Painting with Words

by Intermittent Rain ~ January 30th, 2016

It’s been pointed out to me (and I’ve been subconsciously aware) that my writing over the past year or two has become more convoluted and laced with more (sometimes) challenging grammatical errors.

A few factors:

  • more complicated situations and characters
  • desire to push my prose
  • poetic licence

But I’m beginning to think the biggest factor is that I’m writing and editing like an improvising painter. I decide that a situation or description needs a dash of red, but not just basic red; rosewood red. That specific color has slight characteristics or elements that regular red does not have. With that addition I think that section as a whole represents what I want to say but I don’t notice that the shade conflicts with other parts of that section, all of which have elements of green.

I think I want rosewood red (or the gerund version of a verb, or an unexpected metaphor, or a strange wording) and it isn’t until someone points out the awkwardness or the mismatch and perhaps suggests a smoother revision that I see what they’re seeing. Only then do I realize that I have not fully thought out why I need rosewood red, not seen the conflict, and not made a conscious decision either to keep it and rework other things so the unintentional awkwardness is removed, place it so that it’s clear why that conflict or oddness is considered and necessary, or revise it with a version that works better with the colors (words, phrases, sentences) around it. Instead, I see the composite of what I’ve placed there and what it includes.

It’s like being a beginning writer and making simple grammar or sentence construction or POV or logic errors and reading right past when I self-edit, only now I’m doing so at a higher level (I hope) where I’m striving for subtle or complex or intentionally nebulous communication which is more difficult to work perfectly. I’m using a larger palette with more shades and in more combinations and trying to use them in such a way that paints a better picture, one that more completely includes all of what I’d like to say.

Like the writing here. Metaphors and multiple options or versions all strung together in long sentences; these are examples of some types of prose situations I’m getting myself tied up in. But there others. And I think they’re all arising from the same basic writing issue; trying to get a more complete communication of all the elements and shades that I want to get across.

NaNoWriMo 2015

by Intermittent Rain ~ December 17th, 2015

I had some difficulty with NaNoWriMo this year.

I came up with a theme, imagined characters, devised a situation and started writing. Seven days later I had just over the 11,670 target words for the seventh day of November, but with the exception of two or three moments the story wasn’t moving me and I was not happy with the quality of the prose. Having completed three NaNoWriMo novels in six previous years I saw no value in repeating the experience of finishing a novel just to say I had done so, especially if I was unhappy with the result.

I decided to experiment.

I decided I would start a new story each day. I kept the NaNo target of 1,667 total words per day, but the word count could come from the new story or from additions to stories from the previous days. I often write to prompts—oneword.com is a favorite source for ideas—so writing new each day was not unusual but most of that exercise writing is in the 100-400 word range, far short of NaNo requirments.

So that’s one thing I’ve had to experience; pushing myself past that single moment, the opening scene, and into a second and a third moment. It’s not easy. First, there is the creative block in generating material connected with the first moment. Then there is the internal editor that worries and rejects ideas for fear of going down a dead end or making a wrong turn that hurts the story worse than just stopping it in its tracks. On top of that are the distractions that come into play the longer you work at something; for a time you can ignore FaceBook, emails, texts, the cat, the dog, hunger, stiff muscles, but the longer you try to write, the louder these distractions cry for attention.

Those are typical NaNoWriMo issues, the same ones that face people working on a single novel, as well as fakers (rebels, they like to call themselves) like me. A couple of ideas lent themselves to larger portraiture; potential longer short stories or possible novels, so it was easier to envision more scenes. Still, it has been interesting trying to push myself past those first moments.

 

The other interesting experience was that I started stealing single sentences of prose. I have a subscription to The New Yorker so I scrolled back through old issues and pulled up stories, re-reading them slowly, looking for a nice sentence that I could steal, one that will allow me to build my own situation or character around it.

If I ever get to submitting these stories I’ll re-write the stolen sentence, but so far I’ve forced the sentence in exactly as created and it’s interesting what I’ve learned in the process. Looking at these sentences in detail and trying to build another story for them has made me aware how perfect this prose is for the story I’ve stolen it from and how each phrase, each adjective, each description contributes to the clarity of the character or setting or situation; the perfection of which I would not have been aware of had I not tried to force it into a different story.

But it’s hard work; reading the story slowly, finding a sentence, rotating the personality trait or situation or meaning along a different path that still completely tangents the given line. Now, after the end of the month, I stole only eight lines, finished only two as 2,500 and 4,000 word stories. Another four I have an idea the direction I want to go but for whatever reason I’m uncertain how worthwhile the idea is and whether I should bother pursuing it, one more is short but nice but I don’t know where it’s going, and the last has neither good prose or characters or plot; an all out failure.

From regular prompts I have another twelve; one finished short story, one interesting start for a short story, one intriguing character that might expand to a novel, and, I guess, nine other failures to launch. Pretty small sample size, but maybe stealing good lines from good writing generates a higher percentage of useful material?

Ultimately, I failed to meet the word count, ending up somewhere just over 38,000 for the month. But after 23 days I have 20 different writings (not including the original project), with three first draft stories, one interesting start and one potential novel to carry forward.

Toward the end I wore out and wrote very little. My brain began to get thick and muddled and I thought of myself like the old woman who lived in a shoe, with so many children that I could not keep them straight.

 

 

On Anecdotes

by Intermittent Rain ~ October 30th, 2015

Here’s an anecdote:

Late one rainy Saturday morning I caught the X9 bus going downtown. The front was full so I sat near the middle, on one of the long bench seats where your back is to the window and you face the opposite seat.

I heard a woman’s voice from the rear. She was Filipino and I couldn’t tell if she was speaking English, but I did understand that she was trying to get the attention of the elderly Chinese man sitting across from me. On the seat was a bag of vegetables. Beside that, a dark hard shell glasses case.

The woman was pointing in the direction of the case and my assumption was that she had seen this fall from his pocket. I put my hand in front of the man and waved. When I had his attention, I pointed to the case. Without looking where I pointed, he shook his head, mumbled something, and faced forward again. I exchanged glances with the woman and shrugged. Her expression didn’t change.

As the bus slowed for the next stop, I heard the crinkle of the cellophane-like bag and the man walked past me to the door. The case still sat on the seat. I flicked my eyes toward it and asked the woman, “So that’s not his?” She replied with something that may have been ‘No’, or maybe ‘I don’t know,’ or maybe something else entirely.

I wondered whether I should take the case to the driver, but the bus was filling up. A fellow in his thirties with his own bag of things pushed the case to the edge of the seat and sat down. Next time I looked back, the woman had gotten off the bus as well. I wasn’t sure where best to get off myself so I was busy Google Mapping the location and left soon after.

If I wanted to use this anecdote, the first idea that comes to mind is to use it as an opening, then continue with an essay on the multiculturalism of society or on communication in general. Another option would be to criticize myself for my half-hearted efforts at doing a good deed.

Now, this anecdote is true but it could easily be fiction or used in fiction. As is, it tells a little tale but without the essay or further explanation the point is not clear. A series of vignettes with me as the central character might tell a story about me or about my city. A series of vignettes with communication issues due to multiculturalism would have an obvious meaning. A more creative option could be to write the incident from the perspective of me, then of the woman, then of the man, then from the view of another passenger witnessing the event, and tell a story about perspectives. Or I could wait until I’m working on a longer piece were this incident might be useful to reinforce a theme that already exists.

But here it’s just an anecdote. And I’m using it to point out that an anecdote alone is not necessarily a story.

An incident may have poignancy, it may have things worth thinking about. I could tell this to a friend and ask, do you think I should have picked up the case to make sure the man understood? Or, isn’t it interesting that I understood the woman’s communication but not her words, nor the man’s? Maybe when I tell this to a friend, the friend jumps to their own interpretation and we could continue the conversation that direction. But standing alone, an anecdote may not be a story.