A few weeks ago, while I was working on finishing up the new book for my August deadline, I hit an interesting technological bump. Interesting to me, anyway. I have been composing on a computer since 1984–my computer use is now old enough to have made me a grandmother. Before that, I did my composition on a typewriter. If I’m far from electricity or a computer, I can write longhand, but it’s a drag–when I’m on a roll, I type faster than I can write, and of course I always hope to be on a roll, not staring into space, biting my lip and jiggling my leg while I wait for the next word.
So: the current WIP is divided into three sections. I had just finished a second pass through parts one and two and was reasonably happy with them, so onward to the third section. I already knew that the third section was going to be a bear: not only is it the most loosely written (with things I hadn’t quite got around to inserting, and some whopping continuity problems), but I have decided that I need to split the third section into two points of view–there are certain things that happen to one character that another character will not know about, and vice-versa. I am a strong proponent of single-POV; more, the first two sections are seen from single points of view (a different character for each section, granted). But the demands of the story meant I could not keep the third section to a single POV (believe me, having the second character recount what had happened to him to character One some time after the fact would have the dramatic impact of a wet Kleenex™) I had to figure out what events in this section, previously seen by one character, could be seen by the other. And then write them that way, of course.
This sounds like a mechanical thing, right? And it might add some richness by adding a different perspective and allowing some other information to come into play, and anyway, the glass is at least three-quarters full. Except that I could not seem to accomplish the mechanical task of figuring out which chapters to re-write from POV-A to POV-B. I sat with my laptop, making a list of every event in the third section. I made notes on the laptop. And I couldn’t get it to come out right. More, I felt that weird, creeping paralysis I get when something large-and-intangible is getting in the way of my work.
Finally, I got a couple of sheets of typing paper out. I made a list of events for POV-A on one. I made a list of events for POV-B on the other. Some crossing out and rewriting and arrowing and circling occurred, but at the end of an hour or so I had an outline of the revised section. At which point I returned to the laptop and began to write.
I’m still working, sanding off the rough edges, smoothing in the research, polishing and hitting those “D’OH!” bits where I wonder what I was thinking on the first or second draft. But what is interesting to me is that I could not have gotten this far if I hadn’t stepped away from the laptop and sat down with a sheet of paper. Writers talk about their characters insisting on going off in unplanned directions, or the story veering from its original course. Sometimes the process itself refusse to cooperate with your standard operating procedure. When that happens, go with it. It’s so much easier in the end.
Madeleine E. Robins blogs at BVC on the 7th and 21st of the month, and more often at Running Air. You can check out her short fiction on her bookshelf. She is slowly digitizing her early Regencies for the Café, and finishing yet another damned novel.