Writing about Writing—A useful technique for getting control of your story ©2012 by Jack Remick
After rewriting the last three scenes for the fourth time.
I find myself rewriting the same three scenes over and over. I’m looking for the deep place they hook to but I can’t find it.
Scene One Is the Explanation where Mitch explains in detail to Squeaky why he has to die..
Scene Two is the Walkout where Mitch showers, bringing back memories of Cain at the Oak View School for Boys.
Scene Three is the Fat Man where Mitch finds out who the Fat Man is and why he sprang him early.
I’m looking for some connection here, something that will tell me I’m on the mythic wave. I look for sets: Squeaky and Mitch, a two character scene; Mitch alone (in the shower, Perry, the Guard walks out) evokes a deliverance scene with Cain, but also washes Mitch as he preps for the ritual crossing to the other side and his diabolic rebirth as the God of Dead; Mitch and the Fat Man masks a ritual of transcendence when Mitch makes his big decision—already indexed in the scene with Geraldine in Yellow Dress—but not worked out when he tells Geraldine that he can never see her again.
Once the mythic wave goes silent, I’m lost. I can’t add anything new. I rewrite because I find nothing to add, but it’s a stall pattern—write what I know while I wait for the mythic wave to gear up again.
So one part of me says ‘You already know all you can and need to know (a reference to Keats’ Ode On A Grecian Urn), and so the story has been told.
Story, Structure, Style.
Work them in order: Write into character and story for a year, then a splash write of the Cut To Sequence that shows me I’ve written a through line with character development and plot tracks and once the story is in order, I work the scenes for depth and back story. To end with stylistic choices.
But I’m afraid to let go of this familiar story. It’s comfortable being in that place with Mitch and Squeaky and their objects. It’s safe to stay there instead of prepping for the release—is there here an index to Mitch’s early release?—and turning to the rewrite of the story and the scenes.
The problem is not to let go before it’s ready, not to close off, but to leave it open so the rewrite makes sense. Every scene can be redone, every arc recalculated, every character remapped for back story and story arc—for example, I know nothing about Martin—not even his last name and he isn’t talking to me—the mythic wave is silent. I think of Herodotus’ plea to the gods—why have you quit speaking to me? Did the rhapsodes take dictation from the Unconscious? Was the voice from the Unconscious the voice of the Gods? Has writing practice left me in that silent place with Herodotus? With the Unconscious no longer speaking to me? Maybe the issue is that my part of the Universal and Solitary Story has been told in this stretch. Maybe the Platonic Perfection hinted at in the Mythic Wave is all I get. Maybe It is. IT=The Mythic Wave telling me it’s time to move from the irrational abreactive and automatic mind into the rational numeric mind and to make choices. Maybe I don’t want to leave the place where the emotion of the mythic wave breaking free lifts me to a hormonal high that leaves my hand shaking and my voice quavering when I finish an in-depth bout of creative spilling. Maybe this is the abandonment, the cause of the silence—as if it’s enough and now I have to practice my own techniques—Discipline is my obligation to the Given.
Maybe the mythic wave (Jung’s Collective Unconscious) knows when it has run the gamut and has given all it will give for this story—maybe it, the voice in the mythic wave, is satisfied with its gift and now rests, lays back to see what I will do with its little two-hundred and seventy-five page present.
I see now that it is time to move into the Style Phase and to let the rewrite determine what needs to be added or taken away and then at that time when the holes open up, the mythic wave will direct my pen where it needs to go.
In Sum: I have to move from feeling mode to thinking mode. I don’t recall one instance in the past year when I thought about what to write—instead, I came to the table with an idea of a whole-hole thing trusting that a part of it would reveal itself to me, and this helps me understand why I have rewritten the last three scenes four times each—it is the end of the road, time to rest, time to let the left brain work on the given, time to use the numeric side of the brain.
And this is how the Cut To Sequencing technique acts as an End Stop—it takes the through time and in one feral gift from the mythic wave jerks the story into an order—a fusion of feeling and thought—but again and still driven by the Unconscious energies of the abreaction bursting across the corpus callosum, that little white highway between creation and discipline.
At the root of the gift there is the structural integrity of the scene. Without the scenic principles of Character, Dialogue and Timing, the writing betrays itself as nonsense and this evokes Brahms who said that he studied Bach’s fugues in order to discipline himself so that when he went into rhapsodic mode and took dictation the gush had a form to contain it.
So now, the fusion of the elements persists and I resist because I love the feeling of being lost in this emotional forest of time writing only to return from the abyss to find myself at a table in time while for 31 minutes I was out of time, out of space. The rhythm of creation—taking dictation from God Mind—then is loss, to wander to cherish the form as receptacle for the sea breaking out, to return to real time with the only marker of the journey being the six columns of scrawl on the yellow page—then to type it up.
Always type it up because in typing, there is a fresh read—in real time—of the suspended reality of the rhapsodic moment when the mythic waves drives and guides the hand into the new—taking the known: words, vocabulary, grammar, the sentence, the image, the action and fusing it into a flow. An object you didn’t know before takes shape and can create in the mind of the readers and listeners, the image—and this is why we read the gush aloud—to relieve the terror and fear that what the wave gave us is nothing. But it is always something if you trust who you are and trust what biology has built into you. That Collective Unconscious, the Sea-Deep Mind that Jack Moodey wrote about. The Sea-Deep Mind speaks, words from the wave, voice from waters profound…
5-15-2008 Second Writing About Writing: Louisa’s Café
Today I write about what I don’t know. The challenge of voice in a First Person Narrative. I have two problems:
1. The Voice of the Inner Story which is Mitch’s relation of events from the time of his arrest up to his release and the death of the Fat Man.
2. The voice of the Outer Story which is the full backstory on Mitch’s life as a mercenary, his family history, and his coming of age.
1. I’ve chosen to write the Inner Story in present tense. The problem is the vehicle—when, in a First Person Narrative, the narrator speaks, what is the vehicle for transmission of the story? It’s not a written text so he’s not reading it aloud. It is told directly to the reader in Present Time, so there is a break in the framework that demands a suspension of disbelief so that I can accept the convention of the Narrator talking to me—Maybe that is the psychological solution—the narrator talking to his writer telling me his story and as I move aside in my place the reader takes over.
Bob is right—the convention of the Narrator speaking to the reader is accepted by the reader and isn’t a violation of the realist precept and it releases the writer from the burden of creating a phantom vehicle or a pretext (is this what Gide meant?) for the narrative structure.
2. The question of the Outer Story isn’t as thorny because I use a convention of Story within Story. The voice relating the narrative in the past tense uses the vehicle of a manuscript he is writing and so the convention is that the reader is privy to his writing as he writes it.
But there is still the issue of how the reader gets access to the Outer Story if the narrator hides it—but the illusion here is that the reader experiences the Outer Story as the narrator tells it—so we see him writing. No, we see the text he has written. But how does the reader get to it?
This problem lies at the heart of any novel in that, as opposed to a film where we have the voyeuristic luxury of watching through a window, in the novel we’re invited into the mind of the narrator to witness his reality as it unfolds. In this we become participants in the story as we read the illusory pages not knowing if we can trust the narrator at all whereas in the film, the action and image create their own illusion without reference to our participation.
1. Don’t worry about it. Let the story tout with its inner and outer complexities.
2. Write it as well as possible. Bob says that neither of the breaks in the realist precepts matters if the language is good enough.
3. Work in a more intensely poetic idiom so that the image and action of the narrative come alive and enter into the reader’s mind. As Natalie used to say before she gave up writing practice—mind connects to mind. In writing a poetic idiom, the voice illustrates a number of psychological traits—education, experience, desires, dreams. The narrator by speaking rhythm and beat using rhetorical structures invites the reader into the images so that instead of waiting for the passive induction of the moving picture, the reader is active, or, as MacLuhan said, writing is a hot medium whereas film is of necessity a cool one.
4. The goal of all fictional writing is story. Story is a competition for a resource base told in action and image. In the narrative then, the poetic medium substitutes for the filmic image but the result is the same—the firm implanting of memories into the mind of the perceiver. Thus phenomenology and pragmatics of CS Peirce inform fictional writing as well, as when the Icon, Index and Symbol all work as a unit to induce a feeling of being there. Sulaika writes that any image that evokes a pre-existing memory in a reader is good and the writing is a success.
5. So this brings me to a question—What Bob means when he asks if the writing is good. Good writing must evoke feelings in the reader and it must create images that link and hook together into that elusive beast Stewart calls the Harpoon. And the writing must give the illusion of action and the only way to achieve that is through the use of strong Anglo-Saxon monosyllabic verbs—Strike, Hit, Yank, Thrust.
Good writing then, is film frozen one image at a time in a single concrete noun linked to a single action verb that evokes an emotional response in the reader—whether he wants it or not.
This brings me to a quandary—Can a reader choose not to accept the image? When a viewer looks at a painting (or a stop sign for that matter) the object goes into the brain via a purely mechanical but physiological track from lens to retina to optic nerve to visual cortex where the viewer has no choice but to accept it—once seen, then, an image is fixed in the axons and neurons.
But can the reader who has to be more active, reject, or choose not to process the image in the writing? The answer lies in the strength of the stylistic obstacles the writer throws up to block processing and acceptance. Style can stand in the way of perception. This notion is akin to a listener processing a Mozart melody such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Perception is insidiously easy but the truth of the musical structure is embarrassingly difficult. Thus in writing, we must strive for the immediate and easy perception—no stylistic challenges—Melody, while building complex structures, Harmony.
These techniques in writing are—plot track, symbol, object, hook as in the Cut To technique but analyzed out into complex metaphoric language—thus allowing the complete story to be told in each and every scene in the narrative.
To summarize: Story is image and action for quick acceptance; complexity lies in the structural framework that binds the narrative into a unified but not of necessity organic whole. To accomplish this, the writer has to discover the ritual structures that inform the myth base. The myth base, once seized and raised to consciousness, will provide the framework for the complex metaphoric reality we call book.