Labyrinthine

It’s been a while since last I wrote and I don’t have any good excuses. While it’s true that I’ve been tied up beating my first chapter into submission, I still could have found time to write other things. I guess I’ve just been so busy worrying about all my different projects and goals that I haven’t accomplished much at all. For that, I apologize.

Now, about that first chapter.

I finally finished the rough draft last night (just of the chapter). I’m ashamed to admit it, but it took me over a month. I’m telling you, books are nasty little buggers, always bent on revenge. Or maybe I just don’t listen well. Or I’m tired. I’ve been writing this novel for five years; I’m bound to lose my motivation sometimes.

However, I have learned a thing or two about beginnings along the way. And I hate them a little less.

One thing I learned was that I’ve been leaning too heavily on a certain character. An extremely important character, but still. This led me to another discovery. I thought I leaned on this character out of favoritism, but the truth was that he was just so much more interesting than the protagonist, and therefore more fun to write. My MC needed more goals and conflict. It took all this to give her what she wanted.

Every time I have to do revisions and rewrites, it drives me crazy. It seems as though I’ll never see the end, but I think I learned something last night. A couple things, perhaps.

First off, I’ve only been writing seriously for about a decade, and I need to be less hard on myself. I want to create something truly spectacular, and for that I need patience.

Also, I’ve gained trust in my artistic instinct. If I hadn’t decided to re-write the story’s beginning, my MC would have retained a lack of intricacy through the entirety of the series. Don’t get me wrong; she was a great character. But now she’s a fantastic one.

So maybe re-writing isn’t so bad after all. Especially for somebody as young as me, who still has a lot to learn.

The Empty Page

I hate beginnings. No, I loathe them. All the things the story has to say, crowding at the bottleneck of Chapter One. How does a person make sense out of such unruly chaos?

Oh, and don’t get me started on the characters. Fledglings, so dear and intricate to me, but blank slates to the readers. With all the complexity of human beings, how to show a character, fit her into her niche? How can she start out feeling like herself if you have to introduce her first?

The only way I can even begin to imagine the undertaking is through careful organization. I am such a plotter. Everything neatly constructed beforehand, to avoid traffic accidents and suchlike. For pantsers I have a sense of awe, edged with jealousy and maybe just a hint of disbelief. How in the name of all things good and green do you do it? Unwritten stories are monstrosities. Pantsing is like tweaking a dragon on the nose and then running for your very life, laughing as you go. They laugh, I swear. They are insane. (That, and a little bit magnificent.)

Anyhow, like I was saying, I need careful organization. I need to lay out exactly what I need the reader to know. And then I need to take my protagonist and throw myself inside her head with reckless abandon.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about characters, it’s that “setting out” to show their personality usually ends in disaster. I think I touched on this in Drowning in Roses and Moonlight. You really have to bury yourself inside a character’s head in order to portray her properly. That’s the only way she can breathe. Too much control and she turns into a puppet.

I remember reading Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych in highschool, and this was something that struck me about his characters. His descriptions were so beautiful and spot-on, and his studies of human nature truly interesting, but for all that, they were nothing but that to me: studies. I don’t mean to insult such a prominent and well-loved author, but I can’t have been the only person who felt that his characters were being controlled by an outside force. Come to think of it, that may have been what he intended. In which case, he did a brilliant job, but it’s not a writing goal that I share, satirical or otherwise.

In order to form beginnings, I have to craft a delicate balance of absolute control and absolute lack of it. Direct the characters, but let them breathe as freely as any human being. It’s an interesting dance, and part of the execution of it is keeping up with the craziness without showing how much it freaks you out. You have to lose yourself in the rhythm, just like improvising jazz.

The Colored Glass Effect

Writing isn’t so much like drawing a line as it is cutting and then arranging shapes of colored glass into a mosaic. A surreal, abstract mosaic, probably, but there’s the beauty of it. Because the abstract pattern could even be considered a colored shape of glass itself, and and and . . . this excites me probably more than it should. But isn’t it breathtaking?

Every important anything in a story is a piece of colored glass. Each shape takes a single idea and reflects it in fiction form. The mosaic is the medium, the go-between of the surreal and the mind’s eye.

My favorite stories are those in which you can almost feel the crystalline shapes, can hear their song of prism light. Properly exectued fairytales tend to do this very well through their idealism. Dostoevsky created this effect beautifully with his characters. Frances Hodgson Burnett accomplished it with theme, and CLAMP, when they really put their all into it, show their mastery of stained glass symbolism. Have you ever watched The Fall? That movie breathes with the effect.

What if somebody could write a story where everything felt that way, but they still managed to ground the reader in reality?

I’m going to be honest now: that is my ultimate goal. Can you imagine how beautiful that would be? Fantasy world, characters, themes, symbols, atmosphere–just everything–all color and shape and light. Still realistic at the same time, too. Crazy. Can it be done? I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Still, if I’m going to grow in this direction, I’m going to need a lot of help. And so begins my study of stories that strike me with their colored glass. Now and again, I will share my findings. It’ll be like setting out to explore a mysterious, beautiful land, where all the examined colored glass reflects into the design of the world. Hey, that’s actually kind of neat. What would Alyosha Karamazov’s character resemble as fantasy terrain?

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