Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Writer's Mentality

Authors have a different sort of mentality than the rest of humanity. We're a little more out there, probably not all connected (Stephen King, anyone?), but still brilliant in our respect (again, Stephen King, anyone?).

While I'm not actually a published author yet, I think I've been doing this long enough (working seriously on a novel for six years) to recognize some commonalities from writer to writer. There's always going to be an individual uniqueness in each writer and his or her style, and the way they see things, but there are some general categories that we fill without actually getting into strict stereotypes.

I see my story as a movie in my head. A movie that is constantly changing close-ups and far shots, and viewpoints. There's a rewind button, a pause button, and a play button that usually vanishes at some points (like now, damn it) but it's all there. And my job is to take what the characters are showing me and transfer it to words so that anyone who reads it knows what I'm seeing. That's mostly for the overall picture - where I am in the composition books, and not necessarily the spot at I'm at in terms of typing. For those spots, it's a little more personal for the characters, because this isn't the first go-round. This isn't so much I gotta get this down now before I lose it! as Let's go back and really look at what we were trying to accomplish here, and see if everybody agrees with what you've got.

And by everybody, I mean my supporting cast of characters.

There is no way that an author considers his or her characters one-dimensional and absolute figures of their imagination. If they did, then we wouldn't have the rounded, life-like characters that we have in great (and not so great) literature. And the characters themselves don't seem to think they're not actually people. They are. Writers' have given them life, breathed into them personality, individuality, and flaw. They can be used as metaphors, foils, or segments of the writer's own personality. That being said, they can be downright Divas at points.

Over winter break, I had a list of things that I wanted to do. I wanted to edit the first 400 and something pages of my novel and really start sending avidly to publishers and agents (which, I found out from my professor that I see to help with my prose, you don't have to pay out of pocket - they take a cut of the royalties and actually pay you when the book sells, which made me jump for proverbial joy) and failed miserably at that. Not the editing, per say, but the avidly sending out. And, okay, yeah, maybe with the editing, too. What really turned into my project through the break was the new beginning for the thing that I wanted to do. And that was what I ended up working on. As it stood, the novel began slowly, and skipped over Jack's younger years to when he was eighteen. And when you meet Ralurick, you meet him at seventeen, when he's got more than a few issues. I thought it would be better, all things considering, to show the boys' progression through they childhood, in snippets (not doing snippets would probably require an entire other book that my brain is not prepared to write) and show how they got to be in the places and mindsets that they are when the novel started originally.

This is a really good idea, except that I'm dealing with younger versions of my main characters, and versions of my secondary characters that originally hadn't existed.

Meaning I am out and out ready to strangle one of the first vampires that I have ever met. And by met I mean came out of my head. And it's not just him. Nobody anywhere wants to say a damn word right now! Including my main characters. Which, really, for the one of them, is pretty difficult to do, considering that he's slightly socially starved most of the time. Or maybe he's settled down. Either way, ain't nobody sayin' nothin'. It's like a bad mafia film. Don't get me wrong - I love my characters. If I didn't, then I wouldn't have spent the six years getting to know them and their personalities and their idiosyncrasies the way that I do, but the silence can be deafening. And that's puts another thought into your head, one that probably doesn't truly belong there.


There have been quite a few times over the years and composition books that I've asked myself, Louise, what the hell are you doing? You're [insert number of composition books] in, with some vague idea of where you're going and who's going to get you there, but other than that, you've got nothing. What are you doing?

Well, inner critic of mine who sounds kind of like my mother but mostly like me when I'm annoyed with someone, I'm doing this because not only do I love to write, but I kind of promised Jack and the rest of my unruly characters that I'd tell their story. And trust me, I'm just the mechanism here. The idea might have forged somewhere in the cortex of my brain, but I'm just the messenger for Jack, Kayley, Ralurick, and everyone else involved in this massive project, this massive fight between doing what's right, what's good, and deciding what's neither. That and I want to feel like I accomplished something meaningful in my life and yeah, this has been a dream for a really long time, and now it's starting to not feel so much like a dream in the full sense of the word, but something that I can reach. This is achievable. I can do this.

Which is also another important aspect for a writer's mentality. You can't give up. You are going to get rejected and reduced and you're going to be screaming at your characters to say something helpful instead of just rambling fluff, and you're going to want to give up. Fact of life. You will get knocked down repeatedly, and hell, they might not even let you stand up and prepare for the next hit while they do it. You could be taken out at the knees! It will hurt!

You want it, you gotta work for it. Plain and simple. And that means not giving up even when you sit in a corner single and go, Huh!? and have a staring contest with a seventeen-year-old fictional character who won't tell you where he hid the remote to the movie in your mind while looking painfully like he wants to spit out valuable information.

But he won't, and you'll just have to sit there until he does. And this, is a writer's mentality.

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"The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn't."

-Joseph L. Mankiewicz