Showing isn't really about an explanation of the action occurring in a novel --
it is an exploration of the people themselves. It is taking the characters, laying them flat and rolling, like a scroll, their essence. Recognizing the
inadequacy of our efforts, we, the writers, pull out what it is to experience
the story we are telling. We examine a facet here, an angle there, all the
while weeping for the parts we cannot tell within the limitations of the medium.
Friday, May 11, 2012
I'm in a dry place at the moment, creatively speaking -- and pretty much every other way if I'm being honest. It's the Sahara of dry places to be more specific. I've been writing for 26 years, and in all that time I've never been without a story. Always, by the time I'm 2/3 of the way finished with a novel I'm writing I have another story emerging from my subconscious. I have to keep the new story at bay so that I can finish the work in progress. I don't silence the voices calling to me; I keep running notes of the emerging story, but I don't give in to the excitement of the new one until the old one is finished. And as you know, it is exciting to consider the possibilities of new characters, setting and plot. It would be easy to yield to the newness, certainly easier than pressing on with the current work, dealing with plot problems perhaps, and characters who won't cooperate.
That's where discipline comes into play. Where you make yourself keep at it until every loose end is resolved, every plot point completed, and you know in your heart you've done the best you could possibly do with the work at hand.
But for the first time in 26 years I've not had to restrain eager characters who can't wait for their story to be told. Yes, I have a new novel in mind, but I've had to dig deep for every idea, every character, every everything. And that's a little bit scary.
Why this dry place? Well, all 6 of us at Novel Matters are going through tough times. Illness, death, economic difficulties, publishing woes. We're all in a hard place. While I'd love to be delivered -- and eventually will be -- I've learned enough over the years to know I should pay attention while I'm in the pit. I need to keep a good record of my feelings, both bad and good: what that churning in my stomach is like in real words, or how a long sleepless night adds to the anguish of my situation; but also what soothes my soul in the midst of despair. Because those are the things, good and bad, that help me "show" and not "tell" which Bonnie wrote so beautifully about on Wednesday. I especially loved this paragraph:
How I love that last line: "weeping for the parts we cannot tell within the limitations of the medium." And yet, because of our own experience, our extreme highs and desperate lows, we convey what there aren't enough pages to capture, sharing a sense of intimacy with those we'll never meet, because of story. If we do it right. It's that connection that gives me the greatest satisfaction as an author, the nearness that occurs between writer and reader, no matter the age difference or the physical distance that separates us.
That happened to me last week. I received an email from a woman who was reading Lying on Sunday. She told me how and why she related to that particular story, about laughing all by herself at 2:00 in the morning (on a work night!) as she read. She emailed me twice more as she made her way through the book, and said she'd love to have lunch with me because she knew we'd get along so well. She said we would probably laugh so hard they would kick us out of the restaurant. And that would be just the remedy for my dry soul. Too bad New Jersey is so far from California.
Laughing with friends is one way I survive in the Sahara. Music is another. Music touches me in those troubled places like little else. I suspect it touches you too. Here's one of my favorite songs to listen to when I need my soul to be soothed: Rescue by Jared Anderson. What's it like for you in those dry places, and what rescues you while you're there?