August 26, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

→ Assured my family members repeatedly that my novel isn't about them. Especially my brother, who has already "identified" himself in two of my previous manuscripts and who shares certain traits with a certain main character in THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE, which has only become more noticeable now that my brother has become a father. All of which is completely unintentional, because if anything, this character is the one modeled most closely on me, and it's not my fault that my brother and I are kind of alike. It's our parents' fault.

→ Discovered new similiarities between my family members and my characters everywhere I looked. Began to panic about whether my family would ever believe that the parallels were coincidental, or at least unconscious. Realized that while I've never paid much attention to "write what you know" as a piece of advice, "you write what you know" may be an inevitable curse.

→ Research. Mostly in the form of observing the behavior of the various kid family members encountered on my travels, with the aim of better writing the children in my novel at their different ages. Especially infancy. Rest assured that I would have been just as attentive toward my newborn nephew and inquisitive about his habits if I didn't have babies to write about.

→ Watched my father at work in his recording studio doing pitch correction on a vocal track until every single word sounded perfect. "That seems so agonizing," I thought. "I would never have the patience for that." Then it occurred to me that I'd just spent a week polishing a chapter until every single word was perfect.

→ Unearthed a box of stories I wrote in elementary and middle school, including a thick folder from eighth grade containing multiple drafts and worksheets on the revision process. I guarantee you'll be hearing more about this.

→ Answered "What's going on with your writing?" and "What's your novel about?" lots and lots of times. Still not as good at fielding these questions as I think I should be. Did not resort to responding with, "It's about you, okay?" (Because it's not.)

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Maggie Jamison offers fantastic advice about the exact issue I've been struggling with: "How do you create a character who suffers immensely, but who doesn’t sound whiny to the reader?" (Thanks, writerjenn!)

→ Bryan Russell at the Alchemy of Writing reminds writers to stay open to change when revising.


Anonymous said...

Awesome! I think it's esp. hard to describe something that you have created. Well,it is for me. When my family was allowed to read my writing they had the idea it was about them too. But they were right. ;)

Anonymous said...

I just went through the process of bringing a story to writers' group, getting feedback, revising it, then bringing it in again. The story focuses on the main character (who is not the POV character) being in a very painful, no-real-win situation. The character is fairly stoic in general, and in the first draft, while I'd been trying to go for "character is refusing to break down and get too emotional," the majority of my readers felt he was too cold, too opaque, and "hardly said anything" even though he was talking his head off. When I revised it, I had the character show more emotion -- not completely falling apart, but speaking and acting emotionally -- and the same set of readers seemed to find it more engaging. So...there's a sweet spot, somewhere. :)

Lisa Eckstein said...

@coffeekatable: Yeah, I can read someone else's book and tell you in a sentence or two what it's about, no problem. But it's so painful to try to sum up my own work so concisely!

@desireearmfeldt: That's good to know, and come to think of it, my critique group had a problem with the detached attitude of one of my suffering characters. But simultaneously, they found him whiny. Why isn't this easier? ;)

Anna Scott Graham said...

Oh I think you SHOULD respond with that quip, especially to your brother if this continues. :)))

Looking very much forward to hearing of those unearthed stories!! Sounds like a lovely summer was had!

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