One of the values of a blog such as this one – or any other record-keeping device – is how you can follow the progression of projects through their various stages of enthusiasm, despondency, hope, wrong turns, total crash, partial recovery, and so on; and, hopefully, on to some form of satisfactory resolution. Of special interest to me is how the photos and morning notes later translate into fiction. This is probably different for every writer but, in my case, I notice there is usually a twenty-four to forty-eight hour time span between the first spark of a story development – the first triggering image, word, emotion, physical sensation – and the actual writing of that scene. Equally interesting is how the writing itself always contains an element of surprise, when I compare it to the initial jotting: I discover the character has his or her own way of dealing with the material – which is the part that makes the actual writing so much fun.
The photo above is a good illustration of this process: Friday, on a quick trip to Lavaur to stock up on coffee, I grabbed this shot of a sports shop I’d photographed a while ago. This time, the fishing gear was the element holding my attention, although I had no idea why. I still need to get a few more facts straight about that sport but clearly, this particular shop window, photographed on Friday, was an essential element in triggering the revision I did yesterday afternoon on a scene involving a fisherman.
The interesting insight for my own purposes being the following: in the first rush of story, what comes at me is mostly raw emotion – whether soaring to the heavens or best described as raw sewage is irrelevant. Best not to mess with it and just get it down in all of its excess – be it maudlin, gross, incredibly stupid, over the top – whatever. When you’re panning for gold (which you may or may not find in the end), you start by shovelling mucky sand before panning it. Sedimentary, my dear Watson? You bet, except I spent years and years attempting to have the perfect sentence on the page first, before attempting the next perfect sentence, and so on. In my mind, it was as if the story was supposed to appear in draft form the way it does in a printed book. Guess what? It didn’t work.
Speech writing and other writing to specs freed me from some of that. You have to start with whatever grandiose or stupid idea someone else wants worked up into a three, fifteen or sixty minute presentation of how clever (or predictable) his views are on a given topic; or the remarkably deluded image that person has of his importance in the overall scheme of things. You do it by finding recurring themes, listening to that person’s speech patterns and favorite expressions; identifying an emotional core (or creating a publicly appealing one, in the case of some personalities I’ve known). From there, you string together the words until there’s some kind of rythm and progression to the whole thing. You go from messy to presentable and, occasionally, to standing ovation for the orator (I regret to say the ovations didn’t always match up with my own estimation of what was a good speech, but that’s another matter). Neither ghostwriting nor speechwriting did much for me in terms of finding my own voice; in my case, that came a lot later, and I’m still working on it. Maybe it’s something you work on all your life, the same way dancers or musicians evolve in their own style? Rendez vous in five years for an update on that topic.
Among other things I’ve learned so far: 1) the more growth there is in one character, the more growth there will be in other characters in the story and 2) the best way to deal with that is through partial revisions i.e. when I reach a plateau in one character’s development, I start readjusting the others to that level, until another character pushes the story forward to another level, and so on. It makes for messy drafts out of which the story emerges a bit the way photos used to do, when you dipped the impressed paper into the developing solution. It also makes for drafts on which you must work every day (or miss one day at the very most), if you don’t want to get caught up in a backlog of sensations and emotions in desperate search of their character. Even a short writing session that nudges one character forward by a few millimeters is better than no writing at all.
Off to do just that, as the afternoon will be taken up with a photo shoot on another scene in the film being done locally about the Great Strikes of 1910 in the leather tanning industry.