Thursday, May 20, 2010

Down the stretch they come . . .

Put in 2,500 plus today on the work-in-progress, which now stands at 64,968 words. About halfway through today's session, I reached a point where I felt compelled to boldly open a blank page and type "Book IV" indicating I truly am rounding third and heading for home.

It's a truism (and one I subscribe to) that the more you write, the better you get. But I don't think necessarily that means you automatically write better. I think maybe a larger aspect of it is that you know yourself better as a writer, and are therefore more aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, one thing I've learned about myself is that I'm not good at going back once a work has been finished and "filling in the blanks." Sure, I'll edit for grammar and spelling, and occasionally choose better words. But once the thing is written, that's pretty much what it is.

And so I look back at some of the longer pieces I've written and imagine what might have been, if only I'd known myself better, known that I shouldn't merely write a "fill-in" scene just to move things along, because more than likely, that stinker is going to remain. Sure, I'll make it better where I can, but I know myself well enough now to know it is what it is.

Therefore, with this one, I've tried to be careful as I go along, to uncover every rock to see what's underneath, to make sure I write THEN AND THERE what it smelled like, what it looked like, because knowing myself as I do, if I don't do it then, it won't get done.

That sort of thing has certainly slowed things down some, but I think (and hope) the finished work will be better for it. Sure, there are details I need to go back and add (for example, I have yet to mention my pirates wear earrings, and dammit, my pirates wear earrings). But I'm pretty confident because the house has been built properly, and the underlying structure is sound, that I can with confidence go back and fill in those blanks.

Another curious thing about this one is I feel that only now, almost 200 pages and 65,000 words into the thing, am I really getting to know the characters. I mean truly getting to know the way they think and feel. For example, I wrote a scene today I thought would be merely a throwaway, simply to pass some of the summertime as we build toward the Labor Day climax. And I surprised myself to learn a great deal about my characters.

Whether it will stay in or not, or is any good, I have no idea at this point. But I do know after today, I'm gonna miss these guys when they're gone.

There are other things I'm learning about myself, one of them being I am much better suited to the long form. I know, I know, a story should only be as long as it needs to be. But even though I am far more drained after writing longer works, and also feel that I've left important little pieces of myself along the way (far less true when I've finished short stories) that I'm probably more a novelist than anything. And that's . . . okay.

Anyway, for your reading pleasure, here's a little unedited something from today's session that I hope illustrates a little of what I'm talking about:

"Now, that last thing. I guess that's the hardest. It's only been three years now, and you know what? Sometimes, I forget what he looks like. Really. Just forget what he looks like. And when that happens, I go into a kind of panic, you know? Because I forgot what my father looked like. So to remedy that, I keep a picture of him and me in my wallet, and I keep other pictures of him hidden around here and there too so he's always within reach. But that's one of my biggest fears, that I'll forget what my father looked like. Funny thing though, I'll never forget his voice. I can hear it in my head right now, matter of fact. Not that there was anything special about it. Not really. But he was always making jokes, or pulling pranks on my mother, and his laugh, oh boy. That's another thing I'll never forget. His laugh. My mother tells me I have his laugh, so maybe that's it. And that's what makes it so weird, that I'd forget what he looked like, but not his voice. Know what I mean? And I know it's silly, but sometimes, when I'm feeling bad, I tell myself he just went away for a while, like on a business trip or something, and all I have to do is wait just a little bit before I'll see him again. Is that weird? And I remember he used to call me buddy. Sometimes, I think he's going to walk down the stairs, knock on my door, and say 'Buddy! Get the hell out of bed." Silly, I know. But it helps."

He went quite a while before going on.

"So anyway . . ." he said, turning to Sarah and smiling. He turned away quickly when he saw her eyes were damp.

"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean for that to happen. But you did ask, and I answered."

He gave her a moment before looking at her again. She was smiling now, and had wiped away any hint of dampness that might have been there.

"Thanks," she said. "I really appreciate it."

He smiled too. "Ah, hell. It's nothing. Like I said, there aren't any secrets on the Rump. Speaking of . . . hey, look!"

He pointed down at the beach. When she looked where he was pointing, he went on.

"Your boyfriend got some sand in an uncomfortable place."

She groaned and turned quickly from the scene, which was exactly what Chris had described. After she less than gently swatted his arm, he began to laugh, and he kept laughing until the tears started rolling down his cheeks.

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