Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Twins

So I had a wee breakthrough today. It's like this...

I'd had this prologue scene of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) that I've been tinkering around with for a while. I wasn't quite happy with it, but I couldn't shake a feeling that is was important. Still, I'd cut it out a couple of times, only to bring it back in later, still unsure.

I'd started to think I'd cut it out again, partially because it's a rather depressing scene. It's about two siblings, twins, who are captured in a back story moment. Remember when the League staged a raid on Luana, taking all the children they could as Quota and only telling Hanish - who was ruling at the time - about it after the fact? Well, this scene takes place on that day. So it's a bit grim to watch these two kids stripped from their parents and herded with a lots of other kids toward the shore and to the League vessels that'll take them away from the Known World forever... Is that the best way to start a novel I want tons of folks to read? I had one idea for what happens to one of the siblings and how he/she would interact with our heroes years later - when The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) actually kicks off. But it didn't seem like enough. Until this morning...

I can't tell you what occurred to me, but gears that had been turning for a while without finding purchase suddenly locked into place. I realized what happens to both siblings, and I saw how it fit in with another plot element that I'd slowly been developing. Just like that, my "maybe going to be cut scene" meshed with some of the most crucial elements of the end of the series. And so the prologue will remain, and now I understand what it was all about, what it was setting the groundwork for.

I mention this little episode because I often work this way. I write things that feel important, but don't always know how these things are going to fit together until much later. The cool thing about having faith in this process - believing that even though I don't know now I will next week, month, by Labor Day, etc - is that when it works I come up with more intricate and meaningful connections than I could ever manage with conscious thought. It's almost like I'm trusting that my subconscious has a plan, I just haven't managed to shine light on the entirety of it yet. That only happens by having faith in the process, sticking with it, and writing as best I can on a daily basis.

This certainly happened in the The War With the Mein. As with all my books, there were props, scenes, hints of things that I sometimes didn't come to understand the uses of until a year or so of trying.

Anyway, that's my thought on this little aspect of my writing life. Does it happen to you? If so, great. If not, well... consider not fighting it. I do think that writing long fiction is a very cumulative process. My advice: have faith in that. It's one of the things that can make writing a novel worth the long effort and uncertainty.

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Blogger Constance Brewer said...

The brain's an awesome processor. Be glad yours seems to be firing on all cylinders. Cool ideaqs in, eventually cool ideas out. Carpe Diem! *Having used up her daily recommended requirement of cliches, she retreats to the Periphery and its various fanged and furred residents*

9:18 PM  
Blogger Aidan Moher said...


I always love hearing little stories like this about how a novel comes together. As a writer myself, I know that "eureka!" moment quite well, and it's always so satisfying when things suddenly fall into place.

Can't wait to find out what happens to the twins!

A Dribble of Ink

10:52 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I do that with music sometimes; I'll have a dozen or so little melodies that don't really fit in any song, but eventually I'll come up with a song that one of them fits in, and then the angels sing hosannas from on high and I realize THAT was the song I was saving it for.

12:04 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Yep. This creative stuff is weird. Can't write the formula. Can't bottle it. It can be taxed, I'm afraid... But in general I love it how surprising the process can be. And I note - it only works if you play the game - if you try. If you commit.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

I know the feeling that you're talking about, except for me, it comes when I let things sit for a bit and I try all sorts of angles for the "minor stuff" while the subconscious just gets it all percolating, I suppose (even if I don't like coffee!).

By the way, this is a bit of personal news, but I was hired yesterday as a US History/sophomore English teacher in Nashville! And I learned today that one of the books my incoming-sophomores had to read this summer was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I haven't yet read it (will this weekend), but looking at the description at Amazon...I would have killed to have been able to read something like this in high school!

Oh, and since I'll be teaching post-1877 US History, I might just have to order a copy of Gabriel's Story and see how that might be worked into the curriculum, especially considering that I'm the guy in the classroom who will "look different". So looking forward to this opportunity to learn new stuff while teaching :D Just thought you'd like to know all this. Monday cannot come soon enough!

1:10 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Larry, Awesome that you're bringing that energy to the classroom. I wish I still did. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy teaching when I'm actually doing it, but I don't look forward to it as much as I should. I'll work on that.

Oh, and Gabriel's Story - if I may say so - is worth a read. It's got some grim and violent and emotionally cruel moments, but so does life. I've been to high school class rooms and spoken to students that have read it. They do fine with it. Their parents... Well, it might be a bit too much for some of them.

Honestly, though, I was thinking about this since putting together that list of recommended books the other day. As I looked many of those books up on Amazon - especially the "classics" of African American literature - I noticed that the really negative reviews were most consistently from high school students that totally didn't comprehend, say, Beloved. I don't blame them, really. How could they? It's hard enough to comprehend as an adult that's spent his life writing and reading. It concerned me that by asking them to read material that was difficult for them on too many levels we may be turning them off to ever trying such titles again later in life.

I'm biased, but I think a novel like Gabriel's Story or Walk Through Darkness could make for a reasonable middle ground. It's adult stuff written for adults, sure, but it's accessible also. At least I hope it is.

Alas, nobody asks me to design curriculum, except in my own courses, and then I'm too coy to assign myself... usually.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

Give me a few weeks to lose said energy - when I've been job hunting off and on for the past 4 months, it makes one very excited when an opportunity is given to prove oneself. I grew up in a family of teachers (both parents, two out of my three siblings, two aunts, and now three of my cousins on both sides of the family are teachers - and I'll be teaching with one of my cousins starting Monday), so the cynicism will kick in soon enough!

And I did place an order for both Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness tonight, as I suspect there'll be perspectives and snippets that I can use to illustrate certain points in both my US History and English II classes - provided of course that I can have "express written permission" from the author? ;)

I've only been asked to design curriculum as a test grad school project on how I'd teach a course on early modern European cultural history. Professor loved my materials, even though I designed it as a grad course seminar and not as an undergraduate lecture/seminar as many others did. I just know that I want to use microhistories and narrative fiction to highlight certain themes in each of my classes. I probably won't ever get a chance to teach English again after this year (it's not my subject area and they created this position for me, if I'm reading the undercurrent of talks during the interview correctly), so I want to have a lot of fun with all sorts of literature besides the traditional Shakespeare a year (which, by the way, I'm comfortable with teaching, as I enjoyed developing a way of making MacBeth a lot of fun for senior students).

But I know what you mean about the difficulties of recommending texts - without the context, it's just so very difficult at times and I'll have a lot of students who'll be struggling to make it as it is, so I'll have to sit and think of ways of developing strategies to reach them and make the reading something they can connect with, while seeing this teacher dude as someone other than someone who "just doesn't understand." That's my biggest challenge, I think, getting them to connect with me and with the material. If the first doesn't happen, the second likely won't happen at all.

2:30 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Larry, Sounds like you're well on your way in terms of open mindedness and creative thought. Lucky students. They may not know it, of course, but they're lucky nonetheless...

1:43 PM  

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