Thursday, July 30, 2009
All the World's A Stage ...
"How do you write? Outline or free-form?"
I guess the easiest way to explain it is this: I write like an actress. I started acting and writing at about the same time -- maybe acting came a little earlier, if you count traipsing around the house pretending to be Marlo Thomas in That Girl. ;)
When I was young, I planned to launch a career in the the-ah-tah, and majored in Drama for a time, and studied craft, and memorized my monologues and bestrode the stage in Greek tragedy and Shakespearean comedy. Eventually, I realized that the life style wasn't for me--let's just say I don't do rejection well. Of course, that's why I became a writer ... ;)
Y' see, creativity, like murder, will out. I tried to channel it intellectually, but there was a reason why I enjoyed translation more than pottery analysis, and why the thought of pursuing a Ph.D. in Classics--as honorable as it is--gave me hives. And so, I found myself at a--well, let's just say "adult" age--plunging into a creative career, this time prepared for rejection. Kind of. ;)
I bring up the back story because it is the method in my madness (no pun intended). When you're on stage, you function on two levels simultaneously ... the conscious awareness of blocking, lights, your colleagues' cues, the audience's reaction. And then there's the subconscious, addictive part, the mad heroin rush of sensation, of losing yourself, of becoming someone else entirely ... You're so deeply in a part you have a hard time shaking it off afterward ... you dream in your character ... and you know what it's like to have your city razed, be sold into slavery, or plot to murder your husband's friend ...
In comedy, the conscious awareness is more acute. Timing is everything, and the sympathetic, magical immersion in another identity not as complete. Which is why I preferred to act in drama or tragedies, as fun as it is to make people laugh. I confess it here: I preferred to make them cry. Not because I wanted to make people unhappy, but because the sense of a double catharsis--theirs and mine--was a heady, opiate high that defies description.
It is, however, akin to writing. Because when I write, I act. I'm in a life-and-death situation with my protagonist, her hand shaking, holding the small gun. I'm the elevator operator, scared to talk, with a kid on the way. I'm lying in an abandoned grave, victim of a brutal murder.
I immerse myself in characters, or they immerse themselves in me, whichever way it works. And if I kept to a tightly constructed outline, it wouldn't. Their actions would be predicted, forecast. Done.
However ... remember the craft part? I'm writing a thriller. That means pace, it means page-turning immediacy, it means things have to happen, and damn quick, too. So I outline--enough to construct plot arcs for the overall story line.
There are some things my conscious mind knows have got to happen, and I tap into that 30-35% of my awareness and take notes, zeroing in as I dig deeper into various chapters. And yes, I write from front to back, generally in acts or sections (like a play) and I'm mainly an early draft writer. My revisions are usually light, typically trimming and tightening.
It should come as no surprise that for me, the joy of writing is the exhilaration of losing myself, of living in a different world, a different time and place, of understanding and knowing what it's like to do the things my characters do, and making readers understand that, too. So do I outline? Yes--enough for a blueprint, a roadmark of hitting my marks and picking up my cues. Do I wing it? Of course ... every actor likes to improvise.
After all ... one writer, in her time, can play many parts. ;)