Friday, February 26, 2010

Still Scrolling Along and Ironing Prunes


An earlier scroll. I think the script is half uncial in the style of the Lindisfarne Gospels but I'm not a calligrapher so I can't swear to it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero ( 106-43 B.C.) the Roman statesman, orator and author is reported to have said, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

My houseplants sulk on window sills, roots curled like impatient fingers in their pots, their leaves flattened against window panes like children watching rain.

I'm certain this can't be original, but if one writes about sexy zombies should it be called rotica?

Feedback: We wants it. We craves it continually. Preciousss. I sometimes wish we had a different word for it. Because of my country childhood, the term makes me think of a horse barfing up his oats.

Publishing's Official Nice Guy, Nathan Bransford, asked yesterday Do You Own Your Characters or Do Your Characters Own You?

(I'm fond of Nathan because he requested a partial from me once. A request based, I'm sure, solely on the fact that the zombie-revenant in the opening pages is also named Nathan and he was curious.)

I'm always a little leery of Frankenstein/Pygmalian explanations for those times when a story careens off its intended track and one is left wondering from where that particular impulse came. I prefer to blame my sub-conscious and its peculiar logic -- but then, I'm so mundane I don't hear voices in my head either -- but a lot of writers blame their characters for taking over.

I wonder if they mean it literally or are indulging in a form of prosopopoeia or a hyperbolic conceit.

What is your take on the subject?

28 comments:

Chris Eldin said...

This reminds me of the movie "Beatrix Potter," in particular the scene where Renee Zelwegger is talking to her characters, telling them what to do. (I also prefer to have control. hehe)
;-)

StarvingWriteNow said...

love that image of your houseplants. I am currently home sick, watching the snow blow around between coughing fits. Hardly poetic.

BernardL said...

I vote for conceit. I've read too many writer affectations to believe otherwise. :)

raine said...

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

Pretty close!

...their leaves flattened against window panes like children watching rain.

Oh, lovely. Sigh.

It probably is the subconscious. I can't put a name to it, but can say it's definitely happened to me. One in the current wip has definitely taken on--er, a life of his own? He does seem to be running with the story, and he's so dark and tempting and yummy that I'm happy to follow along & leave the analysis to better minds than mine. :)

Dave F. said...

I'll leave the romance of language to your post. I'm in scientist mode this morning.

If I divide writing into three gross tasks: Idea and draft, revision with new insights, and final edits, then I let the characters do what they want until the final edits.

What that means in practice is that the characters might start out flat and I let their words and actions develop themselves with backgrounds and motives. At some point, a character becomes defined enough for the story to proceed (or succeed).

It's my plot and the characters react to it. It's only in that first formative idea stage that I would let a character hijack a storyline. The only exception to that is if I am resurrecting a failed or abandoned story from the idea folder or last year's draft folder. Then characters can change in any way that moves the story ahead.

Bernita said...

Maybe it's the "Mom" in us, Chris!

My poor Dear Girl! Hope you will feel better soon.

It is something of a convenient evasion of responsibility, Bernard.
(The character did it! Not me!)

Thank you, Raine. Waddayamean, "better minds than yours?" I don't think there are too many out there.

"I let their words and actions develop themselves with backgrounds and motives."
I like the sound of that, Dave.

Peter Dudley said...

I think many writers love the romance of having their characters be so real that they literally come alive in the story and write themselves. It's an ego thing--on the one hand, if it happens then you've successfully created deep and real characters. On the other hand, if the plot sucks then it's not your fault but the characters' fault. They're lousy at that.

Personally, I prefer the characters to be who they are and to act how they should. You wouldn't expect a coward to put his own life on the line and save the day without proper motivation. The trick for the writer is to create the circumstances within which they will respond certain ways. Plot, character, and motivation are intertwined and inextricable from each other. The writer defines the character, then figures out what motivates him, then manipulates circumstances so that the character must respond in a way that moves the plot forward, in the right direction.

If your characters get away from you, it's your own fault. But maybe they're better at this than you are anyway, so... sometimes, run with it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oh my gosh, you got me at Rotica. that is perfect. Awesome coinage. I don't doubt it is brand new.

Angie said...

Rotica? ROFL! I wish I could post a rollyman here, but Blogger won't take graphics in comments. [le sigh]

On characters taking over, it happens to me pretty frequently. My take on it is that it's a matter of getting to know the character really well. It's like, you know your best friend, yes? So if you imagined a situation, you could probably imagine what your best friend would do. You know them, you have a pretty well built up image of them in your mind, a collection of a bazillion little bits of data, info and images and impressions and memories, and you mentally put them together to form your perception of that person.

So when you get to know a character that well, you put them in a situation and you know what they'd do. And if your notes or outline or plan says that they'll do X, but by this time you know that character well enough to know that she'd do Q instead, you have to either change the action, change the circumstances or change the character.

Have you ever had imaginary conversations with a friend or family member? It's like that. I can imagine talking to my deceased grandmother all the time. (We used to argue a lot. [cough] And no, I don't always win now in my imaginary arguments, because Noni never gave in, ever. Yeah, it's just as frustrating now as it was when she was alive. But anyway.)

But the thing is, if you know a real person, it's a collection of information in your brain. When you develop a fictional character, if you do a good job, you collect a similar pile of information. So yeah, eventually your options for actions and dialogue and whatever all else for that character start to narrow, for the same reason you can't imagine your best friend kicking your cat or whatever.

It's fun to talk about "the muses taking over" or whatever, but it's actually very down-to-Earth. We're really not crazy when we go on about our characters fighting back. :)

Angie

Bernita said...

Peter, thank you!
Most excellently said!

But Charles, it can't be new, it's too obvious!

Bernita said...

And thank you too, Angie!
Both you and Peter outline what I believe in my funbling way is the real process behind this claim.

"It's fun to talk about "the muses taking over" or whatever, but it's actually very down-to-Earth. We're really not crazy when we go on about our characters fighting back. :)"
Angie, I sometimes wonder if some writers believe they are, and, in fact, preen about it as proof of how "artistic" they are.

But the writer-as-magician creating golems and simulacrums is a fascinating idea.

hampshireflyer said...

Hmm, I used to fancy the idea. Now I suspect that when I feel like that it probably means I don't really have enough grasp of what the story is actually about.....

SzélsőFa said...

'rotica got me, tooo heehee :)
and the image of impatient kids against a rain striped window.
[on]
it's either characters coming alive, which is a fascinating idea, but perhaps it's *only* the subconscious, which is not *just*. it is something to listen to.

wv: bypersa - i fancy this.

Bernita said...

I'm inclined to put the sensation down to indecision too, Alex.

Glad it gave you a giggle, SzelsoFa!
Yes, our subconscious sometimes makes connections before our conscious mind does.

laughingwolf said...

lol ...good humor in here, bernita :)

right now we're being hammered by winds gusting to around 150 kph and driving rain... some 15K without power off and on, even cbc radio was off for an hour this morning

feedback = replies?

as for characters, it's THEIR story, not yours...

December/Stacia said...

I blame it on my subconscious, too. Sure, there are things I know my characters would or would not do, but that's also down to the way my subconscious planned/created/wrote them, you know?

If my subconscious is capable of creating a theme, or planting a clue that just appeared without me knowing why, it's certainly capable of making characters do things. My characters don't talk to me or poke at me, either.

Bernita said...

Thank you, LW.
You are certainly getting hammered Down East.

"THEIR story, not yours"
HA! I am the god with the machine!

Exactly,December.The muddy waters of our fertile minds.

laughingwolf said...

lol... it may be your machine, but it's still THEIR tale ;)

when you get stuck, ask them what to do next :O

Bernita said...

Heh!
When I get stuck I blow something up.

Natasha Fondren said...

Maybe it's a tiny little bit like being a split personality. You give a character their own personality, and then something splits in your mind and they become their own person.

When the book is done, the writer reabsorbs them, LOL. :-)

Bernita said...

That's a nice description, Natasha. Writers ( like spys) may have "two sides to their heads."

Whirlochre said...

Occasionally, I delude myself that my characters are sentient beings inhabiting my subconscious like hyperactive birds in a dovecote, and will respond with flights of impossible fancy to my subtle, subtle cooing.

Most days, however, I line the buggers up against the wall, aim the shotgun at their weasly collective ass and mouth, "say THIS or I'll blow your friggin' heads off."

archer said...

There used to be a fun difference between "subconscious" (mental stuff you can retrieve, such as the multiplication table) and "unconscious" (stuff you can't get at unless it's necessary because something's gone wrong, and then you need professional help to do it; dreams being the royal road there). The distinction is old-fashioned and out of style now, thanks to the combined efforts of religionists, the insurance industry, and Big Pharma, who never liked the whole idea of an unconscious mentality, and who aren't fun types to begin with.

Lana Gramlich said...

The bit about your houseplants reminds me much of a little bit I just wrote on my own blog about my cameras...

laughingwolf said...

as long as it works, go for it, bernita ;) lol

word verif: comet

Bernita said...

"Most days, however, I line the buggers up against the wall, aim the shotgun at their weasly collective ass and mouth, "say THIS or I'll blow your friggin' heads off."
~delighted~
Whirl, that's beautiful!

Lana, I highly recommend your blog. Such lovely stuff.

I found a pipe bomb is most useful at times.
The effect of watching Arnie and Terminator and Erasure, LW!

jason evans said...

Although it's golden to let your subconscious sprinkle gems throughout your writing, I think if a writer wants to be successful more often than not, he/she needs to have full control of the totality of the work. You can let the story live and go on new paths, but you can't constantly have a different story at the end than you started with at the beginning.

Bernita said...

Jason, I think so too.
"Channeling" characters is fine but only to a point.