Getting to Know you (and gagged until then)

Why is it the most productive practices are the hardest? (This question may fall under the same category as: why is everything good bad for you? I'm looking at you, Bacon!)

At the first flush of an idea there are two impulses: tell everyone and write it all down. From what I've seen, if you tell ANYONE, especially if it's a really good idea, you don't write a thing. In fact, the passion dissipates and you float like a helium balloon exactly 5.5 days after the party: still inches off the ground, but deflating and sad.

If you make it to the "write it all down" phase, you look up after X number of pages and have no where to go. Nothing left to say. THE WALL.

Writing needs a pressure cooker, which is why accountability, classes and deadlines work. Something needs to exert enough compression to force your mind and body into new and strange paths in order to produce a story.

My experience, as a writer, as a writing teacher, as a friend of writers and wanna be writers, suggests: get an idea? Shut up. Write a single sentence if you absolutely must, but really, just press the idea down. Ask questions, throw hypotheses, let it grow. Sketch, don't write, a Hero's Journey cycle for it. Toss that out and do another. Throw away all that you've read/seen/done before. Keep silent. Make "resist = persist" work for you. 

You're trying to refine that concept and "cook" it until you explode, fully formed, on the page. (Talking about the story here, not the whole book.)

I think one of the reasons why our first books are relatively easy (we have the story, just need to get the words on the page) is because we've been in that pressurizing state for most of our lives. We've refined, selected and rejected for -- sometimes -- decades. When we finally understand the practice and the craftsmanship, the story pours out.

Which brings us to the gags. <Doesn't usually apply to first book, due to pressurized pre-writing. See Above.>

The longer I write, the more characters that people my mind and pages, the more I cherish this practice: don't write what your character says, but rather what they want -- for the first draft. 

That's because you don't know them. You may have a bio and sketches and a Pinterest board detailing the contents of their home, but you don't know them … yet. Dialogue is the crowning jewel in a story: crafted lines that say one thing in a very specific voice, but oftentimes mean something else, (subtext) while working toward the greater story goals. As DIAlogue, there are two or more people, on a rollercoaster of emotion, executing these lines, advancing the story, in the fullness of their natures.

So, quick question. How does your character respond in the affirmative? Is it "yes."? Crisp and devoid of slang and culture? Really? And if you are unsure about that, then you don't know your character … yet. 

If you don't know your character's word choice, because you don't know the every element of education, background and personality that leads to that word choice, then write the first draft in subtext. Give yourself that "getting to know you" space. When you do take their gags off in the second or third draft, you will have spent a whole book with them. You'll know what they want, how they act, how and what changes them and the why of their backstory. You'll have incorporated their "self." Dialogue arising from that knowledge and their subtext will truly -- and truthfully -- flow.

Yes, it's counterintuitive. Hard. Pressurizing. Does it save you entire drafts? Does it keep you from falling in love with your witty self and sacrificing the story to keep that one really funny scene? Is this "murdering your darlings" before they fully grow? 

Yes, yes and also yes. Does it work? YES!

(For more details on this practice, read STORY by Robert McKee)

© J Suzanne Frank 2013