Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bridge to Freedom

Faye Progress:
61725 / 90000 words. 69% done!

When I was in high school, I took a few years of drawing classes. I studied with pencil, colored pencil, and ink. I loved it. Drawing taps into that same part of my brain that writing does. It shuts out the rest of the world and brings complete focus into every aspect of the piece, narrowing the world down to a line, a shadow, a shape, a texture. The only problem was that inevitably, at some point in the project, my mind would wander and I would start working by rote.

Art is not something that can be created by rote. At least not good art. Invariably, when my mind would wander, what I created was, well, crap. There was no life to it. There was no originality. No beauty. It's this inattention that caused perspective to drift, realism to slip, and mistakes to be made.

It was the mistakes that would snap me back into focus on my project. They'd glare at me from the paper or mat board, bold and ugly. They required twice as much work to fix as they did to create, and caused hours of frustration.

On one particular project, when I was doing an ink drawing of a building while lost in thought, I carelessly extended the shadow of the roof's line beyond the roof in a wide swath of pitch-black ink. Horrified, I stared at my picture. I might have moaned. I probably tried not to cry. I know that my joy in the piece shattered in that moment. Now it was just another failure, another piece of art that wasn't as good on the paper as it was in my head.

Given a little time and perspective, and probably with a lot of sympathy from my friend who sat beside me in the class, I was able to see the humor in the mistake. I extended the lines of the tree that already existed in my picture, and I covered over the mistake with extra branches. No one who didn't know it was there would notice.

My friend and I dubbed that dark patch a Bridge to Freedom. The name doesn't make sense, but it did make me laugh. Now, instead of looking at the picture and seeing a stupid mistake, I saw a Bridge to Freedom, a symbol of potential, or maybe just a blob that had a different meaning.

One of the things I've come to believe is that every artistic project, including writing, has its own Bridge to Freedom. In my first novel, a fantasy that took three years to write and over three reams of paper to print, it was a rambling, guideless plot. In my second novel, Madison, it was a beginning that started far too late in the novel, as well as a missing third act. In the third novel, it's that troublesome third act again.

These writing Bridge to Freedoms don't happen because my focus drifts. A wandering mind is not a factor with writing. My mind is fully engaged in what I'm doing. I'm processing the scene, how it ties into the next one and the book as a whole, where the characters are in their arc and what it's going to take to get them to the next step, whether or not I've included enough description or too much, how the dialog is flowing... The list goes on, and it's plenty to keep my mind right there, front and center in the project.

They happen because learning to write is a process, and there's a lot of details to perfect along with great, sweeping elements to learn how to weave the details through.

Lying awake on Sunday night, I believe I realized Faye's Bridge to Freedom: I'm writing the novel from first-person perspective, the world displayed through Faye's eyes. It works, but it only works about half of the time. The other half, I think it would be good to see the world through Blake's eyes. Not only that, I don't think in first person when I'm plotting Faye in my head. Faye's world comes to me in third-person perspective.

I think I'm going to have to change it to third-person, with chapters alternating between characters.

Let me pause a moment to breathe.

This is no easy task. With perspective changes come different descriptions, different angles of seeing things. Beyond that, if I switch scenes to Blake's perspective, all that I've written is merely framework. It's the scene, the elements of the plot, but nothing else stays the same, most definitely not the rhythm of the words. Blake would process the world with a vastly different vocabulary than Faye.

I'm 206 pages into this novel. I'm about halfway done. I'm torn. Do I go back to the beginning and do the changes now? Do I switch to third-person perspective where I'm at and continue writing? Do I keep writing in first person and change it all later, or not, if this turns out to be one of those 2 AM thoughts that has no foundation?

While I ponder, I'm still moving forward, writing in first person for the time being. But that voice is in the back of my head that the next scene I write would be so much better from Blake's perspective. Maybe that's the test. I could write the next scene in third person from Blake's perspective and see how it goes. If I like it, then continue. If it doesn't work, I've answered my question without wasting a lot of time and energy.

Wish me luck!


TikiBird said...

Good luck! And you might want to check out this book: http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Oops-Barney-Saltzberg/dp/076115728X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1288154841&sr=8-2

Rebecca Chastain said...

Thanks, TikiBird! I love the link and the cute video that goes through the whole book!

I tried writing from Blake's perspective this morning, and I think I like it. I'll finish the scene tomorrow, hopefully, then give it a read to see how I like it. If nothing else, I got some good insights into my male protagonist's head, which were really helpful.

I'm concerned that if I do the alternating narrative, I won't have enough Blake time. His chapters might be noticeably shorter, and I don't know if that would be a bad thing or not. Either way, I'm making some progress and having fun, and fun is really what this is all about, right?