Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Little things

I've been beating my head against the wall on some character turning points that are important to subplots in Crowmaker, with said subplots and their turning points being, in turn, the handful of seemingly small happenings which support and drive the main plot. And more specifically, the story's ending. I've been thinking consciously about them for some time now. I have notes inserted in the ms that say, essentially, "write this scene here (when you figure out what exactly it is)." This morning, in the time it took me to crawl out of bed and walk to the bathroom, the Muse handed me three of the most critical scenes I'd been looking for--I could see them with perfect clarity in my head, hear the character's voices as they spoke. Which is a great thing, when it happens, because I had no time to write anything down for them, and having them whole in your head like a memory instead of just something you made up, makes it much, much easier to remember and write down later. I had another such flash as I came in the door from dropping Michael off at school. I can't remember what it was about, now, but I'm hopeful that when I run across the "write this" note in the ms, it'll come back to me. If not, then maybe it wasn't as great a moment as I initially thought.

None of these scenes were big scenes. The core of what I "saw" will take a paragraph or two for each to get into writing. Then, of course, the scenes will need to be expanded to include other action that goes along with them. But the important bits are in those small moments--which is why I called them turning points. But those tiny moments can be what holds all that other word count together, that give them meaning and make a bunch of words into a story.

Michael had to write a letter for school, inviting his parents to all school mass tomorrow. He showed it to me last night, and we discovered that although it was his letter with his address in his handwriting, it was not his name signed at the bottom of the letter--although the name appears very much to be his handwriting, too. The name is unfamiliar to both of us--not someone in his class or anyone he's heard of in the other classes. (And it's a small school, so he knows pretty much everyone in all the classes.) He has no recollection of having written that name at the bottom of his letter. The only thing we can figure out is that maybe he was looking at something with that name on it when he was signing his letter, and he subconsciously wrote that name instead of his own. (Not farfetched. I have done this in both writing and speaking, much to the amusement of my children. "Put the dog on the dishwasher. Leash! Put the dog on the leash.") We laughed about it, he's going to show his teacher and see if she has a clue what happened, and that was that. But of course there was the writer-me in the back of my mind going, "What if it wasn't just a silly little thing? What if it turned out to be a big, scary thing? Under what circumstances would something weird but trivial like this turn out to be ominous in retrospect?" Which is, quite honestly, not a terrible seed for a story idea.

Joey is home sick today. So, on the ride home from school this morning, as I was recognizing my writerly instincts above and connecting them with my Muse pearls from earlier and thinking about turning points and not always recognizing them because they seem small at the time and how useful it is in fiction and how they make fiction seem more realistic, my subconscious popped helpfully in with, "What if it isn't just a little fever? What if it turns out to be ominous in retrospect?"

Not. Helpful. But painfully honest, because in any tragedy (or triumph) of life, you can look back and see the little turning points--the innocent-seeming symptom that heralded the beginning of a terrible sickness, the turning your back on a kid for "just one second" that 99% of the time never amounts to anything, the tiny exchange of mutual respect with your sometimes difficult mother-in-law that just seemed like a nice moment until she died a month later and it turned out to be the last meaningful thing that happened between you. Little things. Little things that turn out to be huge.

In other news, I wrote a very cranky blog entry in my mind yesterday, but writing it in my mind made me feel somewhat better, so I didn't post it. This morning, the WotF newsletter was in my mailbox, and lo and behold... an article covering very much the same topic. "If Only I Had the Time," by Kevin J. Anderson.

Apparently I'm not the only one who gets tired of hearing it. I don't have the time, either. Now more than I did in the past, when I did the largest part of learning how to write and slowly building my ability to write a story and get published, certainly. When I started really trying to make something of myself as a writer, I had two children, both still in diapers. My husband was not part of the parenting equation, since he was either at the office or on the road. For several months, during relocations, we didn't even live in the same state. I had no local family for backup. It was just me and the two little guys in towns we didn't know, trying to muddle through as best we could. In earlier writer bios, I stated that I wrote an hour a day, 5 minutes at a time. I was not exagerrating. I wrote longhand, in a steno notepad left on the kitchen counter where I could stop and scrawl down a few lines before moving on to the next "real" thing that needed done. I read how-to books during naptimes instead of sleeping. I crammed in all the things that I needed to learn and do to make stories and get them published, and it was hard work. I'm blessed now, yes, to have a block of hours during the weekdays. But even now, I still have other work to accomplish in those same hours. I put in somewhere between 40-60 hours a week on kids and housework. (Yes, I really do. I keep track.) I have to fend off the lure of online games and blogging (ahem) and chat rooms and Gtalk, and I put in another 15-20 hours a week at writing. It's still work. It's still HARD work. It requires me to set aside the time, to put in the hours, and to get it done instead of just talking about doing it. Is it sometimes wonderful? Oh, yeah. Do I do it because I love it, even when it's hard? You bet.

But I DO it. I make the time, and I put in the work. Can the people who spout "I could do that if I had the time" turn out stories and get them published and make me look like a rank amateur? Maybe they can. But until they've made the time and DONE it, every time they utter those words to me, it's a slap in the face--an utter lack of respect for and a complete dismissal of what I've accomplished and am still working to accomplish.

Rant done. We now return you to your regularly scheduled cheerful person, who in turn is now going to take some of her own medicine and go WORK instead of blogging.

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