the carrots along the way, reminding us that some good things happen within these pages. I wouldn't trade the effort and experience for the world. There's all of this cool stuff about my worlds and characters that only I know - and I learn a bit more about them every day. Discovery is part of the journey. Enjoy the moments you spend with your characters. Get to know them, get rid of the ones that annoy you (untimely deaths via ink are all the rage), and come to love them. There will come a time when you revise a scene and think "Woah. He would never say that." followed by "Instead, he would...". You have to spend the time getting to know them before you can make that call. It's like having dozens of friends - all inside a neat little package of gray matter.

Last week, I finished the second chapter of my science fiction novel for the seventh time. The first time, it was exciting. Verbose and clunky, but exciting. The second, third, and fourth drafts stripped out the bad stuff. And suddenly, the character was dull. Utterly lifeless on the page. He spent a good seven pages talking to himself and feeling sorry for the misfortune of others. Going back to my scraps, I found the good bits and put them back in for versions five and six. He still wasn't right, still thought too much. I added a new character, and that ember began to glow once more. My husband looked over my shoulder and made a tiny suggestion. I stared at him as if he had grown another pair of eyes. How in the world does he know my characters better than I do?

It was a solution that had been staring at me since I started revisions; I was merely fighting it. That's right: The magical moment was sitting there tapping its foot, yelling at me from time to time (this explains the recent headaches) and I only had to let it through to the page. Lesson: Stand aside and let those come through. Just because they are rare doesn't mean that you should ignore them when they come to the window.

I rewrote the whole chapter in a few evenings (not seconds!) without bothering with my previous material. The adventure was back! They were alive! And I was still able to go back and pull some of the old material forward when I was done. Now, it will be changed again over time. For now, however, I have a good draft of a chapter that stays true to my characters as they should be - exciting, insane, and raring for adventure. Wouldn't trade that time for the world.

Besides - don't you think being in the montage would make you really, really dizzy?


haricot vert said...

An 80's montage? Ooooh, all that big hair. Not so sure I want to be in that mix anymore. :)

Sarah said...

On the plus side, all the bright colors keep the attention span busy!