Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There is no I in Team.

"I" is for ... well, it's turning out to be a tricky little turd.  When the alarm clock went off this morning, stumbling to the porch I came, notebook, outline, Nook, and pen in hand.  In doing a little soul-searching of words beginning with the letter I, one thing and one thing only topped my list of subjects to ponder today.

I'm assuming we're all on Facebook, correct?  From my mother, stepfather, son, guy that sat next to me in College Algebra two or three semesters ago, I'm pretty sure we're all somehow connected through Facebook.  Well, I happened to be perusing my news feed yesterday morning when I came across a post from LitReactor.  I am a huge Chuck Palahniuk fan, and LitReactor is a great place to go (or to follow on Facebook) for all things Palahniuk-related.

One of his literary techniques that resonates so deep within my happy place is his use of the first-person, and one of his essays on the subject was reopened yesterday, entitled, "Submerging the I."  Throughout the short essay, he talks about how to write in the first person without the reader being bombarded with I-this and I-that.  He sneaks up on his readers, if you will, and by the time they realize they are listening to a character narrate the story, the reader is already completely submerged.  The last thing on their mind now is turning around and getting the hell out of there; they've got to see how the whole thing turns out.

It's brilliant.

Brilliant, but extremely risky.

(And a huge, HUGE disclaimer here, folks.  If you're considering clicking this link to read Chuck Palahniuk's essay, "Submerging the 'I,'" please do so at your own risk.  Chuck is, well, Chuck.  The content of the short story included with this essay--the short story he has written and is referencing throughout the article--is chock-full of things that will keep you up at night.  He is the king of "body horror."  Do not click this link if you are easily disturbed.)

Click here to read Palahniuk's essay, Submerging the "I"

(That being said, he is one of my all-time favorites for the way he uses words to grab hold of the reader.  He'll take you on one helluva ride, that's for sure, but click soon.  Link will open in a new window, but it's only open for another four days.)

Although I've got two or three chapters of my novel down so far, I'm still having a hard time trying to figure out which character's point of view I want to use to tell the story.  It's been fun trying to figure it out.  I think back to things I don't like when reading, and this includes a technique that Stephen King has employed in the past:  the "book within a book" idea.  He used it in Misery, when we read what Paul had been writing for the next book in his "Misery" series, and I believe he used something similar in Dolores Claiborne, or maybe it was simply chapters of flashback that were in that one.  I can't remember.  I just know that I don't want to do that.

It does work for ol' Stephen King in his Dark Tower series, however, when he tells the story of Susan in book three, Wizard and Glass.  The difference, however, is that he begins a new chapter with the premise of Roland telling the story to Eddie, Jake, Oy, and Susannah in the present.  It works.  It's not just a flashback, or even a "story within a story."  It works because it becomes a part of the present-day story.  It's smart, in a nutshell.  It's smart, and it works.

So yes.  I'm one week into writing my novel, and now I'm rolling up my shirtsleeves and getting down to the business side of things.  I'm still scratching notes down on paper, I'm still writing some scenes, but now I'm getting to the fun part of taking what I've imagined and building it into something that is going to work.

Short stories are much easier to find your narrative character and decide from which viewpoint to tell the story, but I'm finding this novel business--when I'm faced with 3 relatively important characters, subplots that exist outside the main timeline of the main plot, and the problem that, initially, the three characters are unaware of each other--becomes a little more difficult to decide how to get each of their stories told without confusing the reader.

But, the point is, I'm learning.  I'm researching, I'm trying new things, I'm bending the rules, and I'm learning.

The things I've now learned thus far:
1.  Start with a small idea and a small bit of organization.
2.  Make a timeline, if that's your thing, but don't carve it in stone.  It's going to change, but it's a good way to keep in mind the point at which you'd LIKE your novel to end, and it allows you to see how your character is going to have to change across plot.  It might allow you to set up some stumbling blocks for your character if you have some idea which direction he or she is headed.  Again, a timeline or an outline is not set-in-stone, so don't treat it as such, but it might help you as mine have helped me.
3.  Once you have taken notes and have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen to these characters along the way, now is the time to get out the hammer and nails and start to think about structure, along with other literary-related topics.  No longer WHAT do these characters need, but now HOW are they going to tell their story to the world?

Wishing you all a terrific day, and happy writing!