Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Matter of Voice


I’m back into Jamieson’s Folly again, after a rocky start.

I started reworking the beginning last Friday and, from the start, it was an uphill climb. First, beginnings are just damn hard for me. But it was more than that. I felt pressured to produce something respectable for my Tuesday night workshop. So I spent a whopping one day analyzing themes and picking one to focus the opening on. By Saturday, I was running with it.

Running at the mouth is more like it.

See, the problem is that I need downtime. I’m a slow thinker. Not that I’m dumb. I’m just a person who needs time to reflect. And a four day deadline to rewrite the beginning of a novel doesn’t cut it for a slow thinker. So I did what the most desperate writers do—I overwrote. I threw in descriptions, adjectives, adverbs and similes. Writer padding that makes us look like we know what we’re doing.

I didn’t.

I rushed the piece, printed it off (even the printing gods tried to thwart me by running out of ink) and took it to class on Tuesday. I apologized, handed out copies and read it. And the class shocked the hell out of me by raving over how fantastic it was. Vivid, beautiful, poetic, amazing. One of my fellow writers even called it brilliant.

You think I’d be satisfied with that kind of praise, but it left me empty. Something still stuck in my craw. The piece wasn’t right. I knew it was off. I sifted through the copies everyone had marked, looking for some kind of clue. I got miscellaneous nits that all seemed to point in different directions—someone thought the pacing felt a little slow, another didn’t feel clued in to the narrator. One person didn’t realize my narrator was a man until halfway through the first page, someone else commented on the beautiful but overly-abundant descriptions. I tried to make sense of the remarks, but no one seemed to echo the same sentiments. It was a hodge podge that I could have dismissed.

I asked my husband. He read the piece.

“I don’t know. It just feels off,” he told me.

I thought about it overnight and the next day. I let it sit, let my thoughts germinate. At four this morning (I wake up and think about my writing a lot, as you may have noticed.), it came to me in a predawn flash:


I’d overwritten the crap out of the thing and it felt like that for a reason. Twenty-two year old guys don’t spend a paragraph contriving gorgeous verbal pictures of dusk in a canyon. They don’t. My husband’s thirty-something, “I don’t know. It just feels off” says it all. Guys are brief. They say stuff. They shut up.

I wrote the same thing with Nick’s new voice. His real voice. And it really works.

I’ve given the problem thought since and come up with some type of explanation. Usually I write from character as a starting point. Voice is natural then, inherent to the inspiration. But because I wrote Folly during NaNoWriMo and move far forward every day, I chose instead to write from a loosely outlined plot. Nick as a character had never fully developed in my mind and it showed in every word.

I’m taking the new piece to class next Tuesday. I’m anxious to hear the reactions to the massive change. I expect some won’t like, at least the devotees of poetry, but I’m thrilled with it and that’s what really matters.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Over/Underwritten


I’m about halfway through my reread of Folly’s first draft. I started out with a bang last Wednesday and Thursday, then progress fizzled over the long holiday weekend. (Although, on a positive note, I did see two excellent plays at American Players Theatre over the weekend, so that has to count for something.)

It’s been interesting thus far, to reread the manuscript with fresh eyes. The flaws stand out a little taller, as if they’d leapt into gawkish adolescence during my absence. Jamieson’s character quirks clearly needs some explanation. There’s way too much telling. And most of the scenes seem scanty and underdeveloped. It’s a daunting list and, at first, I felt like I was in the same boat as I had been with Somewhere. But as I read on, the flaws seem clearer and the fixes more apparent.

But just as the flaws seem to glare, so the strengths glow. If I say so myself, there are some stunning visuals in the first draft. The setting glows with the magic and glamour of Las Vegas. Nick’s character is likeable and sympathetic (for the most part) And the storyline is cohesive and interesting. It wasn't long before I was actively caught up in the story and resented having to set it aside to make dinner.

So it’s once more to the drawing board. A few more pages to read, then a whole darn book to revise. I's be intimidated if it weren't for the most encouraging sign: I woke up around 3 Friday morning and fumbled in the dark for my nightstand notebook. I know I'm on to something when my subconscious is vested and churning.