Monday, February 25, 2008

Being true to the heart of the book

What I feel like writing about today is abstract and unclear in my mind. It's just a sensation that I've been getting, and I don't really have good examples or good vocabulary for it.

I've been doing a lot of "thinking" about the book. Sitting around with the outline in front of me and saying "what if . . ." There's lots of brainstorming of possible plot developments and then walking through each of the chapters and making notes on what would need to be added or changed.

What I'm really doing is trying to resolve the big problem that is at the heart of this project--that my character isn't very active. That's simply one of the weaknesses of my writing--that I'm more comfortable with theme, setting, character and tone than I am with plot. I can set the soldiers up in the sandbox, but I'm less effective at making them march.

So in my brainstorming I'll come up with something and additional problems will emerge. One, it' s tempting to slide back into my comfort zone--to think about the action the character takes in Chapter 1 but not sustain it and have it keep building in later chapters while I get more interested in exploring the variation on the theme that I've created.

Two, I don't have a good ear for the plot elements or, more important, making sure it's integrated with theme and character and the rest. So the stuff I'm brainstorming feels tinny--tacked on and isolated. It doesn't excite me and adding it in feels like an errand rather than a way to develop the book.

Last--and this is the thing that interests me the most right now--in concentrating on this thing that feels like a chore, it feels like I'm losing track of the heart of the book. I have to keep trying to remind myself what is interesting and powerful and unique about it. (Because the plot stuff I'm brainstorming doesn't feel powerful to me.)

And sometimes I wonder if the heart of the book is exactly the thing I'm trying to "fix"--the tendency for my character not to act. To what extent is that a lack of imagination on my part and to what extent is that the story itself, unique to this character?

Which is another way of saying, I don't really have a resolution to the essential technical problem in the book. What action is required for the book to be interesting; for it to be believable; for it to be true to its own heart and essential character?

I'm at sea a little bit. While I'm trying to figure out what I'm trying to figure out, it's hard to keep up the actual writing habit. I don't know what I'm doing.

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