Can you tell I haven't had breakfast yet? I was trying to think of something with lots of layers, and pastry popped into my head. You know, Napoleons and those other yummies with the thousands of sheets of pastry and cream (or fruit) and icing... but I digress, a bit.
My own challenge in writing also has been plot. Not so much in creating one, but in creating a full set of events that together make it richer, stronger, worthwhile. I could take a thread and stretch it one end to the other. A second thread, fine. A third, even. In the past, however, I found it easy to get lost. I might start with a firm beginning, and follow my primary thread to hit key points along the way, but in between it would wander.
I learned to manage that to a greater degree, and my last draft was close. The unanimous opinion, still, was that it needed more action. There were already so many characters, so many pieces, how could it need more? As I reviewed and played with it in my mind, the answer (as usual) was that everything I needed was really already sitting in front of me. What I have discovered in this last revision is precisely how many threads I'm really working from end to end; that number is far more than I ever realized.
Before it seemed thin, and suddenly it felt rich, excessive. At first I panicked. How presumptuous to assume I could take so many elements and truly craft them start to finish! Do I really have it in me to pull the right ones at the right times, to make sure the heavier ones march solidly along and the delicate ones add depth by popping up gently here and there? How do I interlace them so they happen in the right order, like dominoes with intersecting paths?
What I have learned with this revision is that more threads are not necessarily harder. In fact, like a narrow writing prompt, it makes the work easier. I set out the main character's thread and the basic plot, writing it step by step with lots of space in between on 8 1/2 by 11 sheets of paper. I added in the secondary character's bits between. Then the third most important person. Then I made a list of all the elements: relationship with father, funny unconscious habit, details on backstory that main character is unaware of but that he -- and we -- need to put together along the way. Layers and layers and layers on sheets across my dining room table.
This was different from the outlines I had done before, different in that every aspect of every character was on the sheet somewhere, not only in my head. In doing so, it was suddenly far clearer what was important, what drove the whole thing forward, what could be eliminated. Who could be eliminated. Who had drifted into lesser importance and was waiting patiently to return to greater prominence. Best of all, I was able to find the action that was so dearly needed.
Like a baker, I am taking those layers that stretched across my table and am folding them not once, not twice, but what seems like a thousand times into something new. A confection that I hope will be as impressive in the tasting as it is in the presentation. A thousand layers in nearly that many pages? Not quite, but close enough. And now, off for breakfast!
Wednesday, January 09, 2008