Saturday, October 30, 2010

Measuring Success One Thimbleful at a Time

Today, I have had a good writing day. I have a new scene shaping up nicely, and I have managed to get horses into the story on page seven.

No, really, this is a big deal.

Nevada's wild horses figure very prominently in the climactic scene of the novel, but the image of horses hasn't been sewn deep enough into the fabric of the story for it to feel completely organic. One of my challenges during the revision is to find new places for horses to show up. But not just show up. I could stick horses all over the place until the novel feels like Black Beauty, but that's not what I mean. I need horses to become a symbol, have a deeper resonance so, when Matt encounters this particular horse at the climax of the novel, it's tied into his brother's death in a way that brings the entire novel and everything Matt's gone through, into the reader's mind.

Now I have horses on page seven, and I'm very happy.

I'm also amazed by how much has opened up because of one, seemingly small decision I made two weeks ago. This story has always opened up with the very dramatic death of the brother. And then, after a page and a half, um..."Four days later, we're sitting in the church for Denny's funeral." I've never liked that transition, and kept trying to fix it. Two weeks ago, I was staring at this transition again, thinking, how do I fix this, make it smoother? And then I asked myself, why do I jump from the death to the funeral four days later? What purpose does that serve? So I slowed it down, I moved to the phone call that lets Matt and his family know there's been an accident. And suddenly, I discovered, I had the time to introduce Matt a little more fully, then introduce his mother and step-father, give each a little space, delineate their relationships a bit. And then I've got him at the hospital, his mother and Alan going to identify the body and Matt left in the waiting room, and there, up on the television set, a news story about the BLM wild horse round up. Ah! I've now had the space to introduce one of the major images and themes of the novel. Next, everyone's going back home and I'll be able to introduce Alan's family and give them the space the reader needs to make connections with these characters, to be able to know who they are.

Only after I started writing these sections did I realize what wasn't working in the original sequence. By jumping to the funeral (and telling myself, well, Matt was numb, the funeral is where he starts to come back into a conscious sense of the world around himself), I was trying to compress all these characters and relationships into a very small space. There's Pam and there's Aisha, and oh, I'm looking for Ray, but not seeing him here, and now I wonder, where's Katami? And how come I think I can remember Monica at this funeral even though I didn't meet her until later?

Do you have any idea who any of those people are? Right.

And it's not like I'm adding a lot of pages. These scenes are compressed, not because I'm trying to give you the world at once, but because the world already exists and I can show you a little bit of it at a time. Kind of like when you showed the new kid around school on her first day - here's the lunch room, and here's the gym, and here's the vice-principal's office, but you don't want to go in there. I know where everything is, and now, I can show you in the most efficient way I can.

Right. Back to Matt in the waiting room about to say something truly adolescent and macabre.

(Incidentally, the photo above was taken by me of a photo at the Nevada Historical Society of Shoshone cowboys on the Fort McDermitt Reservation)

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