Monday, June 07, 2010

New Directions

Every once in a while I look back on my little blog and think about posting again. It's a short thought because, while I did love doing it, I keep feeling like I don't have a lot to say, at least not a lot to say about my daily life. Some of you may know but I've been hard at work this last year writing a actual honest to goodness musical, from scratch. The tricky thing about writing something that huge is that, if you are me anyway, you spend much of your time not liking the stuff you are churning out and wishing you could say it much better, which in turn does not lead to me writing other things. However, my first draft is finally done and I am a little more objective so I finally feel like putting together an average post.

Also, I feel like I finally understand a few things...cottage cheese for instance. Salty, creamy, chunky and cold it just works on a hot day. Boy, am I glad I got that out of the way.

Anyhow, back to what I understand.

I have been poking away at some of my old writing and finally, after at least four drafts and much thought, I have figured out how to fix my old An Architect's Tower story. If you have read my old story you will notice that about half way through I went wildly off the tracks and veered straight into my old University mentality, namely, it isn't a story of importance unless it is about something "Important." A love story (which, like it or not was where I was going) was not good enough, I had to find somewhere else to go. You know.... abuse, horrific family life, race relations, war, sexuality or any other capital I "Ideas." If you got that far in my story you know exactly what I am talking about.

Part of the problem was I had mixed up my themes. I started my story thinking it was about one thing, how Antoni Gaudi came up with the idea for his snail shell stairs in the bell towers, and it ended up being more about Antoni and Beatriz and a final chance at forgiveness. Maybe that happens a lot to other authors. Maybe it just happens a lot to me. All that matters is that I was, frankly, annoyed with my characters for moving out of the role that I had originally given them. (I only put Beatriz in so that she could give him a snail shell from his childhood. I never really intended that they would hang out and fall in love. The nerve!)

Well, just few days ago the coin finally dropped. I understood how to fix it. How, you ask?
I'll try to explain:

1. I gave up trying to talk about something "Important" and focused instead on what was important to these characters. What did they want from the other people in the story? Why did Beatriz come to Barcelona that day? (It turns out, old dying women do not take their first day trip ever to the city just to deliver snail shells and make my life easy.)

2. Ahh, the value of rewriting. I used to think that stories, novels, poems and plays were born on the wind of pure inspiration. Either they began life as perfect specimens or were utter failures. I really don't think so any more. The first draft, which you have read here, really just served as a blueprint, lining out the characters, giving direction to the themes, perhaps even identifying some useful symbols. Case in point; I thought I was writing a story on the theme of artistic revelation. But what I was really writing about, was love and forgiveness. I didn't want to talk about that! But apparently, in order to write this story, I had to. To get there I had to rewrite the whole last half...several times. I was shocked. I had always thought rewriting (if you had to do it) consisted of fixing your punctuation and rearranging moments. Apparently not.

3. I decided to "preach to the converted." Perhaps you'll understand this, perhaps you won't but it helped me a lot. I read an interview from the playwright who wrote "Angels in America" and he said that as an artist you can't change anyone's mind about things, that's not your job, your job as a writer is to present new takes on old situations. You have to essentially talk as though everyone already agrees with you. You have to assume that readers or viewers will come along with you, not badger them to take the trip and clobber them with your ideas. (My words, he said it better.) Granted, you have to be clear in your descriptions and plot the ideas, just don't preach at people hoping to convert them to an opinion! (BTW, I wasn't actually trying to "convert" you, I just thought that this was how you write about "important ideas." Turns out I was wrong.)

Long and short of it is something I have known to be true for a while. For the record, I have never wanted to be a pastor. I have always seen what I do as being very different. Even so, many people have insisted that artists essentially do the same job. After all, we both have ritual and present things in front of a gathering of people which, presumably, are interested in what we have to say. I have never been really able to explain what the difference was but I think now I can put at least part of this concept into words.

We both, at our best, deal with truth. Not opinion (even though I am very opinionated) but truth. Who really cares about opinions and advice anyway? I know I disagree with more than half of the stuff I hear and eventually I reject 3/4 of my own opinions. For instance, I'm not a big fan of Paula Abdul now...but for about two weeks when I was fifteen she was the best song writer and singer in the world. Really. In the end there isn't anything worth talking about in a public way unless there is some honest to goodness truth to it. Truth in the absolute sense, not in a relative way like "it was true for me at the time." For instance, if a character lies in a story there are consequences to that lie. If you ignore that as a writer your story feels as though it has "holes" in it. You've ignored something (truth: lies have consequences) and it's obvious. I suppose it could work to your advantage if you meant to work against that rule but the rule still exists, it doesn't cease to be true. (In fact, you might be able to build tension that way.) Or, if a painter wants to paint a flower (and have it seen as a flower) they have to obey certain truths about line, form and the use of colour or it just won't work. We won't see the flower. (My old theatre professors used to urge us to find a "universality" to our stories...I guess truth isn't a cool word because what he was talking about is often the same thing.) However, a good pastor doesn't just chat about it, he dispenses Truth whole, tangibly, in word and sacrament. For instance, he doesn't just talk about forgiveness, he gives it. On the other hand, as an artist, I take truth apart, creating a vessel on paper, canvas or stage for some small piece of it and trying my best to represent truth (create it, craft it, imitating what I see and feel) so that others can see it. In a way I get to show the effect of truth, what it does. I can show forgiveness, and the effects giving or not giving forgiveness can have, but I can't give it. I can also show horrible things, consequences, but thankfully I can't give consequences either. So, I get to deal with all the truth in the world and it's effects....That is, if I manage to do it well.

Long and short: You can see from my old story I was definitely trying to tell everyone my opinion, and even that got mixed up. I should just stick with truth and showing, not explaining.

So, anyway what I would like to do with my blog going forward is to show some of the "first draft wobbles" so that people can see a little of my process. I hope that it might help someone else who is learning to write and I also hope that you can watch me grow too...although I have a feeling I will likely forget everything I've learned with the next story. After reading interviews with other authors I'm pretty sure that's how it goes. If I do, I hope you will refer me back to this page before I ride off into the sunset on my high horse. Please.

On another note, I should have my finished story ready to go soon along with a book of poems. I hope to publish these as ebooks or through Lulu or some such thing...hopefully by the end of the month! We'll see. I'll keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to buying these on my iPhone/iPod soon...

Love you and I hope this new direction for your blog works out wonders.


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