I know a story exists when it begins to tell itself, or when a character turns to look at me. And I’m learning, very slowly, how I need to rest between bouts.
What I mean by “when a character turns to look at me:” there’s a magical moment when a character is no longer an idea but a presence. Since I’m a visual writer, I use the metaphor of eye contact, and often it’s not just metaphor. The most recent NaNo novel came to life (and displaced the abstract “story idea” I’d been contemplating before) when I found this image. It’s a photograph of the forensic reconstruction of the face of the bog body Windeby I, created by Prof. Dr. Richard Helmer of Bonn University. Every time I look at this face, the expression is different; it has the rare sense of presence that marks a real work of the portraitist’s art. It’s alive, which is more than eerie given that the original of the portrait has been dead for close to 2000 years.
(Interestingly, this reconstruction was done prior to the DNA analysis by Dr. Heather Gill-Robinson that revealed the body to be a male.)
The next character, actually my major POV character, took shape in response with remarkable ease. Forensic sculpture is one of the dream jobs I never pursued (because I learned about it only very recently). It’s one of the truly magical places where art and science meet.
My fictional forensic artist is Elsa Felix. Not coincidentally at all, her name is very close to the birth name of the great 19th century actress Rachel (Elise Felix). Elsa resembles Rachel in appearance, being small, thin, dark-haired and intense.
In October, I interviewed my two main characters, in counterpoint with the creation of the plot. For plotting, I used as a prompt the hoary old Hero’s Journey, though more in the spirit of a guide to pacing. I already knew that I was playing my story in counterpoint to some ancient and powerful tales, including Pygmalion, Faust and Frankenstein.
The character I left out, because I just couldn’t get him in focus, was the villain.
At the end of November, I had 85,000 words and at least two missing chapters. I had written the beginning, most of the middle, and the climactic fight scene. (In a bog! At night! With heroine and hero collectively outweighed by the 260-pound villain!)
I was also fairly exhausted.
I fiddled about with fixing major problems with the existing chapters, while they were yet fresh in mind. I stared at the missing chapters… and realized that the villain was key. The whole movement of the middle of the book needed to bring him from unnamed background threat to foreground character, without revealing his nature until the crucial moment.
My writing buddies Mreauow and Devin Harnois told me (in stereo) what I already knew: I was going to have to interview him. But I was still tired, so I decided that the novel and I needed a little time apart.
During this temporary vacation from first-draft writing, I looked at how I had done the work–for there are time stamps embedded in every bit of draft I do–and I was surprised at how relatively little time I had spent in November. I had done all of my writing in brief bursts of 30-45 minutes, two to three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) on a working day, and more often on the weekend. There were no three-to-four-hour marathons. I had done it, 85,000 words of it, a little at a time.
On a write-in-by-chat (more on that later) early this month, I promised I would start on the interview “in half an hour”… which got me writing right away. I shared the first bit with my writing buddy, who reassured me that my villain was indeed a twisted whack job,. Since then, I’ve set myself the assignment to spend half an hour to 45 minutes of quality time with him, and today I finished the interview.
He doesn’t know his Evil Plan, but he’s quite confident that it will reveal itself in the fullness of time. I’m likewise confident, because now I have a list of eight or nine scenes that will put him into the story in the places where he needs to be.
He’s a big handsome strapping fellow, and he has a twisted little crush on the heroine. The stuff of plot, indeed.
So I didn’t make my January 1 deadline, but now I can see my way clear to the rest of the story. It will be more like the end of January, and I leave open the possibility of finishing sooner than that.