Friday, 12 June 2009

Invent or Remember?

I made something of a momentous discovery yesterday.

I have been mulling over a letter that Gertrude Stein wrote to Hemingway. In the letter, she told Hem that she thought the things he invented were superior to the things he remembered.

Worth taking a moment to think about this.

I'm sure that, in part, my mood board was designed to put this idea to the test.
Anyhoo, the mood board was surprisingly unsuccessful.
Lying in bed last night, I was thinking of the descriptions I had made, of the things I had found in the images, and of the things I had remembered. After a little thought, I found the one description that transformed the scene, and it was something that did not exist in the mood board.
I had inadvertantly hit upon the very reason why my mood board was, largely, a failure, there in the post, an afterthought in brackets!

Under the regulations of the narrator's knowledge and make-up!

It's not enough to find those essential details. The essence of those details needs to be the essence that the narrator (in this case, the protag [first-person]) would find.

But that's not quite right either.

Allow me to refer you, gentle reader, to my previous thoughts on the benefits of a Primary Representational System:
In considering the cases for and against, I gave myself this argument:

Because we each have a PRS, by giving one to our characters, they become more like real people, and we can use their PRS to characterise. However, by choosing to prioritise one RS over the others, we jeapordise our chances of forming any rapport with those readers whose PRSs are different to any given character's.

The argument is a bit messy, because I should have distinguished between narrator and character.
I still contend that characters are better defined through a PRIMARY RS.

However, the narrator is not simply a character. The narrator is the umbilical cord between fiction and the reader's reality. Or, less pragmatically, the narrator is part character and part reader.
As such, to imbue the narrator with a Primary RS is to cut away huge chunks of the reader.

Therefore, I now contend that the narrator should not absorb and regurgitate the world through the sieve of a PRIMARY RS. The narrator should, in reasonably equal measures, see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world. In this way, every permutation of reader RS's is satisfied.

Strange Japanese invention #2: Portable office tie.

So back to Gertude.

I think, what she was telling Hem, was that his employment of a PRIMARY RS (taste) went some way towards the criticisms that were often hurled at Hem: That his writing was sterile. (Not to be confused with clinical!)
This might be because:
When Hem remembered, he did so through the filter of his own Representational Systems.
When Hem invented, he did so with a thought for the reader (and, possibly subconsciously, broke from his filter).
Certainly, it's interesting to see how Hem's band of RS's widened as he matured.

N.B. Piaget once said that people learn most when they have to invent. Particularly interesting if you consider that the reader and narrator learn simultaneously.

Still some way to go with these thoughts. But for now, I have enough to understand why some of my descriptions work well, while others feel wrong. PRIMARY for characters, GENERAL for narrator.

Strange Japanese invention #3: Ten-in-one gardening tool.

Here's a thought to leave you with:
What would happen if you took two of your characters and made them into one?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Mood Board: Coastal Sunrise

I've spent the morning collating all my plot points and notes for the final act and have organised them into chapters and have done lots of research and immersed myself in the textures of the opening chapter. Now I need to compile a mood board to find the essential mood of that chapter.
(I've also added a link to a wonderful colour-picking site - top right under Words > colours.)
So here's my mood board! See how many marvellous little details there are to be discovered, recreated and decanted, and woven together (under the regulations of the narrator's knowledge and make-up)! Ooh, I'm all excited!

For myself ... the problem was one of depiction and waking in the night I tried to remember what it was that seemed just out of my remembering and that was the thing that I had really seen and, finally, remembering all around it, I got it. When he [matador] stood up, his face white and dirty and the silk of his breeches opened from waist to knee, it was the dirtiness of the rented breeches, the dirtiness of his slit underwear and the clean, clean, unbearably clean whiteness of the thigh bone that I had seen, and it was that which was important.

Hemingway: Death in the Afternoon.

N.B. All images taken from public domain (Google images). No watermarks have been removed. No profit is being made from reproduction of images.
Some notes on copyright of public domain images here.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Time Flies, Dung Beetles

The new Volkswagon Beetle raised eyebrows.

I don't often think about time. All I understand about time is that there isn't enough of it and it's running out.

A couple of months ago, I was in one of my local shops and I was chatting with the woman behind the counter, as we often do, and then she noticed my son with me and her eyes lit up and she was all over him: Hasn't he grown et al. This happens a lot.
I momentarily imagined my son walking into his local shop at my age. I wondered if the light in the cashier's eyes would be gone. Does she like him because he's a child, or because of who he is? When he's grown up, it won't be his fault that he's no longer a child.
Anyhoo, I couldn't see the thought leading anywhere so I dumped it.

My son and I just spent the weekend with my mother. For whatever reason, she dug out some old letters that she has kept for almost forty years, and she invited me to read them. One was from her father. It was dated 1973 and was written shortly before he died from, I believe, a stroke. He wrote to express his adoration of his young grandson and explained how his young grandson made his day.
It was nice to know that I had made an old man's day, and had made him very happy in his last days. Although I can't really take any credit.
But I've been thinking that one of the best reasons to write is to make other people happy.

How a wasp might see my son holding a rubber chicken.

Act II is finished (bar all the revisions I need to make). I've just totted up my word total and I'm pretty much on track: together, the first two acts come in just shy of 70k.
I'm estimating that the final act - the shortest of the three - will come in at 20k, or a little less.
And that doesn't seem like a big number at all. And so, to everyone who stands at the doorway to a new ms, I hope you'll take heart: if you write a little bit here and there, whenever the time is available, then you'll soon discover that the job is almost done. Every few words helps to chip away at the total count. Keep plugging away and next thing you know you'll be at the editing stage!

Oh, the editing stage! Currently, there are approximately 7,620 things wrong with my ms. But if I've learned anything, it's that I can deal with every problem my ms throws up, and that it grows inexorably, becoming prettier and more shapely with every passing day. I've battled through a hideous weekend of writer's block, and I've found the heart of my novel, and I've figured out how to bring more conflict and a meatier reversal (charge swap) into my opening, and I've discovered which sub-plots actually add very little and can go, and which strands duplicate other strands and can also go, and how to regulate the reveals such that they build and how to recognise the difference between a standard reversal and a major, end-of-act, reversal ...
And I reckon that the best way to learn all of these things and much more is to throw oneself into the ms and just write.

One last thought, and I'd like to think there's empathy out there:
I seem perpetually torn. There are moments, sometimes days, when I am convinced that I am creating something worthwhile and, dare I say, marketable. (Okay, I admit it, sometimes I think I'm writing something that is quite good.)
And then there are moments and days when I feel that I am pushing this invisible dung ball around with me everywhere I go, and that when I write, I am slapping more invisible dung onto the ball and it is growing and one day somebody will look at it and it will cease to be invisible and they will give me a very peculiar look.
Reckon we need a pic of a dung ball.

I'll leave you with a poem composed by my son:

The Dragon Who Ate Our School
* * *
It all started this morning at eight,
whilst the dragon demolished the playground gate.
She poked the teacher while he was writing the date,
until she noticed a tasty roof slate.
Mr Jones knew his fate,
so he ran away before it was too late.
She's undeniably great,
she's absolutely cool,
the dragon who ate
the dragon who ate
the dragon who ate our school.
Suddenly the dragon started to chase Miss Lee
while the children were playing elevens and chanted out number three.
The dragon bumped into a massive tree,
and then we looked at it and out popped a bumble bee.
Finally as the teachers tried to run free,
all of the children were full of glee.
She's undeniably great,
she's absolutely cool,
the dragon who ate
the dragon who ate
the dragon who ate our school.