Saturday, March 13, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 72

Taken: March 13, 2010, approx. 5:45 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, CA

I took a spill today. Right down my front stairs landing hard on our gravel and dirt driveway.  Skinned my right knee something awful, scraped some skin off the palm of my right hand and nearly imbedded my elbow in my chest, pretty much knocking the wind right out of me. I'm happy to say I'll live and the only witnesses were my two pugs. Lucky for me, they ain't talking.

Unless you're still a kid, falling down is one of those things that reminds you of getting old. Hard to keep those thoughts of brittle bones and wobbly knees out of your head. Hard not to consider what happens to us all eventually, the slow and steady breakdown of your body from a lifetime of use. I guess it's always good to have these thoughts when you're young enough to do something about it. But no matter how well you treat your body, it's hard not to imagine the helplessness and wonder if anybody really goes gently into that deep, dark night.

Been thinking a lot about the end recently. In my new novel, there's an important scene where somebody dies that happens really early in the narrative. It was one of the first things I wrote when I started this book a couple years ago but I find myself returning to it a lot. Not to make major changes, but just to check its authenticity. Which is kind of funny if you think about it. I mean I've never been in a room when somebody died -- my writing about it is based on stuff I've read, other peoples' experiences and a lot of imagination.

Of course, the "authenticity" isn't in whether the death scene is real, it's the emotions of the characters who experience the death that has to resonate. That's the thing about writing well. You can make anything "real" if you get the feeling right.

I've found that aspiring writers get far too hung up on setting scenes and describing the way people feel instead of working to find a way to convey the emotions of their characters. Your audience will know how a character is feeling if you show them through action and dialogue as opposed to telling them outright.

My best days writing are the ones where the characters take flight on their own -- when they tell me something about them I didn't even know, when they're the ones who tell me what they want to do next. I know it sounds crazy, but the better you know your characters, the more likely their actions and feelings, emotions and choices will show themselves to you -- as opposed to you forcing that on them. The word "organic" is overused in talking about writing but it's something every writer should shoot for; the idea that everything your character does and says comes as a natural progression of their actions and behavior. I'm not saying your character's behavior should be obvious or predictable but it should be in keeping with who they are.

Which is not to say you can't throw wrenches every now and then. You can do whatever you want as long as you lay the foundation for it, as long as you make sure your audience can keep up with your line of thinking (there always has to be a there there, even if it takes awhile for them to get it). When you make it work, it's an incredibly experience. I'm not saying it's easy but show me the person who says writing is easy and I'll show you a hack.

That's why I spend so much time thinking about my characters. Who are they? What do they want? Why do we care who they are and what they want? I make lists about them that will never see the light of day. I do it because it informs me who they are -- it tells me what I can do with them, to them and hopefully, how they'll react to whatever it is I throw at them. The better I get to know them, the more likely they'll start talking to me. Let me tell you from experience: those moments are rare and fleeting but they are gifts from the Gods. Every writer knows exactly what I'm talking about.

But you won't get near that place unless you push yourself, push your character and dig deep as you can until you know where the bones are buried. The fun is in the moments you don't expect, the magic comes when you, the creator, the person who supposedly has all the answers, is suddenly given something new and unexpected.

It's kind of like accidentally falling down a flight of stairs. One minute you're blissfully upright and the next you're eating the dirt, trying to find your breath again. The pain is (hopefully) passing but it lingers long enough. A shock to the system, a moment of clarity if you will. Hell, I'm not recommending falling down your stairs as a path to enlightenment. All I'm saying is it's worth tripping up your own view of the world. You never know what you'll discover.  As the man says, though, just be damned careful out there.

This barn is on the road to my house. I shot it with my K100D just around sunset and loved the perfect clear blue sky in the image. It's very lightly edited in Photoshop. Tonight is Daylight Savings Time which means spring's nearly here and summer's right on its heels. Which in turn means the days are getting longer, a photographer's dream.


Jaime said...

"Everything you can imagine is real." -Picasso

If what I am reading enables me to imagine then I am left to feel as though the experience is my own. It is essential that we read what the writer writes when living a life that is measured by time in a world so big. Anything else would simply be existing, not living.

So right on (or should I say, "write on") with your approach to creating reality!

S.O.L. said...

That's a great quote, Jaime. Thanks for sharing and also for your kind words.