Ok, a while back (and it really is a while, was it last NaNo or the one before that? Anyway), the peeps of my favourite Office of Letters and Light asked about our dreamcast, should our novel be made into a film… While I’m not harbouring any hope (well, at least only a teenytiny one) of that ever happening, it can be worthwhile to give your characters a face. Of course you should know how they look like, at least roughly, because it’s never going to sit well with your readers if your hero starts out with green eyes and ends up with blue ones. They notice these kind of things.
Nevertheless, I never really pictured my character’s appearance in great depths. I knew: This one is red haired and has really white skin. The other one has green eyes with golden flecks. And the third is dark haired and big. Period. You think this is not enough? Possibly. But their appearace is not my main focus. I focus on character voice, on how this characters sounds and speaks and thinks. Add a memorable detail (ah, yes, the glass slippers of every story), something that sticks out – Harry Potter had his scar, his always broken glasses and his disheveled hair – and you’re done. Characters take their shape in the readers imagination, through their voice and actions.
Of course, sometimes there is a face that is just perfect. An actor that incorporates every trait you’ve given your character. That’s fine. I’m sure, you could describe said character (with this person’s face) in every last minuscule detail, and he could look completely different in your reader’s mind.
Point is: Your characters have to be as vivid and alive as they can be in your head, to enable you to bring them down onto the page. But that doesn’t mean they require an actual face. You don’t need to paint them in oil. Looks can be means to an end, but your character should not rely only on his outer appearance. There will be people who yell at this “Noooo, you have to picture them down to the last chappy toenail, you have to seeee them, how else can you write them!?” I say: trust your gut. Only you know how much appearance and looks and chappy toenails you need to envision your character. I know how much (or more, less) vision I need. As I said, I’m pretty sketchy with looks. That doesn’t keep my heroes and villains and protagonist and antagonists from being very much alive and distinct, at least in my imagination.
Now, as sketchy as the looks of your character can remain, his bearing – the way he presents himself, the way he moves and gestures and mimics – is something totally different. This is essential. Part of his voice. But I’ll come back to this.
I’m procrastinating. Again, I know what I have to do (oh, and I get to introduce another character, yay), but I’m just a little bit…not motivated. I hoped I could finish my draft in april. But I spoke with a Chemist this week to clear up some of the science-stuff in my book. I learned that a quick and even a not so quick Wikipedia check isn’t going to do the trick if you have no idea what you’re writing about. (Well, I kind of knew that before, since it was the reason for speaking with my Chemist in the first place). Real people explain a lot more a lot better than even the most exhaustive research can do.
But now I know I have to change another large chunk of text. Which is good, really, because I felt that particular strand of my story being a bit thin and shallow and altoghether insufficient. And that talk gave me lots of fresh ideas and input and helped me to give my story more believeability and stability. But right now I’m too sluggish to get it done.
I still could finish this draft in april. I really could. I probably should. Guess I’m riding the downward slope again.
One of the TV shows I’m obsessed with has a saying: “Magic is Power” (You’re wrong, Cersei Lannister would say: Power is Power). I’m not arguing against neither saying.
For me, Words are Magic. Words can wield power. Words can seduce. Words can evoke the fluttering wings of hummingbirds, brushing against the inside of your belly. Words can arouse. Words can devastate.
Words are magical, that’s why it is possible for a poem or a song or a book to bring you to tears. George R.R. Martin has the power to build worlds out of words that are so real you can smell and taste and feel them. Fiona Apple writes songs that clench my stomach to little knots, and twist and turn them upside down. And Robert Carlyle (don’t get me even started on his perfection) has a voice that can turn the most ordinary words into something oscillating deep inside you, something resonating with your diaphragm, like dew glistening in the first light of morning and deep breaths of clean air.
I may be a bit florid here. Point is: Words are Magic. Words touch you where nothing else can touch you, inside your brain, inside your heart. Inside you.
That’s why everyone wielding the power of words – singers and songwriters, writers, actors – has my utmost respect. In some cases my eternal devotion (yeah, that’s why I said don’t even get me started – I may miss the appropiate gateway to leave the conversation with my dignity still intact).
I wrote a lot about the pain of writing so far. That is, perhaps, partly because one of my characters, living in my head, is a dark and sinister bastard who is giving me a hard time right now. Go take a shower.
Ok. This morning, while folding my laundry, I mused over the question why I am blogging in English. I’m writing in German, so am I adressing the wrong audience? Shouldn’t I rather blog in German, to attract an audience that would, someday, perhaps, buy my book? Um, no. First, I’m not blogging to sell a book that isn’t even finished and may never find a publisher. Second: I hardly ever read german blogs, or books in German (unless they’re written in German, that is). I don’t do translations, because there is something lost in every translation. I want to get the whole package. Don’t get me wrong, I love the German language. And even though I have situations where I know exactly what I want to say, I know exactly the right word, only it’s English in my head and I have to look up a german equipollent, I couldn’t write in any other language. But I read mostly English.
My husband, whom I got A song of Ice and Fire for Christmas 2011, still hasn’t finished the first book, and he never will, because I got the English edition (Imagine, they divided the books into parts for the German market, and one book costs as much as all the paperbacks in English toghether!). “I’m German,” he said, “and I want to read in German.” I think that’s code for “It’s too difficult for me because I haven’t practised my English since I left school in the nineties.” That’s ok. I’m happy he reads at all (and everytime I mention in front of someone that he does, they go like “Are you sure? Isn’t it possible he just holds the book to, I don’t know, look occupied?” “No, he totally reads.” Although he seems, in the eyes of most people, to come with all the loveable character traits ogres are known for, he is a reader. I wouldn’t let him read my own writing, because he can be very, very judgemental and ogre-ish about it, and he already knows too much of what is going on in my head as it is, and he read eight books written by female authors in his whole life (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Harry Potter), but, as I said, I’m happy he reads at all.)
Well, considering my affinity to the English language and the fact that I’m mostly conversing in English in the world wide internet, it’s only natural to blog in English. Even though I have to look up a few words now and then. I know them, I’m sure, but they just won’t come out of their drawers. My brain is so cluttered. Just like my apartment. And it’s convenient to have the Net floating around and offering dictionaries.
Point is: Please forgive me my stupid mistakes and wrong spelled words. I’m deeply thankful that you spend your precious time with me and my incoherent rambling thoughts. Have a nice, sparkling day.
Ok. So, I had a rather hard day yesterday. There was this scene that I had to write, and honestly, I never felt that much anxiety (yeah, it was that “go where it hurts” thing again). I sat there, shaking, sweating, lightheaded. I did everything NOT to write that scene. I emailed every single friend and checked every five minutes if they answered already. I strolled around tumblr, twitter and facebook. I came THIS close to cleaning my kitchen. But finally, I wrote it out of the way.
It was a lot like giving birth. And if you’re sensible or easily grossed out, you should read no further.
Being close to due-date or already past due-date, is terrible. You know it has to happen. There is this person inside you that has to get out.
Of course you could take the “easy” road. My firstborn was a medically induced c-section, but there went something wrong. For months I was in terrible pain. (Well, at this point, my analogy fails a bit…)
I decided to give birth to my second baby at home. I didn’t want to go to the hospital and risk a second c-section. Well, of course, there were problems. The contractions didn’t get stronger, and after two days, when they finally DID get serious, the cervix didn’t open. Try not to press, if everything your body wants to do is press that thing out! (That’s why, after two deliveries, I decided that there’s no possible way for my to get another child)
Afterwards, you forget. The body doesn’t remember pain. And the moment you’re child opens her eyes, blinks and looks at you in wonder is the moment you ask yourself, how it is possible to hold something so perfect, so beautiful in your hands.
With writing, it’s similar. Not the pain, of course. In its pain, giving birth is excruciatingly unique and beyond comparison. But the time before. It starts with light contractions, slowly building up to the point of no return. The point where you feel like you’re getting ripped apart. It has to get out, whether it is writing or a child. You may be afraid, anxious, nervous, but if it is something you want to, you have to write – or something you want to do or ANYTHING – then there is no way to avoid it, unless you want it to eat you from inside.
A friend of mine – a writer – told me, he never experienced such profoundly unsettling writing-moments. Perhaps it was the theme of the scene that made it so difficult for me.
But perhaps it’s me. I’m not an esoteric, and can be quiet rational and grounded. But I tend to feel everything in a more or less excessive way – everything fictional at least. My first till third undying loves were fictional characters, and I still fall easily in love with fictional characters, sometimes even my own. Not so easily with real persons. But someone (who is a shrink, but not mine) told me, that this overly excessive character trait is part of my writer identity and gives me the ability to tell those stories…To fall in love easily, to be easily engaged in fiction. Watch me obsess over my favourite tv show or book – you’d think me a teenager.
However. Now that this scene is out of the way, I’m feeling better. Partly. Part of me wants to go back and feel it again. Not the pain, be it child-bearing-pain or otherwise. But that moment right after. When you hold it (whatever IT is) between the palms of your hands, your sun, your moon, your galaxy, and you realize you’re all dust from the same stars. And you never loved something so thoroughly and absolute.
(Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying that writing SHOULD be this mystical thing, and if it’s not, it’s not real writing. No. (That would be really dumbass of me). I’m just saying it CAN be this way, and if it is, you should treasure those moments. They don’t come easily and they don’t come often. They’re the unicorns of your writing life, but it’s so worth it to endure.)
(AND: Don’t give birth to your child alone at home without help. You need a midwife. That’s their job, to help you and to judge whether it is acceptable to proceed in your home or too risky and you need to go to the hospital. Just to be clear.)
So yesterday, the peeps of Team NaNoWriMo asked on Twitter when we knew we were a writer.
Truth is, I still don’t know. When I was 14 – and that is half a lifetime away now – I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote, I even started my first book. I wrote short stories. One story even involved a love affair of some ordinary girl (me) and a vampire. Gosh, I could be rich by now. But alas. When I grew older, I thought it unrealistic to achieve my goal and really become a writer. I knew I could write, my texts were witty, funny, utterly sarcastic, but I never managed to actually finish a story. When I finished school, I still didn’t know what I could do other than write. I thought about becoming a gardener, a photographer, a tailor. But after my last exams in school I realized I was pregnant. Every dream I ever had came to a halt. And since I didn’t want my daughter to be an only child, I got pregnant again.
Then I had two kids and still no idea what I wanted to be other than a mom. I wrote about my daily adventures with my girls, and this made me realize again what the one thing is I do best. It may not seem that way, since English is not my first language, but I’m really good with words. Written words, anyway. Make me talk in front of real people and I stumble over that slippery puddle of quirky sentences in my head.
So, when I was 25 and my girls both in Kindergarten, I started studying German Language and Literature. Right the first academic told us that we’re wrong here if we wanted to write. I followed through anyway, got my degree with two kids and everything in six semesters like a normal student, and I wasn’t even bad. And although I love books, I love literature, I came to deteste the pretentious academical world.
But that first academic was not totally right with his statement. I learned a few things about writing. Not technique, but how to research and how to endure the bleakest and most stressful times, and those two abilities were the most precious to me. But my final lesson, the one that showed me that I really am a writer came shortly after I finished studying. I submitted a short story to a prose writing contest of my alma mater in coop with a scientific publishing house, and I made third place. My story got published, and so I could call myself a published writer.
The lesson I learned there was that I had to dare to be a writer. The daring part is the most difficult for me. Since I finished studying, I wrote down first drafts for two novels, from beginning to end, and NaNoWriMo helped me a lot there, in showing me that I really could write a book from start to finish. But I haven’t submitted my manuscripts anywhere. I haven’t looked for agents or publishers. Yet. The daring still is the biggest difficulty.
But there is never a challenge so big you can’t get past it. That’s another lesson I took with me from my studies. You may think there’s no possible way you can do this, but you can, if you only dare.
Sometimes, reading about general principles of character developing can give you a moment of epiphany. Oh, how I cherish those moments! Especially when I suddenly know that my character in question is behaving perfectly IN CHARACTER. Nothing more frustrating than those awkward out of character moments.
So today, I trolled the Writer’s Digest site, just to keep me from writing a little longer. Rolling the path my hero has lying ahead of her over and over in my head. I read about reaction to frustration, and then it just clicked. She runs away. She does it constantly, everytime someone brings her near boiling point, she just turns around and walks away. So it was really natural for her to do it again and only get in bigger trouble. Everything clicked. I realized what had to happen, I realized where I had to revise my plot, where my first draft had gone wrong. So now, I’m really happy.
Well, one thing bothers me, though. I hate it to cut words out (just the words – not the scene) during NaNoWriMo, or, in this case, CampNaNoWriMo. It’s ok to revise little chunks at a time, cutting 100 words here and writing 400 there, but this is a really big piece of the cake. Funny, how reluctant I get when it comes to my precious words. But now, with my path so clear before me, I’m in a flow. Until the time comes when I have to reunite my storylines. Then I’m probably stuck again. But I’m not the type to worry about the future. And besides, the more you write and think about your story, the more ideas come to your mind. To get inspiration to visit, you have to work and set up a nice home.
I’ve read quiet a few writing advice books. Most of them agree on one point: As a writer, you have to go to where it hurts. You have to look into those places that make you cringe and wanna look away, you have to take them, write them. Naturally, I hesitate to really plunge into it. After all, it hurts. It isn’t easy to open your eyes, and look at all those ugly places inside you. All the things you wanna hide. The things you know you want to do, you have to do to your hero, but shy away from.
I know what’s the right thing to do, and ultimately, I’m going to do it. Then there is this moment, when I do all these hurtful things to my protagonist (and it really feels that way – not life, not the villain, not the antagonist, I am the person who is responsible), and it’s like liberation. My writing connects with some higher level of consciousness, it’s creating some sort of flow, where I’m only the pen, the medium through which words are formed on the screen. This is really hard to describe, but this is the moment I write for. Makes me sound like a masochist.
So, now I know where my story’s going to end, I know how to get there (roughly), but I also realize there’s a big chunk of already written story, that is an enormous glitch in the way. I have to get rid of it, or at least change it so it fits again into my story, but that – no surprise there, I fear – is going to hurt, as amputation does at any rate. It’s not only in terms of story or theme or whatever, that you have to go where it hurts. Sometimes it’s in the realization that your story just doesn’t work the way it is and you have to change at least a fourth part of what you’ve already written. That’s hurting almost more, because there’s no fun part to it. That’s just work. (Well, my inner sadist, who likes to play around with my own inner masochist, points out gleefully that this is the price I have to pay for pantsing…)
Since I started editing my (let’s call it) current draft of my novel, a bunch of characters walked in who weren’t there before. I’m not sure yet if I really need them, but they help me finding the way through the labyrinth of my brain. And my novel. Only problem: Everytime a new character arrives, I have to rename someone. It’s like a jinx. Either I already have a (rather important) character with a name similar to my new acquisition, or a (not so important) secondary character with a similar name to the new character. Which is, in its essence, one and the same thing. It’s kind of unconscious naming (if that’s a thing). Oftentimes I don’t notice it right away.
I have characters that had their name changed four or five times already, and I can’t promise that it won’t happen again. Luckily I didn’t rename them so often as to forget who they are. I hate name-generator-thingy-things, so everytime I realize that there was another one (how could that even happen? Again?), I take my encyclopedia of names and start digging. Or I take my book on mediaeval culture and literature and skim through the index of names, if I’m looking for a mediaeval name. I try not to have more than one name that starts with the same letter, to not be confusing. Most of my characters tend to start either with B or W, for what it’s worth. My mind seems to like those letters.
I’m so more than thankful for the search and replace option of my writing program. Makes changing names easy.
Oh, seriously. Day 3 of CampNaNoWriMo and I’m already out of motivation. Ok, perhaps it’s the lack of sleep (I drifted off around four in the morning). I know perfectly well what I want to write, what I need to write, I just don’t want to…you know what. Maybe it’s only today and tomorrow, everything will be perfectly fine. Maybe later today, I’ll find my motivation. But right now… I’m not going to fall off the wagon. I just want a break. And I have to accept that it’s perfectly fine to have a day like this. To give myself some rest. Beating myself up won’t change anything. It’ll only increase my inner resistance. That still small voice is allowed to shut up for a change. I just have to make sure to resume writing tomorrow.