I have no wish to be considered sexist or anything, but if I deserve it, so be it. Men, it seems to me, have the ability to ‘think things through’ and I don’t. I would love to close my eyes and consider the consequences of every action of my protagonist, or every choice I, as author, make, and half an hour later return to this world with decisions made and a very clear picture of my story.
This is the reality for me. I have the gist – the story that can be told in a couple of lines which, by the time I’m finished, will be reduced to one line of the kind a deep-voiced American can intone to coax you all to the movie. ‘Two men and all that’s left of them is a bronze horse, a gold ring and a nation.’ That’s the back-of-the-envelope bit and I find it easy.
The first draft is sequential tale-telling. This happens, then this happens, then this happens and at the end… Oh phooey, I don’t know what happens at the end. Perhaps I’ll find out on the next draft.
And then it comes, the hard work, the real writing. On the story I’m working on right now, first draft got to Chapter Twenty. It was third person in my usual style. Then I thought, this would be a good story for the young’uns, so why not make it Young Adult? My YA version, in first person, gets to Chapter Fifteen. Then I thought, first person isn’t working, let’s start again. That version gets to Chapter 6. I’ve just started again, fairly settled now with my original idea of third person, usual style!! But I have to do the work to know how it will pan out. No sitting back in an armchair, feet up on a stool, puffing a pipe.
And then there are the step-by-step choices. The slave needs some disfigurement. In the first version, it’s a limp; by the third version, it’s a lump on the neck. All that has to be untangled eventually so that the poor fellow isn’t suffering more afflictions than the story requires.
The real horrors are the subtle choices of characteristics. My hero is a sceptic. My hero is religious. My hero despises rites. My hero consults Oracles. Saying he is a bit confused and doesn’t know his own mind, well, that works in real life but not in story, and these subtle things are harder to spot than lumps and limps. Each time he speaks, which is he, the sceptic or the believer? I have a great deal of sorting out to do (which is why I am here blogging instead of getting on with it) and I truly wish, in this respect, that I was a bloke who can think things through, because my method of groping through fog sure is not a recipe for contentment.
My equivalent to pipe-smoking and pure thought is trance. My current trance music is Ann Heymann’s Queen of Harps (Irish harps use metal strings and Ann’s idea that, in ancient times, these strings might have been silver and gold, has produced stunning results – she makes the harp sound like bells). If I put that on, it relaxes the brain, makes images flow, and when the heroine’s hair, which so far has been black but is now suddenly the colour of sunrise, then, well, I’ll sort that out later (and hire a good editor).
If the music doesn’t work, there’s always the chores. If my windows are looking clean, you know things aren’t going too well at the desk. A fellow author said over the garden fence, as I was weeding, ‘How’s it going?’ ‘Well how do you think?’ I replied tartly. ‘I mean, look at my garden all spick and span!’
Does anyone else have these problems with choices and whether to make them in the head or on the page? Am I right thinking it’s a female thing? I’d be very glad to hear from the boys on this.
The cartoon by Burton, by the way, was sent by a friend and I’ve no idea where it was published.