Friday, April 8, 2011

INKBLOTS tackles some tough writing problems last night

INKBLOTS – APRIL 8, 2011 (Now meeting twice a month, this week at the McComas compound)

Five men, sun breaks after heaps of rain, crackling fire, Columbia Valley, Cab-Merlot blend. Chit-chat about planning the big story, global ideas and the differences between the big campaign and the close knife work of the actual writing (pardon the metaphor). We talked about Dostoevsky (at left), O'Conner, Erasmus, and a few others tonight.

John S leads off with his developing novel exploring racism, abortion, parent daughter tensions. This is a gritty tale with more layers each time. John shared with me some of the mother’s background issues, the short version is that she had a past, quite a past that her daughter was wholly unaware of. This chapter begins with the daughter (pregnant) showing up again at the Care Net, asking for advice on what to do. Too stiff on the dialog. Your dialog needs more consideration, how it is affecting your protagonist, as she listens to the client services woman. How is she thinking? What is making sense. What is not. You shift to what the counselor was thinking about Emma, rather than the reverse, drawing conclusions from her eyes. But how is this working for Emma? That’s what I’m thinking as I listen to this. Summarize some of this in Emma’s point of view, interspersing snatches of the actual words. Throw in Emma’s thinking this woman doesn’t know what she’s going through, then show the reader and Emma that this counselor does, in fact, know what she’s talking about. Maybe in another chapter, another visit with the counselor. Such long, uninterrupted account of the counselor’s past sounds too much like a sermon (sermons are good, but wrong genre; we’re writing fiction here). Emma’s response should come inside her bewildered head. I think Emma should go away stubborn and not impressed. Then have her not be able to sleep, can’t get some phrase out of her head. As she thinks about what that phrase means, more of the counselor’s words come back to her. Great content, but have Emma interrupt her, accuse her with, “So you’re telling me, I’m going to be an old spinster like you?” Intersperse her recollections of pressures her parents and friends are exerting on her: “Have this baby—and you ruin your life.”

John S said he’s going to name his dog “Dialog,” so he can say, “Bad Dialog!” This after I read from Gary Provost’s Beyond Style (page 101 ff) on originality in dialog, creating tension, conversations greatest hits, not the bland, every-word stuff that puts the reader to sleep… Zzzzzz…. Humph, huh?

Brendan W didn’t bring anything to read tonight, but came sniffing for inspiration to get back into it. Too much audacious writing for work. Look forward to some quality stuff next time.

David K picks up at snake-pit chasing the other brother, forced recon good guys chasing one of the bad guys. Cajun dialect, works pretty well, a few refinements for clarity. With dialect there do need to be compromises for readers’ understanding. Dialect that is so authentic only the locals could understand it may be the real McCoy, but readers have moved on to another author they can understand. His believing in God came seemingly in a vacuum, without clear cause. Now, this may actually be realism, God by his sovereign Spirit awakening a sinner’s heart, but the way this handled seemed like an obligatory tack-on, then hastily back to the exciting stuff. Dave explains His ‘conversion’ doesn’t seem to change anything for him, how he must solve the dilemmas of his world, a clear change in plan or execution of a plan, but there was none of this. She watched as he turned toward her. Keep it from her perspective. Coming to us largely from the point of view of the guy getting the business end of the shot gun. The tour of the reaction of everyone to the fellow’s death seemed too cursory. Who do we really need to know about?

It is legitimate to write a tale that explores the evil of eugenics, civil injustice, ambition that destroys others. What is the goal of this book? Is it to show the tension between the two kingdoms, the City of God and the City of Man? If so, then your protagonist would need to be grappling with this, longing for a world of justice and goodness, light not darkness. But I don’t get this from listening to the excerpts I’ve heard. If his conversion does not advance your main story and objective then it is a tack-on, not essential to the scope of this story.

John did not like the part about the boys shooting their twenty-two. Sarah was in the kitchen… I need to describe the house a little better. Doug Mc said that too much happened in too small a space of time. Rapid pace, certainly, but break it up into three chapters so that there is an opportunity to develop things. Doug Mc suggested name change for Josh and Jesse, too many ‘Js’ and the reader is slowed down figuring out which one is which. A movie example of taking something dull—a speech—and creating tension, incremental suspense, build up, and then the actual speech (finale in The King’s Speech).  

Doug Mc (pictured at left) rereads the backseat of a Packard revised after reading Flannery O’Conner’s Good Country People, a seduction scene to make you puke. My CHS students have told me that this short story could go a long way to unmasking the ugliness of fornication. Doug does a great job of setting the scene, something frying on the stove, skunk-sized mutt, and the description of the father. “Fashionable” dress. Hmm. Can you be more specific? When Thomas has thoughts in reaction to Jackie’s dad. Have him say to himself, “That explains a lot,” then have him think, “Let’s get out of here.” It shows progression of his thought, thoughts moving toward the backseat.  I missed her reaction to the two girls Lester and the other guy were with in the other car. Clarify. Have them honk and give him a meaningful look. Why did she move away? Like a kid who didn’t get dessert, alter to a specific favorite dessert, didn’t get his butterscotch pudding with chopped hazel nuts on top. Talk from both of them, showing his various efforts to seduce her as in Erasmus’s Wooer and the Maiden. We discussed whether or not this critical scene was titillating or not. We all agreed that if err we will, it must be in the direction of telling and showing less. I think the movie they are watching with this happens (sex outside of marriage never really just happens, though men try to say that it does).

I’m up. So I laid out my over view plan for my Anglo-Saxon tale. To be fleshed out more. I’m doing lots of reading, fiction, war nonfiction, and writing theory. Doug Mc (a nuke engineer, bear in mind) thinks we need to stick with our plot, lay it out super detailed and then stick to it. I disagreed. Sure, we need a plan, and spending a good deal of time laying things out is all good and necessary, but a well-crafted tale with authentic characters will take on a life unanticipated by me in the earliest stages. I think we scrap the original plan for the real deal unfolding.

Have my character have behavioral issues (I think they thought this would be easy for me to write about... bunch a chumps), detached arrogance as a defense for his inability to speak, he is forced to become strong, to fight but not in defense of himself. Have him only fight when he is defending someone weaker. I want this to be a quintessential inside-the-head tale. Still working out many details. How is he going to regain speech? Good question. It could be that to defend the weak he absolutely had to speak or another would die. Or it could be a Divine visitation as claimed by Bede for Caedmon. What made him poetic? Could be recollections of his mother’s singing to him as a child, and at first he only recited in song what she had sung to him (create it) but later it became his own. It was many months before he realized it was his own. He could find solace in silence, not interrupting himself and his thoughts by speech.    

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