Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Friday, January 13, 2006

Plumbing The Writer's Psyche

I've been helping an aspiring writer with her book for the last few months. We've done a fair bit of tweaking and were several chapters into it when I realized something: The beginning would be much stronger if it opened with the 3rd chapter and the first two unfolded afterwards as a flashback.

I hesitated to tell her what I thought because she'd done so much work to this point and in a way, it meant (almost) starting over. I did though, and she agreed, and trooper that she is, she rewrote it.

Now the story opens with the protagonist, a 15-year-old girl, treading water in the Atlantic ocean during a raging thunderstorm. When I read the new opening, I felt the writer needed to communicate the girl's emotions more vividly. I used a phrase she's probably sick of hearing by now: We need to get inside the character's head.

It can be a tough thing to do when you put your character into a position you've not experienced yourself. If the experience is traumatic, it can be a tough thing to do if you have experienced it.

I had a near-drowning incident when I was about 10 or 11. It indisputably was the most defining moment of my life. (But that's a topic for another day.) I vividly recall, even four+ decades later, the whooshing sounds and the frustrating sight of blessed, air-containing sky through the window of water above me. (Another aside. It just now struck me that that may very well be part of the reason I selected the cover I did for my book. The perspective is very much like the one I experienced while drowning. You can see my cover here.)

Anyway. There's times when writers are forced to either exercise their imagination to the utmost or plumb the depths of their psyche in order to accurately convey an emotion. And, depending on your subject matter, it can be a very unpleasant, even painful exercise.

But if you want your words to wrap your reader in the experience, there's no getting around it. You have to boldly go where you might not want to go.


uniquematerial said...

"You have to boldly go where you might not want to go."

The last time I did that, I got busted. (Now I *sneak* boldly)

Dawno said...

I wanted to say something about needing a psychic plumber but you people would just turn it into something smutty and blame it all on me so I'm not commenting unless I think I can say something completely innocuous. (I had to spell check that word and discovered that it was the Dictionary.com Word of the Day for Tuesday August 17, 1999 and the Dictionary.com Word of the Day for Saturday September 6, 2003, which makes me wonder if they went thru all the words in their dictionary in just over four years...)

hmpf and huff in a snit...

(everyone gets it that I'm kidding, right? Except about the Dictionary.com word of the day, that is)

Esther Avila said...

Would it help the writer is she were to jump into a swimming pool and someone held a sprinkler or water hose over her? She could try to get into character and think of what may have been going through her mind, etc. I sometimes try to recreate the scene (ocean in the rain would be better but unrealistic for me)

Oh...by the way, Frank. You've been tagged for meme.

Frank Baron said...

Unique - I tend to get slapped. Oh wait. That's when I boldly go where she doesn't want me to go....

Dawno - Too late. See above. It's your fault.

SS - That's too easy I think. Better she should lie down in a full tub of cold water, hold her nose and imagine she can't get out. That's akin to the "method" school of acting that Dustin Hoffman and (I think) Al Pacino ascribe to.

Or, like Laurence Olivier once told Hoffman "My dear boy. Just pretending is so much easier." (paraphrase)

Memed? Uh-oh....

Joanne said...

"You have to boldly go where you might not want to go."

And hope the reader can feel the pain it took to write it. You hit the nail on the head, Frank!