Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Minor Character

I'm struggling to find the voice of a minor character so I decided to work on his backstory some more in the hope that it will emerge through discovery. Where did he grow up? Who are his parents? Who were his childhood friends? Who is his favorite athlete, favorite actor?

The vast majority of this information will never appear in the actual story, but these answers should inform the decisions he makes, the way he speaks, etc. And I might end up with new characters that can be used elsewhere if needed. For example, his mother intrigues me. She may or may not even get a passing mention here, but I wouldn't mind exploring her in a different context. I already have an idea to put her together with a character from another failed novel and see what they do together.

When I say “I have an idea” that's probably overstating matters. It's more like, hey wouldn't it be cool if they met? I have no clue what the context might be or what might come from it, but they both seem like interesting characters that could mesh.

Will I ever write something involving those two characters? I can't think that far ahead, I've got plenty on my proverbial plate as is. But it might be fun, so you know, I'll keep it stashed in the back of my mind somewhere and see what happens.

One thing I'm finding about novel writing is that there's always room to do more digging. That's true of other types of writing, but another minor character wasn't popping, so I asked more questions about her and came up with someone more well rounded and memorable. So many parts of that first draft can be launch points for deeper dives. Choosing which points is the challenge.

Monday, July 4, 2016

At Least One Other Person

I watch the sea, it helps to anchor me.
—Geddy Lee

I've been doing a lot of podcasts lately, which is terrifying for me but also fun. As a writer I'm used to the comfort of working on my own and having the luxury of manipulating words, sentences, and paragraphs into the precise message I wish to deliver.

I don't subscribe to Jack Kerouac's alleged school of revision. I'm more with James Scott Bell's dictum that “the first draft exists to be rewritten.” Or as Justice Louis Brandeis put it, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” First thoughts are often best thoughts, but they're also often expressed badly or incompletely.

I like to revise. The inability to do so is a bug (or feature) of podcasting. You just let fly and hope for the best. I'll admit it's a bit of an adrenaline rush to know that I could fall flat on my face at any moment and turn the show into a complete train wreck. I'll also admit I'm not much of an adrenaline junkie and prefer to operate in controlled or controllable environments.

That being said, I've enjoyed doing more podcasts this year. And this is due almost entirely to my host and cohosts, who have all been knowledgeable, articulate, and just plain fun to hang out with. They feel like conversations with an audience that is there but not quite there.

It's like writing in that regard. I'm always pleasantly surprised when people have read my work. Similarly I get a kick out of learning that someone heard me on a podcast. “Oh, hey, that thing I did... people liked it.” It's gratifying to know that I'm not speaking in a vacuum, that these words somehow connected with at least one other person in the world.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Our Final Breath

It's devastating how quickly time passes. Four years was an entire college career, and here you are wading into the ocean that long ago. I could swear we were just there.

And what has happened since? Life, mostly, as it does.

Shots of the horizon rarely fail to capture my imagination. Where do the earth and sky meet? What is out there? How do I get there?

* * *

One of my POV characters is confronted with the reality that time passes too quickly. He is dead, but in his notebooks he expresses disbelief at his son's having recently turned seven despite it seeming like yesterday they were all coming home from the hospital.

This is hardly a novel thought. It's one I'm sure most of us have at some point. It can be haunting and daunting if we focus on it too much, which is why most of us don't. We jump back into the river and keep moving with life.

Our busyness, of course, doesn't slow the process. And the next time we come up for air we are again surprised by how much time has elapsed. This progression repeats itself until we are done here. It's a beautiful thing that is also tinged with sadness, or at least a longing for more.

* * *

Our finiteness is what defines us. Well, it's one of the things that defines us. Or describes us. We can't know where the earth and sky meet, what's out there, or how to get there. Beautiful and sad. Like life.

So we just keep moving, holding on and letting go at the same time. We pay attention to what we think is important and hope we are right.

Someday we'll all look back on this and laugh. And breathe our final breath.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Distinct Voices

I'm struggling to find the voices of three characters. Lois is a reference librarian in her mid-40s who likes tequila and poker. Rich is a furniture salesman in his mid-20s who talks tough but is a good guy. Alicia is a former track star who is now a mother and wife, but who shouldn't be defined solely as such. They don't meet in the actual story, but what if they did?

* * *

The three of them stood on the beach, looking out onto the ocean. Why were they all here? What had brought them together?

“You guys surf?” asked Rich.

Alicia smiled and shook her head. “I'm not much for water.”

“A little,” said Lois. “You know, back in the day.”

“Back in the day?” said Rich, a twinkle in his eye. “You can't be a day over 30.”

“Shut up,” said Lois, waving her hand like she was swatting flies.

Alicia took a good long look at her. She was trim, and her legs had definition, but there was something. She was definitely over 30, probably by a lot.

She must be about my age.

Rich turned to Alicia. “You just look like a surfer.”

“Thanks, I think, but I'm a sprinter.”


“Well, I was. These days I don't do much running. More lifting and chasing kids.”


Lois wrinkled her forehead in thought.

Alicia noticed. “What's on your mind?”

“Everything about this feels strange, doesn't it?”

“What do you mean?” said Alicia.

“She means,” interjected Rich, “that our interactions are forced. We don't belong here.”

“At the beach?”

“Together, like this. We aren't even part of the same storylines.”

“Worse, we don't have distinct voices.”