Friday, August 15, 2008

And along came the dog

I just finished reading Susan's comments on stepping back from the cliff. She's right. Often we get trapped, backed into a corner, have a character who refuses to obey instructions and then what do we do? I don't know about the rest of you, but I stare at the dog. I write in a bedroom I've converted into a library/study/office kind of thing. It is crammed with computer stuff, most of which I don't know how to work, bookshelves overflowing with books, which somehow I always find time to read, and dog beds. As this is where I spend a lot of my time, the dogs do also. So, when I get stuck, I pour a cup of coffee, or a glass of iced tea, and stare at one of them. It doesn't matter which one, although it does tend to make the small one nervous if I do it too long.
I don't think there is a writer in the world who doesn't get stuck. For me, there are predictable stuck points. First is plot. When the idea for a story is in its infancy, I spend a lot of time staring at the dog. But I've found that you have to write. You do it knowing full well that tomorrow you may delete everything you've put on paper, or the computer screen, the day before, but at least you have something tangible to work with, even if its terrible. That way you can keep on saying "what happens next, or nobody in their right mind would do that." It's pretty much the same way with characters. You can hold them up against the action and say "is this what you would do in this situation? If they say,"no", rethink.
A couple of years ago, I went to the Maui Writers Conference and took a writing retreat under Elisabeth George. Who better to teach how to write strong characters? A lot of what she talked about we all think we already know. All action springs out of character, each piece of action in the story has to set up the next piece of action, you must have a back story for your characters even if it never makes it into your story, sound familiar? But I've found, that when staring at the dog no longer works, thinking about what she said, what I have learned from other wonderful writers, keeps me on the path to a complete story, beginning, end, and a strong middle.
So, I'm going to go back and read what I wrote this morning, holding it up to the standard I try to keep in mind, and will probably delete a lot of it. But tomorrow is another day, and after I sleep on it, I'll find the way around the mess I've written my people in, and we'll all be happy. Especially the dog. Kathleen Delaney

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