Friday, October 10, 2008

Chaos and Conversations and Crazed Cartography


Chaos theory, overheard conversations, and mad map-makers. That pretty much sums up my first drafts.

When I first started writing, back in the halcyon days of 'deadline? what deadline?' I did not have a method to my madness. I wrote when I felt like, what I felt like, sometimes in stream-of-conciousness mode, sometimes in I-shall-now-contemplate-comma-placement-for-the-next-two-hours mode.

I'm still a little like that. There is a random, back and forth quality to the way I write my first drafts that - while I cannot in good conscience recommend this technique to anyone else - seems to work for me.

Of course, on the cusp of having my first published novel hit the bookstore shelves, and having just turned in the finished 'first' draft of book two, I've learned to be much more disciplined about the amount of time I spend writing at least. Which is a good thing.

Also, for the last two books - because they were contracted before they were written - I have had to follow a synopsis. Which has been interesting. The synopsis for me, is both incredibly useful and utterly baffling. It certainly is no guarantee that the project will be easier or even that I'll really know where it's actually going or how it'll get there. But it does tell me that the project exists. Somewhere.

It's like this: sure - I've got a road map right from the start of my journey... but I still have to figure out which direction 'north' is. Without a compass. At night. With heavy cloud cover. And there's the possibility that my map might be out of date. Or drawn by some lunatic in an asylum somewhere who passed himself off as a cartographer before they caught him and locked him up... heh. I digress.

Actually, I've found it very interesting reading the posts of my fellow Girls so far this week. I've found myself nodding along with just about every one and saying, 'yup. yup. I do that. and that. and sometiemes that...' because my process (for lack of a better word) is not something that I can actually quantify most of the time. Sometimes I will write down the bones of a scene and come back later to flesh it out, sometimes I will get a scene down first-time perfect and not change a single word of it. Sometimes I will write in a linear fashion, sometimes - er - not so much.

But the two things I have discovered that I do manage with a deal of consistency are this: I will always find myself 'eavesdropping' on the conversations taking place between my characters and I will simply transcribe what they're saying. Later I will go back and write the scene, itself, in which these conversations took place, but it's always really important for me to get the flow of dialogue as if it's something I'm just listening in on.

The other thing is this: once I'm deep enough into a story, I will inevitably start scrolling randomly through the text as a means of avoiding getting down to any actual work. And I've always found that, at some point, I will invariably stumble upon clues I have subconciously left myself - a word or phrase or a detail - that will clarify and quantify and, as if by magic, suddenly make everything make sense. The a-ha! moment. It's my version of chaos-theory, in a way; something tiny and seemingly insignificant has happened miles away from where I think the story is heading and, all of a sudden, I'm going back and back and back through the text, retracing the roads I've already driven down, implementing all the changes that this one little overlooked detail demands.

Then I pull out the map, realize I might have been reading it upside down for the last hundred miles, but understand where the lunatic cartographer was telling me to go all along.


Jillian Cantor said...

I love this, Lesley! And I do the same thing, where I scroll back and find "clues." It's as if my subconscious knows what's going to happen before I do. . .

Lesley Livingston said...

Exactly, Jillian!

Wow - you and I have an awful lot in common, I think!


Tracy Madison said...

OMG, I love it when I realize I've already put in clues to something I didn't even know I was leading to. And I totally am in synch with the Chaos Theory thing. Totally. :)

Maureen Lipinski said...

Whoa! That's never happened to me...but I think I'm going to be watching for those "clues" while I'm revising. Sounds so cool!