Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January reflections

by Mike Crawmer

None of what follows is new to most, if not all, of you. But the cold, grey dreariness of January prompts me to reflect on my writing. So, some thoughts.

1. Be careful what you use to describe setting, character, mood, etc.

In my first (unpublished) mystery, I relied on a cliché to identify the wealth of a key character: a Range Rover. Back then, when the dollar was worth something, Range Rovers carried a certain cache. They were both practical--as was my character--and expensive--she could afford an entire fleet. Range Rovers were seen as tough, rugged, powerful, all words that described this character.

If I were to rewrite that story, I’d have to eliminate the Range Rover in favor of a private landing strip big enough to accommodate her private jet, which, of course, she could pilot on her own. And her parties--well, no mere barbecues with white-coated servers for her. Like a wealthy Chicago resident I read about recently, she’d hire jugglers and acrobats to entertain the guests, and arrive at the “picnic” perched atop an elephant.

Wealth and its display today, even in these troubled economic times, is quite different from that of just 15 years ago.

2. You can toss out that beloved first chapter.

You’ve worked on it for weeks, months, maybe even years. You couldn’t see your story opening up any other way. You’ve tweaked it and massaged it and sweated blood over it. But, you know what? It’s there to serve a purpose, and once you realize it no longer does that, well, out it goes.

That’s what I did with my WIP. For the longest time I couldn’t imagine changing that riveting (well, it was, once) opening chapter. Or so I thought. Then one day I realized that the chapter didn’t really serve the story all that well. In fact, I had to admit that it was simply all wrong.

So, out it went. I’m happy with its replacement for lots of good reasons--reasons that I couldn’t apply to the original. The only thing that original first chapter had was the fact that I liked it. When I realized that the story I was trying to tell was more important than some scene, well, it was like I’d stepped through a magical vortex and saw everything in a new and promising light.

3. Don’t limit yourself. Let your imagination be your guide. Plot all you want but trust your instinct. See numbers 1 and 2 above.

Now, to revisit a previous blog: Last month you kindly tolerated my whining about a dearth of good reads. Well, my malaise has been cured. It began with an Australian PI novel recommended by Mary Alice. The plot of Peter Corris’ “The Coast Road” is formulaic, but his voice, characters, setting (Sydney and the coast south of it) and language (quaint and amusing, like “flannie” for flannel shirt, and occasionally befuddling) were enchanting. A good read all around.

Then, in as drastic a literary switch as you can make, I began Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” (Something about the word “road” in titles, obviously.) At first I found his prose off-putting: What’s with all the incomplete sentences and erratic punctuation (“hadnt,” “didnt,” but “there’d”)? But without realizing it, I was soon swept up in the beauty of his writing and held spell-bound by the dread and heartache of the story. His scenes haunted my dreams all night; when I woke the next morning it was the first and only thing on my mind. BTW, I think Viggo Mortenson is perfect for the movie version, soon to be shot in and around Pittsburgh. Wonder if the producers need any extras?


Anonymous said...

Yes, dreary Januarys need some writing (and reading) to perk them up, don't they?

Joyce Tremel said...

Mike, are your critique buddies going to get to see this new first chapter soon?

If you really want to be an extra, you should look into it. Our police chief has been in almost every movie filmed in Pittsburgh--he even has a SAG card!

Anonymous said...

Mike, I know whereof you speak - I had to rewrite my first novel to include cellphones - they became popular so quickly that my original mss didn't have them, and then, because of the time frame (1999) it didn't make sense for my characters not to have them. Either technology needs to slow down a bit or I need to write faster!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Joyce, soon. Maybe even a couple chapters. Now, off to an all-day meeting...ah, the fate of the working stiff. Harrumph!

Anonymous said...

Mike, thank you for the pointers / reminders! All good advice!

Anonymous said...

Mike, if it's any consolation, I'm still throwing away first chapters---after nearly 50 books. They need to be written, I think. But they usually don't need to be read.