Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Driving and writing

I've been taking a lot of road trips lately. Driving is a creative time for me: something about the warm cocoon of the car, the hum of the wheels, a wide open road past the windshield. New perspective, maybe that's part of it. It's good to get out of my routine every now and then. But sleeping in hotels, or other people's beds (their guestbeds, I should say) is not that conducive to the unbroken time I need to gather my thoughts and transpose my ideas onto the page. And if I don't write the ideas down, it's not that they're gone exactly, but I tend to get stuck. One idea inspires another, so unless I can write it out and move along to the next scene, my mind stays with the first idea, maybe afraid to lose it.
Keremeos orchard
So it's the road itself where I'd like to be able to write. I'm pretty sure there's a law against it. But on my last road trip, to Vancouver on the Hope-Princeton, a route I know very well, I came up with an idea. I tried speaking the story. I used the recorder on my iphone. This isn't a new idea, obviously, but I'd resisted it before, because I've always found the physical act of writing important; it opens up ideas for me in a way that just thinking about them doesn't. Even taking notes doesn't do it. It's the sitting down, putting one word after another, building something that does it. I don't paint, but I'm thinking that that might be a good analogy. You can't really see what you're building until you do it. What you've done engenders more. You can build on it.
But the other day, I noticed that something different happens when I'm speaking a story. Besides the fact that there's lots of dead air as I search for words and re-think ideas, I also became even more aware of the tug of the story. I always pay attention to that when writing. I try different spots, casting and re-casting and waiting for that tug. It's the tug that takes me deeper into the story. And it seemed to me as I was talking out a scene, it became very obvious when the tug was missing. For instance, I was writing about the day that my narrator's friend and her brother-in-law come out to the farm to help make apple cider. The brother-in-law, William, develops a crush on the friend, Cheryl. But Cheryl's boyfriend shows up and demands that Cheryl come home with him. William is depressed by that and goes off like a dog to lick his wounds. The scene was unraveling well in my mind and then I spoke this: "William went on a bender for three days." Suddenly, nothing. I'd snipped the string of the narrative in my imagination.
I thought about it for a while. These kind of manipulative plot-moving sentences kick me right out of the story. It's no longer even the narrator's voice. It's the author's voice coming in and saying here's what happened, let's move along. But I've lost the immediacy of the story. I'm no longer on the farm, sitting out at the picnic table in the yard; they're arguing, trying to get Cheryl to stay; it's a sunny day, the smell of apples is in the air; William is sulking. There's a place for those kind of sentences, for sure. They can be a reprieve for both the reader and the writer. Like you see in the old comic books: Several days later... You don't always want to blow-by-blow everything.
But they can also be the things that really cause a writer to stall in her storytelling. You've just tossed yourself out of the world of the story. For me, how much better to stay down there (I think of it that way, up in the authorial ether or down on the ground where the story's taking place), where William has made his third trip to the outhouse in half an hour and Bridget can smell the alcohol on his breath.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on this matter, especially for William's sake, as I understand him. He's had a drink yes and may have another and, well, that's ok, isn't it?