Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Reality of Writing for God

My image.
I’ve semi-recently made a huge mess of my Forest of Lies rewriting. The chapters that I expected to be a breeze I’ve accidentally destroyed and I’m left scrambling trying to put them back together.

Recently, I whined about this to my good (poor) friend Penny. In the course of the conversation, I said this:

"It is very much a huge mess.

I've been praying about it a lot.

It's still a huge mess."

Penny said: "Praying doesn't necessarily make the mess go away, just makes you more able to handle the mess. :P"

I replied “yeah, I know,” but what I had said and what she said stuck in my mind. And it’s made me think.

I still remember the events that made me give, give, and re-give my writing to God with something like awe. It really is an amazing thing, especially my first realization of: “I couldn’t have written that on my own.”

As I often say, “I couldn’t write something that beautiful, because I’m not that beautiful.” The idea is a freeing one, at first. You think of phrases like God’s words through my fingertips and if this only makes You happy, it’s still worth it. The real-life application of the latter of those phrases took me a long time to learn.

But there’s another component.

As I’ve worked on this draft of Forest of Lies, I have felt especially blessed in finally being allowed to work on it. I tried unsuccessfully for two and a half years, and I wonder if during those years God purposefully held me back, letting me grow as a person and as a Christian before I tackled the final story edit.

But as I work on it, I feel a huge responsibility. God has show me time and time again how Draft III has glorified Him in spite of its faults. As I work on correcting those faults, I’m terrified of somehow snuffing out the heart of this story, that somehow it won’t touch people like it has anymore.

As I also wrestle more thoroughly with its tangled and messy themes of Truth, Love, true Christianity, and awe-inspiring Forgiveness, I am more worried about getting something wrong. This has been especially evident as I struggle with two crucial scenes: the showdown and the denouement. They bring these themes voice in a way that has to carry the weight of the entire story. I want these scenes to have no unnecessary elements, no preachy lines--all realness and rawness of the human condition and sacrificial Love.

Because of that, I have been writing in my prayer journal over and over again: “God, I give this to You. This is Yours.”

And it is His.

But He’s not necessarily going to come down, point a finger at my screen, and write it for me. I got a snippet of who He is when writing Forest of Lies’s showdown--one snippet out of 45,000 words.

My point?

I need to write. Without fear.

I will pray, and I will search, and I will try to make this story as true as it can possibly be in a fallen world coming from a fallen but redeemed human. But writing for God doesn’t mean plot problems with supernaturally unsnarl or I will always know where to go with the themes He puts in my heart.

Mostly, it means that whatever good comes out of my fumbling attempts--I give the glory to Him.

Does anyone else struggled with real-life application of Soli Deo Gloria?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Good Dialogue: What Characters Say...and What They Don't

Dialogue is the easiest part of writing for me. People have often complimented me on my dialogue, so I have in general toted it as my strength (with detail being my definite weakness).

Working through my fourth draft of Forest of Lies, however, I have been deleting or revising a lot of my dialogue. Most of it has to do with weakness in the dialogue itself. I would place my deletions in three categories:

1. My characters over-address each other. Apparently I like their names so much I had them say each others' names a ton.

2. My characters talk too much--sometimes for four hundred uninterrupted words. Perhaps this is a negative effect from my love of Shakespeare.

3. My characters say too much. I’ve heard, probably from Mr. S., that good dialogue can rely as much on what characters don’t say as what they do say. I’ve learned how true that is from working on Robin’s dialogue (I have changed some of Marian and Much’s dialogue for the same reason, but it’s most striking with Robin).

Robin is a fascinating, complex character that is amazing to work with. However, some of his dialogue still clinging around in draft III, or even written for draft III, is dialogue of discovery. Discovery for me, the author. Basically everything he says is true...either about himself, or his past, or his beliefs. I just now know that he wouldn’t say these things.

Robin’s a very close, private person. He’d rather risk bodily harm than really open up his heart to others. He’s been through a lot of emotional abuse, so he just keeps it locked away. This actually becomes an issue for him later in life. Point being, though, Robin wouldn’t really say this (chapter 7):
   “Oh Marian!” he sobbed, “I never told her. I never told her that it was I who murdered her husband, started all her troubles. She told me once that she had forgiven whoever did it, but she would never forget. He--I--laughed to her face when I had finished, and ran off. I never can tell her now, Marian. And I don’t know if I can ever tell her son. The longer I keep it wrapped up inside me, the harder it gets, the more it weighs me down. And yet the harder it becomes to let it out. I never can tell her, now. Never kill someone, Marian,” he looked up, into my face, his eyes brimming with tears again. “Not only does it shove aside one of our Lord’s commandments, it haunts you for the rest of your life. At times, I still see the blood on my hands.”
Now, as I said, this is all true. It’s what he really feels. When I wrote it, it helped me in developing his back story. But he wouldn’t really say it. In draft IV, this is how I currently have the same section:
   “I never told her,” he said, looking up at me, eyes like deep wounds of brimming blue blood, “I never told her and--now--Timothy...Timothy...”
    His eyes shone with a strange light, and he looked at his hands, grasping and grasping and grasping at the ground before his knees. When he spoke again, his voice was surprisingly clear. Low and clear, but tinged with violent madness.
   “Never kill someone, Marian. Never kill someone. Not only does it shove aside one of our Lord’s commandments, it haunts you for the rest of your life.” He turned one of his hands over, touched it with one finger. “At times...” He shook his head.
Not only is the entire section shorter (152 to 111 words), but the dialogue shrinks from 138 words to 40 words.

This is Robin at his most vulnerable. After this section, Marian sees the “walls in his eyes” go up again. This is her most successful breaching of those walls--and he still doesn’t give her even a quarter of what I used to have him give. A huge chunk of 250 words comes right before the 152 words I shared here, and I cut them all. I’ve shared the most intact part of this section from draft III to draft IV.

People don’t always say what they mean. They don’t say everything they think and feel. Even those that seem like they do (Marian) hold things back. The job of the author is to know both what they say--and what they don’t say.

What’s the hardest part of dialogue for you?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Stories are Complicated

I do counted cross-stitch.

No, I’m not some big expert--so far, I’ve done three Dimension kits, which means you get the fabric, needle, thread, and pattern all in one package. Two of my previous projects are about 5” by 7” and one is 16” by 7” (though not even all of those squares are stitched).

For some crazy reason (read: I really like Robin Hood), I decided that my next one would just be a pattern, finished project 20” by 15”, completely stitched, for which I would have to buy all of my own supplies.

This decision has left me thinking several times: “why the heck did I decide to tackle this thing?!”

Strangely, that’s a very similar thought to what I had last week while working on editing my novel, Forest of Lies. Maybe this is a sign that Robin Hood is bad for my nerves.

Let me back up.

When a normal person thinks of a story, they probably think of a single line:

If you’re a bit more educated in how a story works, maybe your single line looks more like this:

If you’re an OYAN student, it looks both like that AND this:

My point here, though, is that on every single one of those graphs, the story is represented by ONE LINE.

Back to cross stitch.

When doing a cross stitch pattern, you buy a long piece of thread called floss. The floss is very easily separated into six strands, or ply. Usually you don’t use all six when stitching--most of the time I use two, sometimes using just one and sometimes three.

My problems with Forest of Lies currently have to do with threads of story. I have the main, simple, plotted outline of events. But inside this simple line, I have so many different things going that it’s overwhelming. I have:

-Marian’s progression on her own, as a character.
-The progression of Robin & Marian’s relationship
-Robin’s own progression
-Much’s progression
-Much/Robin relationship
-Much & Marian’s relationship progression

Inside these, I have even more threads. Mixed between the Robin/Marian relationship, Marian’s own journey, and some of Robin’s is:
-The faith/heresy discussion
-The attraction
-Both of them trying to ignore said attraction for different reasons
-The politics of medieval England and the state of the peasants
-Robin’s past and health
-Marian trying to make a choice

It's not one stinkin' line. It's a thousand different lines, none of them taking the shortest route between two points.

Even these do not stand on their own, but are all mixed up together. I feel betrayed by my book last week (and am still wary of it today, I admit). It clipped along so merrily until chapter 9, and then suddenly I’m drowning in mixed-up, tangled-up story, character, and relationship lines, trying to figure out which of them to use and how and I thought: “hey, this is like cross stitch floss!”

Except it’s not. A thread of floss is only six strands, and those strands can maybe be split into two smaller ones. So, twelve.

Unfortunately, my story is not so uniform. It’s not all one color, one theme, or one relationship. It’s not nicely packaged for me. In fact, it’s more like the monstrously huge project itself--147 different colors, all with six strands, needing to be woven onto 18 count aida cloth that is 20” by 15”. And someone’s gone and pulled all the labels off my floss and tossed them all together.

People are complicated.

Emotions are complicated.

Motivations are complicated.

Relationships are complicated.


Stories are complicated, just like real life.

Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn't written one.

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