Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Organizer-Woman takes on The Muse

I am an extraordinarily organized person. I have to be--be it ADHD or some other "disability" or simply who I am, if I am not organized then I tend to simply jitter around the house aimlessly and accomplish nothing. Give me a list of goals and a calendar, and I transform into Organizer-Woman, complete with cape and panic-reflecting wristbands. No matter how tiny the detail, if it requires doing at some time other than right this very second, it goes into my Day Runner. And if it is in my Day Runner, then it GETS DONE, PERIOD. My family knows this about me. They roll their eyes when I command them to WRITE IT ON THE GROCERY LIST when they try to get by with a quick, "Hey, buy me some cheese next time you shop, hon?" But if they really want that cheese, you better believe it gets on the list. (Joey, being the clever young man he is, attempted to trick me once by writing "Rock Band" on the bottom of my shopping list. He discovered, to his chagrin, that the rule is "It must be on the list or it will not be bought," but that there is no corollary which states "If it is on the list, it will be bought." Poor guy.)

I've applied that uber-organization to learning new things that I want to learn, including the mechanics of fiction writing. I've spent what probably equates to months worth of hours poring through how-to articles and books, dissecting suggested techniques and assembling them into a process that works for me. When I took a couple of days last week to assess Crowmaker and determine exactly what about it wasn't working for me, I suspected that it may have been that my Organizer-Woman alter ego was strong-arming the story a little too much.

When I write, I generally start by simply writing down anything that I already know about a story--details of a character, a scene that's vivid in my head, maybe even just a general idea of theme. Then I work through a series of questions and exercises to help me flesh out what I don't know and start filling in blanks, which includes a template of 6-10 primary plot points to help stake out the territory I'll be covering. Because my natural tendency is to focus on characters and relationships, I sometimes struggle to find the action focus necessary to make things jump instead of letting the characters just sit around and talk or think. I know this about myself, so I try to head myself off by focusing first on the action-oriented plot when I frame a story. What I found last week was that Crowmaker was driven so hard by a deadline-oriented plot (OMG, we have to keep moving!) that the landscape of possibilities had grown narrow and confining instead of just creating suspense.

In desperation, because I love this story and I don't want to lose it, I sat down at the kitchen table with none of Organizer-Woman's notes. Zero. None. But that's OK, I assured her. She was going to get to flex her organizing muscles, still. I took out a stack of blank index cards and a pen, and I made three piles of cards. Stack one had cards with an action-oriented event on them, either related to the big plot or... Gasp! Not related to the story at all! At least not as far as I'd known up until that point. I just picked them out of thin air, or from a dream I happened to recall at that moment, or from a tidbit of a recent news story that had piqued my interest. Then I made a stack with a character name (or two) on them, representing the people and the relationships I suspected would turn out to be interesting if I gave them some room to talk. The third stack was focused on the story's viewpoint character, either her relationship with other people or her internal growth or things she had to face about herself.

Then I shuffled each stack and matched them up randomly with each other, one from each stack, and paper-clipped them together. My current assignment to myself is to write at least one chapter from each bundle of three cards, incorporating the three mostly-unrelated cards as best I can. The main plot is still there; the main characters and relationships I wanted to explore are still there. But there's a fresh angle to it now, too, and the challenge to make things that started out unrelated link somehow to the pieces of the bigger picture. Organizer-Woman is skeptically satisfied with patting the paper-clipped stack of cards now and then and assuring herself it's all written down and it'll be OK; the Muse is happily dancing around in the confines of the current chapter (since I haven't peeked at any other than the one I'm currently working on), with lots to do but no temptation to go crazy and rampage through the rest of the story.

It's a new approach for me, but it might work. It's fun, if nothing else, and it hasn't hurt my word count--almost 4,500 so far this week, and my goal is 6,000 or so a week.

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