Archive | June, 2012

The Lesser of Two Evils

12 Jun

Just when things are going as swimmingly as they could, along comes a big shark to scare you out of the water! Well, a couple of sharks actually. Friday evening I did the now-standard reaction of jumping up from my writing desk, running out into the garden and pacing backwards and forwards for half an hour, fretting like crazy. Only this time it wasn’t about my writing. It was about that dear old existence called Life and trying to figure out which is the lesser of two evils.

2012 was always going to be a tough year financially but, I hoped, a constructive year personally. This is the year of introspection;  I finally accepted that I needed to take ‘time-out’ so as I could deconstruct myself, try to understand the fears that paralyze me psychologically and make practical progress in fixing me inside so as I could try to secure a better future for myself on the outside. It took me 3 years of living in darkness to finally realize that I could no longer pursue the normal pace of life while my head was in a dizzy, swirling cloud of disillusion, depression,  misery and lost-ness. I had to get off the merry-go-round and exit stage-left from the rat race before I hurt myself and the people I cared about.

Wouldn’t I love to spend 6 months in a beautiful paradise retreat figuring out the meaning of my life and everything that fills it – emotionally, psychologically and philosophically. My only chance of securing the funds for something like this would involve a bank and a pair of stockings over my head and so, after years of struggle I have had embark on this path of self-discovery while flat broke and trying to keep my head about water.

Friday’s reaction was in the face of the circling sharks ; the bank, the solicitors, the phone company, the gas company, the insurance company, the landlord (the brick-layer and the candle-stick maker…) – would they understand my human quest and what I was trying to do? In the garden, I asked myself if I should ‘cop-on’, give up this dream of self-discovery  and launch myself back into ‘real-life’ – back to the scramble, the confusion and the mental exhaustion where at least money/survival was more secure and I could keep the sharks at arms length. I have thought of little else in 3 days.

It’s a classic case of deciding which is the lesser of two (perhaps not-so-evil) evils:- broke and struggling with meeting the practicalities of life, while trying to decipher my life and mind OR being some-what financially secure while dealing with a tormented psyche?

There must be a balance?

NMG.C

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Finding your story’s controlling idea, and a whole lot more.

6 Jun

(Image via here)

What is my first novel really about or as Robert McKee puts it, how do you find your story’s controlling idea? This is the question I have been mulling over for the past three weeks. Now, I do know the story, as I wrote the whole thing in virtual solitude over 3 months of constant writing – not quite Jack Torrance from The Shining, but solitude nonetheless. When I stood back from it (via the failed editing attempt of May/June), I was unable to put my finger on what the story was fundamentally about.My head reeled with the messages that filled the pages and I knew that all these messages had to sum up to something of importance. But what? What exactly was I trying to say and what did I want to tell the world??

When I found myself in my local book store in a last ditched attempt to salvage the remaining shreds of my writing confidence, I needed something that would spell out to me in layman’s terms the fundamentals of telling a story that readers like to read. My fear was that my manuscript was a jumbled up brain-dump of unstructured narrative that failed miserably to understand what it was really about or what it was trying to say?

I left my local book shop with Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ – the only book in the entire store about how to tell a story, albeit in the guise of screen-writing, but I figured the principles would transfer to novel-writing. The book was like a god-send, mapping out the elements of story-telling as if I had wished for the book to be presented as such. And then there is was, on page 117 – How do you find your story’s controlling idea? In other words, what have you been writing about for the past 80K words?

McKee advised to look at the ending, the climax of you work and ask two things:

1. ‘As a result of this climatic action, what value, positive or negative charged is brought into the world of my protagonist?’

2. ‘Tracing back from this climax, digging into the bedrock, ask: What is the chief cause, force, or means by which this value is brought into his world?

The sentence you compose from the answers of the two questions becomes your controlling idea.

After I finished this exercise I left my writing desk and went out to sit in the garden, reading the sentence I had written over and over again. I don’t think I was prepared for what I had written down. Fifteen minutes later, when I re-opened McKee’s book and read the remaining paragraph, McKee talks about how this exercise works as a form of ‘Self-Recognition’ and that you can be shocked by what you see reflected of yourself in your storys climax. I was floored.

This tiny exercise was both incredibly insightful yet also quiet unnerving but it has given me a whole new outlook and perspective on what I have written. It has opened my eyes to strong elements of my story that I was unaware of, I guess mostly because the book is about me. Thanks Mr. McKee, finally I think I understand something about myself that I could never quite put my finger on!

NMG.C

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