Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Creative Process – the Story Thus Far…

Thought I’d do a quick update on where things stand with the novel and grad school.

Grad school first because it’s easier. Basically, I’m done except for the physical act of the graduation ceremony. My thesis is complete and being bound, probably even as I write this. I should be getting an email this week from the campus copy center letting me know my copies are available for pick up. So, all done. There’s no way I can screw this one up at this point.

Now the novel. As loyal readers will remember, my thesis is the completed second draft of the novel. Despite all the lovely things my professor had to say about my thesis, there’s still a lot of work to do before I’ll feel comfortable sending it out the door to agents. It’s more a case of fine-tuning the whole thing rather than the complete overhaul/rewrite of the second draft, and I’m planning on having it ready to go in the fall. That’s provided the dreaded demons of summer don’t get me (my personal demons are the children being in the house and needing to provide chauffeur services to get them to their various activities – I may need to become nocturnal again).

So…where things stand. I did a read-through of the second draft and was very happy to find that it holds together wonderfully. As I said, there are still things that need work. I’m noticing that my creative process is one of accumulation. There are writers who throw everything they can into the first draft and their subsequent drafts are a process of paring away what doesn’t fit. I’m the opposite. My first draft is like a skeleton, very little flesh. It’s not much more than the outline of the plot and the actions of the characters. It was in the second draft that a lot of the themes and imagery started to appear, connections occurring between images and scenes – things like the recurrence of snake imagery – and my understanding of what the novel is really about letting me more fully develop characters and the shape of the novel.

For instance, the second draft was broken into three sections. When I tried to create chapters as I wrote, I found the divisions becoming artificial, so I stopped and just wrote. During my read-through, I found the sections breaking down quite naturally into chapters, which, in turn, allows me to see where there are place for expansion because a few chapters are very thin. The actions within these chapters need to have their own space, so it’s not a question of tacking them onto the end or beginning of the surrounding places, but one of needing additional development to give them the impact they deserve.

I also just finished typing up my working notes for the novel. These are the notes I make to myself as I’m writing about ideas, questions, images that need to be included in scenes. It encompasses everything from the philosophical (“Don’t suppress the metaphor” or “Anger is never non-specific, it has a direction, a focal-point, someone or something on which to place it, real or otherwise”) to ideas for specific scenes (“telescope scene – use the weather – it’s cold”) to reminders about things I need to track on my read-throughs like the way Ray’s appearance deteriorates or how Matt’s voice changes depending on with whom he’s speaking. My next step will be to go through the draft and make notes on the text on where I need to go back into the text and flesh things out.

My next next step, though, is a quick trip to Reno to do some research. There are some place I need to visit again while thinking within the world of my novel and some new places I need to explore to make sure I’ve got the feel of them right. I’ll be doing that this coming week.

A funny thing about going through my working notes: when I was in London in my junior year of college, my professor took our class to the British Museum and showed us, among other things, James Joyce’s notebooks for Finnegan’s Wake. The pages of the notebook were covered with scribbled notes, all of them covered by big red X’s. My professor told us, laughingly, that it was a commonly held belief that each one of those x’ed out places was in the book. (see above) His understanding was that Joyce had initially chosen not to put those ideas in the book but then reconsidered since Finnegan’s Wake is one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of books. Hm….not exactly, Jack. Looking over my own working notes (see right), the X’s are those things I’ve already included in the text, the highlighted portions are those I’m still going to be using, but will be X’ing off as I go along. My professor was a poet. I don’t think he understood the mechanics of working on a novel and how to keep those ideas present for the marathon run of writing a novel. I know I didn’t understand a lot about writing a novel until I was working on this one.

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Arnold said...
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