Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Moving Target - Writing Over Time, or Bringing Up Baby

My last post was about how time affects the reader's view of a work of literature. Back when I wrote it, (a week ago), I was all gung-ho to do a follow-up post about how time affects the writer's relationship to their own work. I had the post half-written in my mind. I counted on my brief reference in my last post as sufficient to jog any memories that might need jogging with the mere flip of an ipad.

Now, here I am, a week or so later, and already my relationship to the material has changed. Between then and now, things have happened. Not earth-shattering things, just the ebb and flow of living. Still, that ebb and flow is enough to shift the sands. The thought that popped up so vividly then seems distant and foggy now. New blog posts and story ideas have been jostling for a place in line. And this is after little more than 7 days. This is with the succinct, manageable form of a blog post.

How, then, do we writers, changeable humans that we are, manage to sustain our connection to a novel, with its complex storylines and fully-realized characters whose truth and consistency must hold not only across the space of hundreds of pages but across the many years it takes to complete such a longer work? It's not like we stop changing and growing and evolving during that time. What do we do if we sit down one day and discover that the themes or characters that drove us to create a story in the first place are no longer the themes that resonate for us today?

Perhaps we need to be time travelers in our own minds, imaginative enough to go back and find the emotional truth that drew us to a story. But we're also responsible for creating characters vivid enough to have life and growth on their own, outside our minds. The skin and tissue of our characters must be consistent and strong, but also fluid, allowing them to grow. In the end, like parents, we must trust them, release them from our own control in the hope that they can stand, walk, run and live on their own.

How? Well, if my own mini-experiment in this blog post is any indicator, when you don't feel the connection anymore, write your way back in from a new angle. Maybe your story will be richer for it. Or maybe, as in my case, you'll at least feel you've given it the attention it deserved. And if you drop it, ignore it, give up on it? Maybe, like Frankenstein's monster, it will come to you at night in some terrifyingly powerful form and insist that you own it as yours.

1 comment:

  1. Who am I to answer this question? The only novel I've written is a genre (mystery) novel, which I outlined first. However, an outline is only a skeleton, a map. The story itself did shift and change as I wrote the novel over a period of 18 months. I wrote every day of those 18 months, and yet the story flowed along with me and my life, surprising me as a river surprises one with something new around each bend. Not enough to stray from the important plot points, but enough to keep the story interesting, make it even more intriguing imho. We go with the flow, I guess.
    Right now I'm writing a new play. I don't yet have an outline because for a play I first have to have a story, a roster of characters, and the end in mind. Then I will outline it as if it were a film using Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder and begin writing the script. Meanwhile, I fool around, letting the characters fade in, try to grab onto them and listen to their personal stories and write that down. Soon I will know where we are all headed, but it will change along the way. That I know. Change is always certain.


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