Witch-white and apple bright

I finished Plain Kate by Erin Bow a few days ago. Please do yourselves a favor. Run, do not walk, to your nearest local bookstore and buy a copy. It was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I think it will go on my list of books I would bring to a desert island alongside The Last Unicorn, The Pedant and The Shuffly and a collection of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry. I don’t want to talk about my experience reading it or about how I feel after having done so because I don’t want to give anything away.

I’m feeling a bit better about my novel at the moment. Really I feel so silly wibbling about writing on the internet in front of a bunch of other writers, but it’s so important to me to get this right that sometimes I crack. I think that’s my main problem right now, that I keep thinking there’s a right way to do this and I just have to find it and everything will fall into place. But going back to what my advisor said about playing and experimenting, I realized that this is a great opportunity to try different things to see what they do. What happens if I start the story here as opposed to there? What is the effect on the reader? How does this change the feel of the story? Because it’s not about right or wrong. Not exactly. It’s about feeling my way to the story I want to write and because I’m still not sure about a lot of things I can and should be playing.

This novel in particular is difficult because I’m so emotionally attached to the original short story. But I’m not the same person I was when I wrote it. I’m not the same writer. I need to let go. I need to get to know my characters better, their pasts and their presents. I wrote today in an essay that “ultimately, the story should belong to the character and so every detail, every moment of telling should deepen the reader’s knowledge and understanding of that character.” Now I just need to follow my own advice, lol. That’s the challenge with a novel like this. I want to veer away and tell anecdotes about the different characters and the world because they’re funny. However, that does not a novel make.

I also noticed reading through some of the other things I’ve written how different the voice or tone of this novel is compared to them. It’s silly and all over the place whereas my other stories have more of a poetic fairy tale feel. They do have humor, too. Apparently I am incapable of writing without at least a little humor or irony, but they’re richer and more focused. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with silly. I enjoyed Patricia C Wrede’s Enchanted Forest books, though I’ve only read the first two. They make me laugh. They’re clever. But if you stripped away the humor there would be very little left, certainly no substance. So I’m asking myself: what kind of book do I want to write?


Novels of Epic Length

I keep meaning to post about my novel but the list of things to do around here never ends. Anyway, I’m not going to go through every single revelation I’ve had about this particular writing project and/or writing in general because that could easily end up being the length of a novel itself, but I do want to talk about some of the major things.

Partway through the residency I realized that I wasn’t telling just one story. I was trying to tell three stories in one novel. This realization was both a relief and a cause for worry. On the one hand I was relieved to know that I could pick one story to focus on instead of trying to cram a bazillion characters and situations into one. On the other hand I was a bit ashamed to think that maybe what I have is the beginnings of a trilogy. I mean, everyone who writes fantasy seems to write in trilogies and isn’t it pretentious to assume that what you’re writing is interesting enough to make into not one, but three books? So I’ve decided for the moment to just focus on the story at hand and worry about the rest of it later. I don’t even know if I can make it through this book with the amount of time I spend despairing about it.

I’ve developed a pattern of swinging back and forth between confidence and utter hopelessness which is worrying me. In my darker moments I lose my ability to rationalize and I stop being able to function as well as I usually do which results in a great deal of wasted time. Mostly I feel overwhelmed by my choices and all the things I need to think about or try to convey. It’s depressing to me that I’ve worked on this novel for so long only to realize now how off base I was with so much of it. Until the residency it never occurred to me to think of the histories of my characters, that they might have a life beyond the pages of my story that might affect their decisions. I didn’t even think that deeply about where they were and how that might influence events. I didn’t ask why my characters would do certain things or make sure that every action had a cause and effect, that each thing that happened stemmed from something else. I basically just created an endless stream of what I thought were funny or interesting incidents. I said to myself: these are all the things I want to have happen so I will just make them happen and not think any more about it.

Part of my problem is that I wrote this story originally as a short story so I wanted to base much of it off of that. I didn’t want to change things or develop things or think about anything at all, lol. I wanted to keep the same tone, the same characters, and scenes. I’m actually amazed looking at it now how much has changed, especially after considering some drastic changes to the beginning. I nearly gave up on it today and emailed my advisor to ask if I could work on something else. But I finally sat myself down and told myself to ignore what I had before and just rewrite it, letting go of the old words, phrases, jokes, whatever.

One thing my advisor wants me to focus on is delving deeper into the minds of the characters because my omniscient narrator is all over the place at the moment. I have to admit that this has been one of the problems adding to my despair. I just don’t know how to make the omniscient narrator work without telling instead of showing and every time I pick up a book I love as an example I’m struck by how much they break the rules which just confuses me further. Anyway, after angsting about it this morning I decided to write a section in close third to see what it felt like and it was very enlightening to slow down and let my protagonist think and react to things.

I always thought when people talked about killing their darlings that they meant certain lines or phrases. I realize now that sometimes huge chunks need to go, perhaps even chunks of the original idea itself. But then, I used to think revision meant line edits, lol. I’ve never done such drastic revisions in my life.

I’m trying to see it as play, as my advisor put it. Just playing around with ideas and techniques that I can always reject or jettison later, but it’s hard. I suppose if anything I’m learning humility. I’m actually embarrassed to admit all these things in such a public space because they are so basic to writing. I feel as though I should have known these things already and I wish I had started thinking more deeply about writing at an earlier age. On the other hand, at least I am learning and isn’t it better to realize these things now rather than later?