Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Friday, October 24, 2008

NaNo --My Planning Philosophy

I know some people believe in thoroughly planning a novel before they write it--I'm not one of them. I prefer the "Choose Your Own Adventure" where perhaps you've read a couple of the pages, know of a few events that will happen, possibly an endpoint you'd like to reach, and you might even know bits of the character or characters involved

I hold that until you've actually written a character and let them act things out, given voice to things, and let "them" make decisions you don't REALLY know them, even if you think you do. In fact, I feel it would be counter-productive to "know" your character before you write them. Imagine trying to write a novel using Yoda, Mr.Spock, Elmo, and Ms.Piggy. They are all characters that you probably feel you know, but outside of a couple of funny lines of dialog and gross over characterizations (I believe this is the literary equivalent of over acting) you would probably fall flat after a few pages, or perhaps a chapter. First of all because you're not working with your own characters, but secondly because you DON'T really know these characters as well as you think (although my brother may have dissected enough Star Wars to argue with me on his knowledge and ability to write Yoda).

I think there is an apt analogy in my art training. As part of my 1st and 2nd year drawing classes in college I was asked to copy "Master Works" and to break down their design, their eye movement patterns, and their value (light/dark) schemes. We had to do sketches where we only drew the darkest elements and the mid tone elements as blurry forms. We did drawings of only the brightest colors and the lightest values. It was only when I did this that I really grew to appreciate a few of the artists. I could look at their work and enjoy it, but I had no idea that hidden within there were great design elements drawing the eye in and directing it. I had no idea that most of my favorite works of art were highly balanced works of design. Their internal architecture was magnificent. So now I knew right? I had dissected the master and I could use their techniques? Well, using this knowledge we were asked to do drawings using similar design schemes and I found it quite impossible. How could I replace one of Winslow Homer's sailboats with anything but? I could imitate the lighting perhaps, or the triangulation of elements based on the dimensions of the canvas and how the elements would align in space, I could evoke the tone of peacefulness or tumult, but I could not change elements without ruining the balance. In like regard one can enjoy a book, a character, a scene and never really SEE the elements in it. You may not notice allegory, alliteration, the way the author held back on that vital piece of information until just the right point, the way the author led you in one direction in order that you may feel how dramatic the shift to the other direction really is or would be. Unless you have dissected, re-written, copied, and delved fully into all the hows and whys, how can you really KNOW the characters, or the writing style, or the foundational beauty of the piece...And even when you DO know and appreciate and understand, you can't duplicate it without simply copying their work.

So I'm not saying we should dissect the character of Spock so that we can put him into our novel. But if we REALLY wanted to put Spock in, certainly we must undertake that step or our characterization will feel flat and one dimensional. But then we must expect that as soon as we add new situations, new relationships, and as soon as we use OUR voice to write Spock's voice, there will be change, he will be different....And that's okay, but we need to recognize it and accept it as inevitable

One of the reasons there MUST be change is that there is the process of growth and change that a character goes through during a novel. If, at the end of the book, Ms. Piggy is still threatening to smash Spock's silly Vulcan face and Elmo is still trying to get Yoda to tickle him it's probably better material for a sitcom than a novel. Most novels include some sort of growth or change in a character and when using "store bought" characters we must understand that by the end of the novel they cannot be the same Mr. Spock that we started with.

So what planning AM I doing?...stay tuned, I'll add that in another post

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