This morning as I was making the customary beans and rice for lunch, the song “Life in Technicolor” by Coldplay came on. At first I did only a twisty step or two over the chopped onions, but a minute into the song and I was in full-abandonment move-to-where-there’s-more-space turning and leaping to the music. I could not resist, nor attempted to. That’s when I dance, when something on the radio pulls me into it. I’m happy to dance with other people, but usually no one else is there when the call comes.
Dancing is a way to keep the soul in connection with good reasons to be in this world. Another way to benefit the soul is to leave your apartment, walk across the patio past the potted plants, and stand next to the car, looking out across the valley at the sunset as it sinks beyond the ridge you don’t know the name of.
A third way to deliver grace to the soul, if you happen to be paying for grievous sins in a past life and have come into this world as a writer, is to produce a few truly satisfying paragraphs. The last few times I have worked on the novel I’ve finished a couple of chapters that I was pleased with, in part because they seem to capture both eccentricity and joy, two things I’d like for this book to express.
I’m also noticing something about the method I find myself using, whether I will it or no. I have in mind a certain kind of style I want to use for this book, with a bit more elevated vocabulary and complexity of style than I have sometimes used. Because both expanded vocabulary and complexity of style are fairly distant from normal speech, as I write, I find that I am mostly doing neither. When I reread what I’ve written I think “Well this is plain. This is nowhere near what I wanted.”
And so I revise. But on the first expression of ideas, I cannot help it. It comes out in generally plain language (which some people would say is better, and I say “Get the hell off my blog”). What I find is that as I concentrate on just getting the plot out—not an easy thing for me, ever—I tend to use simple language.
It appears that I am writing somewhat in stages as I go over and over the text: (1) Get some plot down, (2) Do a better job with plot details, (3) Start working toward a more elegant wording and better transitions, (4) Work on more subtle character development.
The last one, character development, is not fully on the table yet. I do have some idea of what I want, and I try to work on the characters as I go. Nevertheless, the longer I write, the more I will come to know them, so it is really only fairly late in the novel-writing game, with a lot of other things in place, that I can really turn my attention to some of the little things that help give depth to a character, like speech mannerisms, habits, clothing, gestures, fears, and so on.
And I believe it is time for split-pea soup and cornbread, then back to the sublime glories of staring at a blank screen, thinking “Uh….what goes next? I need chocolate.”