Thursday, March 20, 2008

mind the relationship

I’ve been reading books. How-to books on writing. That is what I do when I get stuck. I either read writing books or I voraciously read other people’s fiction. When I read other people it is blindly and instinctively. Part of me seems to know what I want, I seek those books out and I read and keep reading until inexplicably I am done. I’m never quite sure what I have found but the writing starts again and I am off.

This time I am going the other way. Right now I have been reading Janet Burroway’s classic Writing Fiction. I’ve read the sections on point of view and authorial distance. I don’t actually discover how to do things from it. It’s more that I recognize what I am trying to do. Today for example, I read that there shouldn’t be distance in the relationship between the author’s attitude and the reader’s attitude, but it is okay to have distance between the narrator and character, author and character, author and reader, in other words, all other relationships. Now this may not seem important and even as I write it down, I wonder if it is. But there is this one character in my book who means well but is totally inappropriate and then there is the character that I think is cool and brilliant and then of course there is the main character who is totally broken and odd but I am really sympathetic. I have my attitude toward each of them and I have for the most part figured out how I will portray them. The deciding factor would be can I portray them when the broken odd girl narrates the book. Will the irony be as effective? The irony and surrealism (that’s not exactly the right term—oh, well).

I hadn’t completely thought about how I have an authorial relationship to each of these individual characters along with my relationship to the reader (I have been more focused on the reader). Distance came up in my critiques at the Big Sur Writer’s Workshop. That was the reason to try first person. Here’s a question: Somehow can I work the reader’s craving for closeness into the plot? How do I get a reader to accept that sort of thing?

As Always (getting excited now),

Writing Exercise:
Do some relationship counseling. What do you think of your characters? What does your narrator think of everyone else? You could do this formally and hire a psychotherapist (you know, in the book) to have a group meeting with everyone. Perhaps do a little one on one with that same psychotherapist. Or you could use a tool like an intake form. Ask your characters to fill it out. Perhaps try to make some sort of visual document of relationships, not unlike a family tree. Play with this. The goal is to have some insight into how the dynamics of this whole novel play out.