Friday, April 17, 2009

Closer to the swamp

While the exploratory draft of one book is resting until I have enough objectivity to hack my way through it again, I've turned to revising the previous book. It's good, but is it good enough? No, it never is. That was a trick question!

One of the things I'm focusing on in this revision is characters. It's always tempting for me to set my characters up as "types." The shy kid. The introspective main character. The bully. Etc. Sometimes I even do this on purpose so as not to take away from the merciless clarity of the main character's story. What a mistake! Making characters real adds to the story.

I think of my stories as enormous fetid swamps. They are messy and sprawling, humming with life and death, decay and birth. Hummingbirds flash over black water; turtles sprawl like ropey knots on logs; the water is so full of organic matter it's nearly opaque, and the air is thick with insects. It's complicated, rich, messy. Alive.

And while I'm not saying a story should be a mess, it should have the pure stink of life. Veracity. Slicing away all that nuance, the richness and ambiguity of people who sometimes make the wrong choice, for example; or who might not be clear why they do X rather than Y, leads to a hard and sterile story that in the end feels -- to me -- artificial.

For example, see how this posting is sprawling and convoluted? Yeah, just like that. Revising should remove the crud but keep the complexity, the loamy and humid exhalation of the swamp.

So while I am now trying, as I always will, to burn away the useless parts of the story, I am also trying NOT to burn away that richness. Little mannerisms of characters that make them more real. Their quiet fears, that they know only upon waking before they force them back into the subconscious. The shames and selfish prideful moments. All of it.

I am trying to get closer, in other words. Closer into my characters' heads. It's fun because I need to be able to articulate things about themselves that they would not be able to. Once I am armed with this knowledge I can rethink the way they experience the story and how they react to plot points.

All of which is a way of gathering my courage before I plunge into the swamp. Yoiks ... and away!


Anonymous said...

Bravo! I think the challenge for really good writers is to find ways that each and every reader, in your case, the young adults, can identify with aspects of one character or another. If the reader feels the author "understands" them through the characters, it increases the credibility of the characters and the story and makes the reader want to turn each and every page to see how the characters resolve conflicts. The difficulty is, as you well know, that each person reacts and deals with situations differently depending on their own personalities. We tend to give characters our own characteristics because that is easiest to do. Ahhhh, the challenges for you as the writer.

Babs said...

Sorry--screwed up the signature--Babs be me on the above comment.