Monday, November 26, 2007

Ask Trish Almost Anything Pt6

Yes - I'm BACK from SPAIN. And yes - I DO have a gazillion and one photos and a tale or two to tell. And oh my yes - I think I do see a Spanish hero in my future...

But as I'm doing a Travelling Trish post at The Pink Heart Society tomorrow I'm gonna answer another Ask Trish Almost Anything for now (cos pre-loading obviously didn't work!)and then I'll post some extra pics here tomorrow at the same time as the PHS one with some goss on what I was reading while I was away before we go back to Q&A again, okay???

Here goes...

Dear Trish,

I found your advice to Natasha extremely helpful. Thanks.I do have a question of my own, though.Why is it that I can lie in bed, or stand in the shower, or make supper, or whatever, and the whole time, I am seeing and hearing my lovely characters interacting with each other, getting on each other's nerves, loving each other, etc., but then when it's time to sit down with pen and paper (or AlphaSmart or laptop), my brain stalls, and trying to get the tiniest drop of all that drama I've dreamed up down onto the paper is torture?

How do I get past that ugly, ornery wall that crashes down with a dusty thud every time I try to write?Help!

Thanks bunches!

Dear Mary

I'm soooooo glad you asked this one as this is yet another example of what horribly slippery little suckers characters can be!!! It's like trying to juggle jelly sometimes, isn't it?

The very fact that they're talking to you in such detail to begin with is a very good sign. It's when those voices in our heads go silent for a long time without so much as a whisper even when we feed and care for our Muses the way we're sposed to that you should really worry... But what it comes down to in this case is a little case of discipline - both of the mind and of those slippery little so-and-so's...
It's time to put on your teachers hat. Cos this is where that fine line between being a daydreamer and being a writer is about to get tested! And frankly it's where a lot of we writers will struggle - cos no-one ever gets round to telling us that there's a regular battle between the two things required of a writer; imagination and discipline - the ying and yang of writing. Not exactly like being free spirited and disciplined at the same time is an easy thing, is it? And when you become a writer full time oooohhhhh my can this become a test of will power!!!

So what you have to do in this case is re-educate yourself and your characters. A WIP alllll on it's wee ownsome...TRUST ME.

Let's look at the slippery so-and-so's first shall we??? Sometimes they not only blind us with a gazillion and one pieces of information at the same time, they also - bless their little cotton socks - like to jam pack into our heads like sardines in a can with more than the one flipping story at the same time. And I dunno about you - but there's only so much room in my head! Hmmm.... this may be why I struggle so much with working on more than one book at the same time... but for a change I digress...

What we gotta do is TRAIN THEM to only speak to us about ONE SCENE at a time. You gotta stand at the front of the classroom of your brain with your teachers hat on and raise your voice VERY LOUDLY to be heard over the noise of all the chattering. You can still be a pussycat at heart but you gotta make all those German Shepherds (aka your characters) do what YOU TELL THEM TO. (see pic for reference here...) Tell them to be QUIET for a minute and then, once you have their undivided attention ask them to tell you the ONE SCENE over and over until it's clear in your head. Treat it a bit like you're an actress rehearsing for that scene, okay? The shower is perfect for this... or erm... while on the loo... or while driving I spose... cos you can then speak their conversations aloud again and again like a mantra without being carted off to the funny farm - you can rehearse tone and emotion and see if the coversation sounds right... Maybe you could even speak the heroines words aloud and get the guy to speak his into your ear??? Hey - get an empty house and you could act it out with the body movements and everything...Try it. This blog may be titled 'and other sorts of insanity' but this one IS writing related and it all makes PERFECT SENSE to me. In my ikkle world anyhoos. And I've found it works!

Now for YOU. What you gotta remember first is that daydreaming or lying in bed awake before you fall asleep when you're hearing these voices and seeing these scenes inside your mind isn't like dreaming when you're asleep. They won't disappear if you open your eyes... fade a little, yes... get lost behind something else more important, yes... but they're still IN THERE. It's not like those horribly elusive wisps of dreams you get in that period between sleep and waking up - you know the ones I mean - horrible dastardly things that make you spend the whole day wracking your brains to remember them??? Yeah - I knew you'd know...What you gotta do with DAYDREAMS is narrow them down. Oh, and for the record I'm one of those 'meant-to-be' kinda gals - so if the scene does completely disappear then I tell myself it wasn't *meant-to-be* for this particular story. (Hey - if it keeps me sane-ish - alright?!?)

So think of what you're seeing in your head as a movie - think of yourself as the actress in that movie (cos as the writer we want the reader to walk in the heroines shoes, right? So technically you're doing exactly that!!!) - then concentrate on only the one scene until you have it clear - and think of the writing of it as you committing it to film - make sense???

This means when you sit down to write the scene it'll be clearer and the words should flow easier, yes?

Another thing people often complain about is that ideas won't always appear when you're close enough to a keyboard to set them down. This is where you'll hear writers talking about varying different methods. Like keeping pads and pens all over the place to scribble down notes or keeping a dictaphone or post it notes or whatever. That means the idea can never completely slip away or if you have an idea for a new scene before the one you're working on is finished you have the bare bones of a hint to get the voices talking again...

Now I'd suggest a short-hand type method for this so you don't draw your head too much outta the scene you're trying to nail down...just words that are gonna let you remember the idea - like the location; say coffee shop/outside - the gist of the scene; like heroine thinks hero misunderstands something she's done/said - or maybe something as simple as; 'takes hand and kisses' - you know what I mean? Just a very few words so you know what the idea was and that way when you've finished the scene you're working on you have a few reminders of that genius idea when you move on to it and begin the process of rehearsing and rehearsing all over again until you get THAT ONE pinned down. You with me?
This also works if a brand new story idea appears when you're already working on one - cos another problem can be the clamouring of voices in your head wanting to be heard... And again you've gotta discipline yourself to stick to the one story until it's done cos a common mistake is starting one idea then having a *better idea* and starting it and then running into problems and dumping that in favour of another new idea and so on and so on until nothing actually gets finished. Remember a great many unpublished writers have a problem actually finishing a manuscript so again it's about DISCIPLINE . You might never even sub your early work but what you did was teach yourself to write a story with a beginning, a middle and most importantly of all - AN END.

This is one of the chief reasons why you'll hear me talk about the time I need to change over from one story to another. I was talking to a friend about this recently and I likened it to living in a particular city for the duration of the telling of the story; it's like moving house lock, stock and a barrel to a brand new city - you need time to unpack and settle in - then you need to find where the local grocery store is and all the amenities - then you maybe make new friends and start to get to know them and form a social circle - then you start to feel like it's home and you drop into automatic pilot for a while - then just when you're settled in and everythings done you up and move again to a brand new city and start all over again. Only in my case rather than a city I'm moving my *head* from one world into another. Like in my last *world* my head was completely filled with a round the world trip and the problems faced by Ronan and Kerry. Now that they've gone I have to take a few days to *shift my head* out of that world and into one based in New York and the problems faced by Quinn and Clare...

To do this I'll spend several days just thinking and then I'll make up an outline/prop for my lovely editor and once it has the thumbs up I'll spend time making a new collage and adding to back story that won't go in the book and putting together a new soundtrack. And then I'll go into *daydreaming mode* where I'll rehearse key scenes over and over and over in my head - talking the dialogue, sometimes out loud - seeing where they live and thinking about who they are and seeing the way they sit or move (sometimes I'll look at the mannerisms of the actors/actresses I've mentally *cast* so I have a baseline to refer to on DVD's...) and only when I'm firmly in that new world do I sit down and write - by which stage the theory is I'll know them so well it'll all slot together and I can work through any brick walls by going back into the daydreaming stage. NOTHING but NOTHING else exists in my daydreams outside of that new world until it's done and revised and approved and then I'll move on again and start all over. (though this is something I'm gonna have to teach myself to overlap next year I think...)

FOR ME this is a big part of why my word count can go up at a rate of knots from time to time. Cos all the ground work is already done. Mentally I've *seen the movie* of the book in my head. So when I write I'm pretty much just doing a review. Also, FOR ME it means my form of discipline doesn't interfere too much with my muse - she gets to play regularly in daydreaming mode and the WORK part is in the discipline of sitting down and typing it all up... It works for me ;)

Remember we're all different. You just gotta find what works for you...

Hope that helps hun. Feel free to ask any questions!!! And tomorrow we're aiming for Spain pics and then more answers to Ask Trish Almost Anything - which you can still add to if you have a burning question ;)

Oh and I'm not sure of this pic is a sign that my cat Max looooovvveeesss my books or if they're soooooo bad they make him nod off...hmmm... I know which option I'd PREFER...I feel some extra pouches of fishy flavoured pieces coming along as bribary in his very near future just in case...


Mary said...


Thank you a million times over for taking the time to answer my question. I can see that you spent a lot of time typing out all those pearls of writerly wisdom, and it means the world to me.

I really like the idea of "watching" the scene over and over as an actress before sitting down to write. It is completely opposite of the way I was trying to write. I felt like I should see it once and be able to dash it all off right away in a lovely, luminous fashion.

This makes me think of my favorite movie, "Pride and Prejudice." No matter how many times I watch it, I always see and hear something new.


Oh, and the bit about putting on my teacher's hat and telling the cheeky little so and so's to hush for a minute and all, well, I had no idea I could exert that sort of authority. I really ought to know better, seeing as how I live with a five year old and an eight year old. Not that they always listen, mind you.

Thank you again, Trish. I always find so much to think about and enjoy on your blog, and of course your books are right up there with chocolate in my lovely little world!

Am looking forward to the pics from Spain. sigh...



Ray-Anne said...

Thank you so much for this post Trish - I can relate to so much, and find it reassuring that acting out the scenes while walking around the house does qualify as working, and not psychiatric help.

On the other hand...

Thanks again for taking the time out to share your working methods.

LOL Ray-Anne