I talk about it a lot, and for those few who follow me around, wherever that may lead them … and I know there are a few – the notion that I have a lot of irons in the fie is not something new. Sometimes I will name a project and let it slip into the world a long time before anything actually happens with it. My notion there is that I am putting a marker down so I can find my way back, and then when I pick that marker up again, and I invest some time in it, the magic of the interconnectedness of things delivers people back into the arms of that initial momentum.
My usual practice is to write at least one or two chapters and nail down the beats and the basics of the tale, so that the launching board is already firmly cemented in place. So often the telling of a story is really just the unpacking of the potentiality of that first initial burst of energy. The other thing that sometimes happens is that I get so far along in a story, digging the characters into a particular hole, painting them into a particular corner, and then I reach an impasse and can’t work out how to move on … so I switch gears and start something else. I hate relying on a deus ex machina in every damned story, and so I have to leave it alone, and then come back to it – re-read it and re-learn it, so that I can come at it from a different angle of attack. I want something organic and real to resolve a story, or if I am choosing to continue something that seemed to end I want a similar thing. It can’t feel forced. It’s like that whole thing in Misery where he is asked to bring back the character he has killed off – how are you going to do that convincingly without retconning in some BS thing that no one would have been able to deduce from the original tale.
Anyway – by building my Wiki and having a place to store and observe all the interconnecting links in my work, I have built something for myself that works as an engine of generation, and stories start to suggest themselves as I see the reflections and hear the echoes. Characters pick up the thread I let drop, and they tell me that they need their story telling again. Some of them come back in rough shape; some of them change shape in a Protean way. You know what one of the most pleasurable things about a character is? When they take on a life of their own; when you see them enter a situation, and you know how they would get out of it, and it isn’t something you yourself would ever do.
Building a character? I don’t know – I magpie bits and pieces from people and build a mask; that mask fills in like a hole on the beach when the tide’s coming in. And then all I do is listen – carefully. Listening is a most valuable commodity. You have to love people to be a writer (I hear all the misanthropes balk at this), but if you never set foot outside your front door, you have to deal with people as you build them into the world you are exploring in your writing. It might sound a little esoteric, but I watched a method actor build a character in this way – from the cigarette up; mannerisms were layered on, and then explanations for the mannerisms, and out of the explanations came a story, and before you knew it the character was breathing. Actor’s Studio is one of my favourite shows – its lessons are invaluable to a writer.
Every studied a woven object? Noticed how your eye gravitates towards warp or weft, and then tries to follow a line through the design? That is what writing is … recording one or more of those threads and making some enlightening statement … it is a great thing.