Keith Snyder
Door always open.

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Terror at 29,000 words

The thing is, most of writing isn't writing. The writing never kicks my ass. The decisions do. They have to make sense emotionally and intellectually.

Just intellectually, and you've got a board game. The characters aren't people; they're chess pieces.

Just emotionally, and you've got chess pieces stuck to a layer cake instead of a chessboard.

The decisions can't just make sense defensibly, like a term paper; they have to make sense intuitively, to me. I have to believe them. If I'm lying, the story goes cute. (Which I've been accused of; mostly I think the accusers just don't know the same people I do, but partly it's hard to avoid cute when you're young and aiming for graceful.)

Or when you're older, and your view of reality is that it's entirely a dance of coincidences. It's easy to go cute. One misstep, and you're writing coincidences that aren't the way they really are, not coincidences that are the way they really are.

If you're not totally sure how they really are, it's hard to write them in a way you believe. The writing itself isn't hard; it's description, pacing, and metaphor, synthesized by whatever talent I've got that day. Write what you know also isn't hard. Whatever I don't know, I can find out--at least in the fact department. The understanding-other-people department is harder.

But hardest is knowing what I think. In narrative fiction, you have to have people doing things. There aren't any "maybes" in a story, the way there is in life. In a traditional narrative story--the kind where things happen--a guy doesn't walk into a bank and either rob it or not rob it; you have to pick one and show him doing it. You have to commit. You can't be openminded. This is what happens. Then this happens. Then this happens. Stories are people doing things and reacting to each other, not authorial musings on the nature of things. They're concrete, like feet and hair; they're not abstract, like love and thought.

So that adds a third category to emotional and intellectual: Physical.

I'm now on page god-knows-what of authorial musings because I can't figure out how the universe works.

I know, I know. If I had a dime for every time I've heard that excuse. "I can't write my story until I understand the nature of God." At least make it something reasonable, like not being able to find the right color pen.

I don't know (or care that much) whether God exists. But for the story, I have to commit--and it has to (see previous) feel intuitively correct both ways: intellectually and emotionally.

Then a character has to do something physical, and that has to feel correct, and there have to be concrete consequences, and those have to feel correct, and all of it has to be, above all, entertaining, and this all has to make an emotionally and intellectually satisfying story, which is hard to think about in terms besides three-act structure, which--though I care about it somewhat more than I care about God (but don't really care about that much)--is the smallest number of acts you can have if you're going to end up with something resembling dramatic resolution.

But apparently I can't understand the nature of God in this story until I write the story. Usually, I figure the story out as I go. This time, I think I'm going to have to reach the end before I know where I'm going, and then I'm going to have to rewrite the whole thing.

Having accepted this, I'm pumping lots of BLAHdeBLAHdeBLAHdeBLAHdeBLAH into my daily word quota. Lots of grasping about the nature of things. Lots of groping towards this metaphor here, and that metaphor there, and they all conflict, so anybody riding in a straight line through this thing would have no idea what's going on.

Having bloviated 533 words into the manuscript today (that's 179 short of the 712 in this blog entry), I'm stealing a trick from other people's blogs, and concluding not by reaching a conclusion, but by asking you a question about yourself.

What's the nature of God?

Or you could just say what color your pen has to be. Either way.

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