Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First lines, last steps

I'm finding myself working and working on the first lines of the book, which is very unsettling. I know it makes sense that as I near the end of the process the theme becomes clearer and the need to clarify the statement of that theme becomes apparent. But I can't help feeling that the first lines, which I wrote first over two years ago, is a pretty basic piece of the book that ought to be settled by now. It's freaking me out a little.

But I'm getting good at ignoring my fears and plowing ahead, and it was illuminating if slow work this a.m. About a two hour session. One hour of plain writing in long hand on paper on the back porch just like the old days, basically rewriting from memory some of the stuff that I've already written several times, but hopefully sharper and more focused. Then another hour of trying to refocus and brainstorm my way out of a problem.

The problem is really the question of what the first line needs to do. Looking at it through the question of "intention," which I've been doing lately as noted before, I might be establishing theme, establishing character, starting the main story, laying out background to the main story, etc. Probably ideally all of these should be done at once in one elegant, vivid line that starts in media res, gives voice to the main character, references the time period and latitude and longitude, creates suspense and promises more action. In reality, as I brainstormed several possibilities, the more I worked to establish character or setting, the more it felt like a slow start. The more I established theme, the more abstract the language was. And the more I succeeded in getting the story started, the more utilitarian the language felt. Anyway, that presumes clarity about what the story actually is--what thread of events we need to pick up first.

I didn't mention establishing voice, and what I'm really leaning toward is the idea that establishing voice is the most important thing -- that the reader can tolerate a slow start to the story if they're interested in the voice. That's a theory, and one I don't have a hundred percent confidence in, but it's what I'm going to stew on until tomorrow, when I'll try again.

I can't believe I'm near the end of June and I'm stuck on the first line of my book. It's not looking like I'll get done this summer. My only hopes is that a breakthrough here will lead to quick clear work later on.

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