Monday, October 12, 2009

Phoning It In Or Watching It All Unfold

I've always been kind of fascinated with how other writers come up with their stories. Not the incredibly impossible "where do you get your ideas?" question, which I don't think anyone can actually answer with anything other than "everywhere". More, once you have the idea, "how does a story take shape in your head?" How does it go from the random light bulb flicked on by the muse to something coherent and beautiful filling up the pages?

In my experience, there are two types of writers. Those who have the story told to them by a character (or sometimes by a few characters) and those who watch it like a movie playing in their head and just scramble to get it all down on paper.

I am a listener. A character moves into my head, plunks down on a squashy old sofa, and then proceeds to ramble endlessly about their life. They call me up, chatting away until the cell battery dies about random, sometimes incomprehensible things (which will sound familiar to any of you who've ever talked to me on the phone) and I struggle to take dictation, snatching at every word in case it turns out to be important later.

As with anything else, there are plusses and minuses to being a listener.

On the positive side of things, I never have to worry about what a character was thinking when something went down. I don't usually struggle to figure out what a character would say or do in a certain situation. (If I am struggling with that, I know I'm really blocked and it's time to break out the meditation.) I don't have to worry about figuring out their backstory or analyzing their wants and needs. They're there, in my head. I just have to ask them.

Oh, yeah, the character interview is my best friend.

On the other hand though, characters tend to be very self-absorbed. They don't notice what other people are doing unless it directly impacts them. They also don't stop to smell the roses very often. Or notice what's out the window next to them. Or pay much attention to the scenery at all. If you're familiar with the EDITS system, this means that I get a lot of yellow, and struggle to find even the vaguest hint of green.

At times when I'm begging for green and despairing my overabundance of yellow, I'm jealous, horribly, irrationally jealous, of the watchers.

Watchers see the scenes in their head like a movie. A couple of my critique partners are watchers and when I listen to them talk about the way they work through a scene, I am struck by that crazy the-grass-is-always-greener (oh, no pun intended there!) kind of envy. Their stories don't come in as a monologue over a sometimes crackly connection. They see it all in full-color, high-action cinema form.

Again, there are plusses and minuses though.

Setting? Check! Action and stage direction? Check! Dialogue? Check! Internalization and motivation? Um. . . not so much. Unless they're lucky enough to be watching a movie with a voiceover at the time. (Those are kind of annoying in real movies, but I imagine must be very much appreciated in muse-movies.) Watchers have to work at the whys. They have to look at the reactions and puzzle out the backstory to find out what's really going on. "What were you thinking?" is a popular question, I imagine, in the character interview.

I say that to my characters a lot too, but usually shouted in a frustrated, you're-killing-my-plot-with-your-damn-antics! kind of a way. The watchers probably sound more curious and interested when they say it.

So what are you? A listener? A watcher? Something else entirely that I just haven't had the benefit of encountering yet?


purpleprose 78 said...

As we discussed, mine doesn't come in big swatches of internalization. Mine comes to me as dialogue. My characters rarely talk to me. They mostly talk to each other. Which is good because I almost always like the dialogue. It is also bad because I have to build the scenes and stories around the dialogue. That is just too much fun!

haricot vert said...

I think I'm a watcher. I can tell what the characters are doing, but sometimes the why eludes me. Or the camera doesn't pan in close enough so I have trouble with the details.