Recently I’ve been exploring various elements of WordPress, such as the new stats page, the “follow” function, the reader page, and on the latter, the WordPress Daily Post. Today’s Daily Post was on what it takes to get on their “Freshly Pressed” page, which is a best post of the week collection, or ten best for the month. That was interesting in itself.
Even better, though, was that through it I discovered this post by Oliver at his blog Literature and Libation. It’s part of a new series on writing he’s started called Craft and Draft, but it wasn’t long before I was seeing that as Craft and Daft.
Both titles work for this particular entry in the series (It’s called Craft and Draft: Character Counts), because it’s not only hysterically funny in a daft sort of way, it also resonated in terms of what the writing process is like for me.
He uses, of all things, photographs of various Lego figures to complement and illustrate the process he is outlining and explaining. That choice was brilliant. Yes, it’s exaggerated and simplified but that’s what makes it work so well. It’s easily applied to one’s own situation.
A vivid metaphor for how disconnected, discombobulated, and contradictory one’s characters (or world, or plot, or descriptions) can be — most likely will be, maybe even should be — when you’re moving through your initial drafts of the piece.
I will never forget his Lego man “hero” with the wooden leg, high-tech breathing apparatus, extra head with no face and best of all, a “period-inappropriate tricorn hat” which also happens to be on fire. (You gotta see the photo, if nothing else. Here’s the link again. And you might as well read it while you’re at it, cause then you’ll have context for what I’m going to say next.)
I love it! As I said earlier, it’s daft, but TRUE. I call this process “cobbling,” and I’ve been doing it for some time — in fact, with every novel I’ve ever written. A process where I just shove all the things I think I want in a scene together, whether compatible or not, with the promise that I’ll straighten everything out later. It’s a way of getting past the inertia, the inability to decide — eg, should he be high-tech (breathing apparatus) or low (wooden leg)? And if both, how could I make that plausible?
(In point of fact that is EXACTLY what I’m facing with Sky, since it has a sort of Roman-flavored culture, but is high-tech as well, thought “high-tech” in its own way. I’ve made the changes in the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, relationships, etc., just as Oliver described. But a lot of that has worked itself out now. At least for the beginning sections.)
This piece has reminded me how difficult this all is for me… in the sense of tolerating the chaos and uncertainty. But it’s also reminded me that there is something on the other side and that I have to go through all this to get there.
The only thing I took exception to in Oliver’s article was his contention that we force our characters to have whatever views we have decided they should have: “We force their beliefs onto them without even asking,” says he, “telling them what they’re passionate about, what they think about certain philosophical quandaries, and how they ultimately view the world.”
I’ve tried to do that. It doesn’t work. They sulk. They refuse to do what I want. Literally refuse. Everything goes blank. I can’t get them to talk or do anything. I avoid the work for days. I go back to it and they’re still stubbornly refusing to do what I want.
“No I will not go fight the fire. I don’t care if it’s dramatic, I think having the fire happen right now is a stupid thing. Why in the world would I be out there, anyway? I’m not a fireman! And besides, it has nothing to do with anything.”
That probably sounds loony, but I’ve been through it enough, I know it’s so. Instead of me forcing things on them, I believe it’s my job to discover who they are and what their story is. When they don’t want to fight the fire, and the fire has nothing to do with anything, I need to find out what the “thing” is that I’m really supposed to be focusing on, because clearly I’ve gotten it wrong.
Of course it’s all coming out of my thinking, so maybe a better way to describe it in macrocosm is, what kind of story is it that I’m wanting to tell? What kind of characters am I wanting to tell it with? And I really have no idea at the outset. I can only muddle my way along, putting down the things that I like and seem to fit at the time without worrying about if they actually do fit.
In fact, I’ve been doing that with Chapter 3 for the last three days and I am almost to the end of it… maybe tomorrow I will be!