Showing posts with label The Great Gatsby. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Great Gatsby. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Challenge of Inner Change

A good writer's manual is worth every penny if it actually helps you become a better writer. I've featured several of them here on my blog, one of which is: Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas. If you don't own a copy, let me add that Mr. Maass isn't a top North American agent for nothing.

Choosing a random chapter this week I opened the book to Inner Change. Good choice. I'm nearing the end of the second draft of my WIP: Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, the sequel to Broken But Not Dead. Mr. Maass writes that if I show my two main protagonists Sally Warner, wife of the murder victim, and Corporal Danny Killian, widower and investigator in charge of the case, grow and change, I increase the odds of producing the breakout novel. Good point. So, how do I do that? More importantly how do you?

Here's a snippet of what Donald Maass thinks will work:

1. Find an early scene when your protagonist is talking to a main character.
2. Write a paragraph on how s/he sees that particular character.
3. Move forward in the story and show how s/he see this same character (or place) differently.

Mr. Maass goes on to say that inner change weaved through the plot strengthens the structure and appeal of the story. He says to ask yourself these questions: How does your protagonist see himself change through the story? How do other characters see him? What changes occur?

As in life, everyone changes.

Remember the 1967 blockbuster To Sir With Love? If you were asked today why you think that movie is a classic, what would you say? That its appeal is due to idealistic teacher Mark Thackeray's (Sidney Poitier) experience and affect on a bunch of rambunctious white students from the slums of London's East End? The changes in how his students see him and how Thackeray sees himself  are what drives the story.

What about the growth and change of Tom Hank's character in Cast Away?
Or Nick Carraway's vision of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby? Can you write a paragraph on how these characters changed?

I'd like to recommend another classic. Rent a copy of On The Waterfront to see how Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) starts off as a washed out fighter and envolves into one of cinema's most endearing heroes.

Great writing is about recognizing what makes great storytelling.

--happy editing

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Are You Overwhelmed by the Information Highway?

Even if you aren't a writer, the amount of knowledge available online is -- daunting. Or for want of a better word: frightening-intimidating-overwhelming-mind-boggling, and let's not forget head-spinning.

How can we possibly read everything? Or ever hope to remember a faction of what we do manage to read? 

There are days when I literally feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, minus the green puke ejecting from my throat. I'm glued to my chair, wandering from page to page, never quite finished reading but moving onward and upward because something catches my eye--and I'm unwittingly drawn/forced to click on the next link--until I faintly remember I was searching for something that was supposedly back 128 links ago! And what's with this History-list-thingy, anyway? They tell you to click on History and you'll find your way back to your original page. Ha! More often than not I end up having to start over. Then another another day is gone. Forever. Never to return again. And the page I originally found? Forget it.

But I'm okay with that. Or at least most of it. I live on the Information Highway. I'm a fingertip away from any place in the world. I'm privy to any tidbit of information available on any number of interesting tidbitty things. There is no end to what I can read, learn, or drool over. Unless my dial up quits, or my internet connection fails, or the power goes out, or my Uncle Manny visits and I'm forced to sit through another episode of bowel hiccups and hard stool disorder. Or for want of a better term: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Yeah, I hate the internet all right. Take it away from me for a week, heck a day--an afternoon without my web and I'm about ready for the loony bin.

That's why I've come to the conclusion I need a bigger brain. Or a hookup to some external hard drive where I can store all these valuable morsels on those days when my brain's full.... Okay, bad idea. But hey, wait a minute. I might have some ideas for the middle-aged-shortage-on-memory problem.

When faced with the "head-spinning" syndrome: you've inadvertently stumbled across an awesome site and you've only got two hours before you have to move on: BOOKMARK. Yes, ladies and gents, Bookmark is your friend. Ah, but how to remember that? It's like remembering to brush your teeth. You bookmark. Then, at the beginning of each week, you houseclean. Delete ALL your bookmarks. I mean really, after a few days who looks in their BOOKMARK list, anyway? If you really want something, you'll do the google or yahoo or whatever search. It's faster, more convenient, and besides, it works better with my plan.

It's all in the "scanning objectively" mind frame. The secret is to create a reason for the information to stay in long-term memory verses short-term memory. Who forgets where they keep their underwear and socks? Okay, except for Uncle Manny. But it's not really his fault; it's in the jeans--I mean genes. Who forgets to do up their seatbelt, or pull their hand away before slamming the car door shut? If it isn't worth your time to remember, you won't. If it's a subject you find fascinating, you'll make a reason to remember. And as silly as this sounds, you'll use the ole internal monologue to do this.

Say you're reading a nifty piece on promotional techniques for selling your first novel, after firing your 4th agent. You ask yourself, Why is this information important to me? Duh. You've been a Red Baron fan since early childhood, and you stumble across a site dedicated to Manfred von Richthofen. Why is this information important to you? Your brother-in-law's 4-day visit has extended past 14 days, and you discover an engrossing article on Leeches, Worms and Planaria...

You get my drift.

The Wide World Web has much to offer. Some relevant, some not so. The secret is to shake off that daunting, overwhelming sense of dread. Give yourself allowances. Be kind to yourself. Reading and remembering everything is not a prerequisite. And if you are a writer, don't for one moment believe you need to know every facet of writing to be gifted. Learning doesn't stop just because you're middle-aged. Or feeling old. The greatest tool our generation will ever know isn't going anywhere.

Yay Internet!

And the best part? What you do need to know is out there in spades.

Take the POV issue.

I've seen so many articles on the subject that require a degree in sociology to discern. It doesn't need to be that way. Sometimes grasping complicated issues means thinking in the simplest terms. The POV of any scene is the narrator, the character telling the story. And there are 4 choices: Omni -- God/Author/Character, 3rd person -- She/He, 2nd -- You, and 1st -- I/Me.

For the sake of argument, let's agree that nobody wants to read a story in Second person, "You verbed".
The thing to remember is: First person is the most intimate and Omni is the least. Third falls in the middle.

Third person limited means one protagonist throughout the story, and unlimited means sometimes several protagonists exist within one story. In my novel, DEAD WITNESS, I told the story through the eyes of three characters, Valerie, Canaday, and DeOlmos. I even snuck in a few openings by using Omni to set up the scene. I trust, or hope that the narrator was brief enough that the average reader was unaware. What I didn't do was switch from Valerie, Canaday or DeOlmos in the SAME scene. If I started off in Omni, using the all-knowing narrator to show the reader the setting, stuff that my protagonist couldn't experience, (see, touch, hear, taste, or smell), as quickly as possible, I jumped into the protagonist's head and stayed there for the rest of that scene. Not once did I show the reader anything that my protagonist didn't experience. That's not to say it's an unspeakable crime, it would have lessened the intimacy.

In my 5th manuscript, OMATIWAK: WOMAN WHO CRIES, I stretched my wings and shared the story with Third person, Danny Killian, and First person, Sally Warner. I chose First for Sally because I hope an intimate relationship would develop between reader and Sally. Third worked for Danny because it enabled me more versatility.

You've no doubt heard the story of Fitzgerald, after writing The Great Gatsby in Gatsby's POV, realizes the story needed to be told through Nick Carraway's POV because of Nick's naivety and fascinating for Gatsby. Imagine if Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, or an all knowing character had told the story? Nick's first person narration worked. Like a tight focus or camera lens, Nick shows us everything his senses experience. If he doesn't see it, smell it, hear it, taste or touch it, then neither do we.

One thing to remember: Omni can also be an unique, formidable, and intriguing character. Another thing: as the author, you need to choose your POV wisely. But that's a subject for another day.

 Every time a newbie jumps from one protagonist in a scene into the head of another, they risk disrupting the intimate relationship forming between reader and character. And in a world of quick access and unlimited volume, the risk is too great.

If you haven't seen The Exorcist, I highly recommend it. I'm not a horror fan, but the film is a masterpiece. Maybe it's the struggle between good and evil. Or maybe it was because I was twenty and the mother of a brand new baby boy. Even now when I watch it, I'm reminded of that vulnerable little baby and how terrified I felt.