The First Few Words

Fun little things often come to me in snippets of prose that never go anywhere. Beginnings of stories. Things that I'm not quite sure where they're running off to.

Like this, for instance:

The intricacy of her soul intrigued her.
She sat, the bank of the river rising and falling beneath her as if it were a living beast. Or was the just the beating of her heart?
She turned around.
Five sentences. Beginning of a character novel, I think. But who is the character? What does she want? What is she dreaming about? I don't know either. But, for some reason, lines like this pull at my heart. I want to know more about her. And the only way to do that is to write about her.

I know I'm shrugging. And sighing. And saying to myself "This will probably go nowhere." Hmm. But it might be nice going nowhere for a little while.
. . . 


Where a Story Begins . . .

In my junior year of high school I used a program called One Year Adventure Novel to help me plug through my first novel. The finished result: 350 pages, 66,134 words of non-stop action. It's not called an adventure novel for nothing.

Death. Captivity. Revolution. Betrayal.

One girl, enslaved to herself, trying to free her world from the twisted snares of her uncle.

I love my manuscript, raw and real as it is. I would love to see it cradled by a loving hardcover binding.

But I had to remind myself where this novel came from. It was an un-formed idea floating around in my head until I learned how to set it down in an orderly way. Chapter by chapter, character by character, disaster by disaster, dilemma by dilemma, plot twist by plot twist . . . I learned how to tell as story.

But now I have to remind myself where a story really begins! Since finishing my novel, every time I've gotten inspired by a new idea, I've found myself falling into the rigidity of a step-by-step process.
That process was brilliant to help me learn, to help me plug through, to help me finish. But now I have to remember - a story begins as a free-form idea. The rest has to flow from there. Keep the structure that you learned in the back of your mind to guide you, but let your ideas take their own course, instead of trying to shove them into an ordered list of steps.

Am I alone in this "need" for a step by step? Does anyone else ever feel that they rely too much on an ordered structure to write? Has anyone else had their inspiration sucked out by a step-by-step structure, or lost their love for writing because they constrict themselves?

I am in the midst of brainstorming for The Vision Forum Family Catalog 2012 short story contest. I refuse to let myself become constricted by a structure! Let the story come as it may come.



I get distracted very easily.

Not to say that I'm scatterbrained or anything. I focus very hard, on everything I do, for extended periods of time, and even multi-task occasionally. 

Or, at least, I seem to focus very hard. But, more often than not, my head is not in what I am doing.

It happens so much when I write, and that's the frustrating thing. Smack-dab in the middle of a well-formed, well-thought out paragraph, my mind will wander.
Now you could never tell to read the paragraph. My paragraph stays on track. But my head isn't in it anymore - my heart isn't in it anymore.

Oh, how I wish I could totally immerse myself in my writing, without my mind wandering! But the list that I always tuck away on the back shelf of my brain starts getting longer and longer...I should be studying, I should be responding to emails, I should be cleaning my room, I should be cooking, I should be making Christmas presents, I should be practicing my audition song, I should be going over my dance steps, I should be editing my manuscript, I should be writing that paper...

And, of course, while I'm sitting there writing, my brain decides that it's the perfect time to start reading this list out loud to me.

I want my list to stop growing. I want my brain to shut up.

Yet of course it doesn't. It never does.

But anyway, back to getting distracted. I think, somehow, over the course of the last few posts, I have written a lot about the art of writing, about writing as a craft, a skill to be honed, a journey to be taken. And it's true - that's what it is. But, though I've been writing about that journey, I haven't been taking that journey myself.

It's time to crawl back to my laptop and pull out my dusty manuscript that I've tried to forget about. It's time to get this journey started. It's time to forget about that stupid list. It's time to immerse myself in writing.

Because that's what writers do. They write.


Poetry According to Poe

I've said before that imitation is the first step to greatness.


I didn't?

Well it is. It's also the highest form of flattery. And I'm sure Edgar Allen Poe would be flattered to know how many poets have imitated his Raven. He did give us a guide, after all.

His essay, published in 1846, entitled The Philosophy of Composition.

In his own words: "I have [no] difficulty in recalling to mind the progressive steps of any of my compositions; and, since the interest of an analysis, or reconstruction, such as I have considered a desideratum, is quite independant of any real or fancied intrest in the thing analyzed, it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my part to show the modus operandi by which some one of my works was put together."

What a gift for us poets!

"I select The Raven as the most generally known. It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referrible either to accident or intuition - that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem."

The 'step-by-step process' is as follows:

1.       Determine the length that you wish your poem to be. The length will be based on what you wish to convey with your poem, whether it is one, unified message, or several messages in one story. However, Poe says, "there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art - the limit of a single sitting." For "a poem is such only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief.
2.       Choose the impression, or effect, you want your poem to have. Poe says that he always chooses the effect first, and then proceeds through the rest of the poem with this overall effect in mind.  What is your theme? Beauty? Love? Honor? And who is your audience? Is this a universal poem? Or is it a poem directed at lovers, searchers, thinkers? Those who are lonely, empty, hopeful?
3.       Consider the tone of the poem. Even if your theme has been touched upon before, there are various ways to touch upon it. Beauty, written about with a tone of sadness, becomes something different. The message itself changes, becomes unique.
4.       Decide upon meter, etc.
5.       Identify key words in the poem, such as Poe’s "Nevermore" in The Raven. Poe calls this a 'refrain'. Though not all poems need one, a certain amount of repetition is crucial for the overall effect and the "intense excitement" of the poem. Also identify key characters, such as the Raven Poe picked to intone his refrain.
6.       Now combine the tone and the theme. Think of your tone, and things related to it. If your tone is melancholy, the first things that come to mind are death, despair, and loss. Then think of your theme, and how your desired tone could be made to relate to this theme. Beauty even in death? Loss of beauty?
7.       Combine your key words with this combined theme-and-tone.
8.       Envision the climax of your poem and compose it. Thus you will also establish your poem's meter, etc.
9.       Brainstorm the poem’s location and order of events.
10.   At this point, it would seem that the poem is ready to be written. However, Poe digs even deeper. "In subjects so handled," he says, "however skilfully, or with however vivid an array of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness which repels the artistical eye." The bare events of the poem, written in meter, is not enough to evoke the intensity needed to make the poem a work of art. Two things, Poe says, are required: Complexity of the plot and personalities, and some amount of suggestiveness, some "undercurrent" as Poe calls it, through ulterior motives/hidden messages. Thus layers upon layers are added to the poem, giving it depth and reality.
These guidelines always make me smile when I read them.
I guess they encourage me...but I think they excite me more then anything else. I can't wait to grab a pencil and start writing - delve in deep to the complexities; grab hold of an old theme and twist it a new way; find my own Raven, above my own chamber door, quothing my own 'Nevermore'. 

And how could I go wrong, with Poe himself to lead me through the dark tangles of Poe-try?