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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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instinct

So, while working on my novel…..

…..(henceforth referred to as Novel Now Finished), I had a fairly diverse cast of characters. I knew their histories, what the relationships were, what they did for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream. The names I researched and chose for them reflected aspects of their personalities – a lot of the time, it was right on the nose. Sometimes it wasn’t and I’d have to come up with a new one, with the help of friends.

In Novel Now Finished, one character had a tendency to change his name almost every time I revised a draft of the story. He was quite annoying about it, too – lucky for him, he’s also a very charming and forthright fellow, a practitioner of law and magic, and quite handsome to boot. So, right up until the eighth revision, I kept him in the story, enjoying his easy repartee with the narrator. However, because I was having difficulty finding a way to introduce and establish his character early on, my editor suggested that he be removed and his scenes saved for the sequel.

This was not an easy decision to make – I didn’t want to lose him and I fought hard to find a way to keep him in Novel Now Finished. I tried to at least plant seeds of his presence early on through dialogue by way of other characters, but could not actually place him physically (so to speak) in an early scene where he and the narrator could meet and interact.

Did I mention that he was also the romantic interest?

Anyway, I ultimately excised him out of Novel Now Finished and saved his scenes to a separate Word document.

What happened next was unexpected – the story died.

I mean, it was still a good story, I still enjoyed the characters, but…….it had lost any sort of energy to draw me in. And because I no longer cared or had any enthusiasm, Novel Now Finished became a chore to re-write scenes, even to open up the document. Even my editor felt that it had gone as far as it could go, that maybe I should focus on another project. My gut said otherwise – I could not let this story go, I knew it would be life-changing, I knew it was important to me, somehow, and not just because it was something I wrote and had worked hard on for three years.

So I sat on the manuscript for six months, with no desire to write another word ever again. Then, when month seven was half-done, I reached out to another editor, to ask her to take a look at it and see what her thoughts were. She agreed and was able to not only give it a thorough read, but to provide notes, as well. One of her first notes was to find a way to make a more solid connection between the prologue and the rest of the story.

I chewed on that for a bit, then added a business card in the opening scene for the narrator to find, which would then confirm and encourage her next move. The business card, I decided, had to belong to someone related to the narrator’s quest. Someone who might be connected to her larger problem, but can also keep secrets, have particular knowledge that the narrator needed, and be part of a profession that has a somewhat dubious track record of being trustworthy, despite the need for trust. Someone who might not be what he seems to be, given where his business card ended up.

Naturally, the Charming Character, who practiced law and magic, was the most obvious choice to belong to that business card. It would allow me to introduce him early on, provide some ambiguity to him until proven otherwise, and it would give the narrator some conflict. And as soon as he opened the door to Chapter One, arguing with his law partner, and almost walking into the narrator, the novel came back to life. The synergy between Charming Character and the Narrator fell seamlessly back into place, but it was new and fresh and made their later interactions easier to accept and believe.

So. What’s the take-away here?

Trust your gut.

So, I’m learning French on my own…..

……..thanks to this little app on my phone called Duolingo. I started out with Spanish, then added French and then, in honor of my trip to Ireland, Gaelic.

Let me say, right now, that my Gaelic sucks. I can’t even figure it out in context. That’s okay – I’d never heard it before, so…..I’ll cut myself some slack on that one. I didn’t delete it – it’s still there, waiting for me to come back to it.

And I will.

I fared a lot better with Spanish, mainly because I live in California and am surrounded by the Spanish history and influence. I have a couple of Agatha Christie and Stephen King titles in Spanish, which will be helpful in bettering my comprehension of the language. Years ago, I suspected that if reading helps us with comprehending our native tongue, then surely it would have the same effect when learning a foreign one.

If I already knew the story, I thought, then my main struggle would be in understanding it in a language I’m not fluent in.

I stumbled across that idea when I was taking Spanish in college, lo, these many years ago. I read the Spanish translation of Pablo Neruda’s poetry to my tutor. In a few weeks time, she commented that my pronunciation and comprehension improving. And I was pleased.

So, imagine my surprise when, upon beginning my French lessons on the app, that it came to me far more easily than Spanish did. I’ve progressed further in the French than I have in the Spanish – indeed, I don’t think I’ve gone back to Spanish or Gaelic in over a year.

I’m not worried about that, because my goal is to learn more than one language and some far more complicated than French or Spanish (1). The better I get at French, the easier it will be to switch over to Spanish. Like Italian, French and Spanish derive from the Latin, which explains why they are similar in structure. Even particular words resemble each other.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m feeling determined to learn French right at this moment, but I’m willing to follow my instincts and see where it leads.

Sometimes, that’s what you need to do.

 

(1) Complicated in that I would also be learning an alphabet made up of letters that I won’t recognize, like Japanese.

Clockwise from bottom: Eso (IT); Ventana Secreta, Jardin Secreto (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Orguillo Y Prejuicio (Pride & Prejudice); Matar es Facil (Murder is Easy); Telon (Curtain); Une Poignee de Seigle (A Pocketful of Rye); Le Retour D'Hercule Poirot (The Return of Hercule Poirot).
Clockwise from bottom (Spanish to French):    Eso (IT); Ventana Secreta, Jardin Secreto (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Orguillo Y Prejuicio (Pride & Prejudice); Matar es Facil (Murder is Easy); Telon (Curtain); Une Poignee de Seigle (A Pocketful of Rye); Le Retour D’Hercule Poirot (The Return of Hercule Poirot).

So, every time I write a book……

……..I go through the same process – I have an amazingly brilliant vision of the whole story (as seen from a distance); I start to put it down on paper and it dissolves like cotton candy on the tongue; I freak out and feel insecure about the tripe I’m writing; I console myself with multiple cups of coffee and tell myself not to worry about it; by the time I get 65 to 75 thousand words in, I wonder where the hell I’m going to pull another 20 to 30 thousand from; by the time I’m at 80 to 90 thousand words, I’m metaphorically pulling my hair out by the roots, feeling like Elsa Lanchester from The Bride of Frankenstein (1935); when I finally crack and/or surpass the 90,000 words mark, I feel like I went through a triatholon – three times.

I tend to do the same thing when I’m developing my character in whatever play I happen to be performing in at the time. Or the painting and sketch classes I’m taking. And it’s a process that I will endure when I finally focus on learning how to play the violin. I’m also currently at the Elsa Lanchester stage of my current novel in progress. It’s not pretty. If you have a creative person in your life, chocolate is a good choice in keeping the peace. Or hot cocoa.
What this means for me is that I’m wrestling past the obvious and mundane and aiming for the truth of the character, the story or the subject. So if you find yourself feeling frustrated with an art piece or a story or music, try not sweat it too much. What’s happening is that the goal you have in mind has a path far different than the one you had planned. That creative instinct we all have inside us is also the instinct that will push us further than we think possible. Trusting it is trusting yourself.

Creating, my friends, is not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart. But it’s a heck of a ride and a ton of fun to do. I can’t not write – for me, it’s another way of breathing. As Anais Nin once said, “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

Recommended Reading:
Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
Henry Miller on Writing – Henry Miller
Living and Sustaining a Creative Life – Sharon Louden

 

Editor’s Note – this blog post is con-currently published on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

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