Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing vs. Painting

I've been writing over the past week, trying to finish my novel, a short novel, The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death. I'm finding it rather fun and much more enjoyable than expected. Comparing it with painting and music is fun too.

There are as many ways to write as paint, and I find I write like I paint. Since the start I had a plan, an outline of the story that, in paragraphs, gave the plot direction. This is like the basic composition, preparation before you paint. The story and characters are as imaginative as anything I paint too! One character, 2me, is a gaseous cloud of glowing colour, a child of infinite empathy who experiences everything emotionally.

Some writers write roughly and then refine more and more with each draft, just as some painters paint roughly, adding more layers to pin down the fine edges. I tend to write pretty finely from the outset, placing each word as carefully as possible like the delicate strokes of a brush, although I often dart back and forth, refining old work as I write new, trying to ensure that the pace and colour are uniform.

However, I've not stuck totally to the plan. The overall plot is simple, a man is dying and decides to use his transportation machine, a portal, a magic door, to search for a cure. In Chapter 4 George, the moribund protagonist, decides to visit the wisest man in the universe. Originally this was a mad hermit who advised that he should be content in his lot. This was unsatisfactory for many reasons, firstly, nothing much is conveyed either emotionally or practically; the chapter didn't really affect the rest of the story. It was also rather telling rather than showing because much of the information was conveyed by conversion rather than metaphor.

Show don't tell is true in all art forms but most obvious in writing. There are different degrees to this, and it's a problem because it's frustrating and even rude to tell people what to think. Art should be a dialogue. For example:

"Fred saw a meek woman huddled on the edge of the sofa. Her name was Sandy." is a blatent telling, just blurting out that her name was Sandy like that, as though we are to just accept it from the God-author!

"Fred saw a meek woman huddled on the edge of the sofa. A badge on her lapel said 'Sandy'" is much better because it informs the reader in a less commanding way. However, there's no indication whether Fred read the badge so this is still written from a privaledged third-party position.

"Fred saw a meek woman huddled on the edge of the sofa. "What's you're name?" He enquired. "Sandy," she replied in a trembling voice." Is better still because it's written from Fred's point of view. This character empathy can extend to other elements in the scene too. Perhaps Fred would see the sofa as a settee, or he might use the word furniture, or describe the woman differently from meek. There are many degrees to showing and some information must be told. A relationship between the writer and the reader must be built, and the reader must grow to trust the writer. At one point I wrote, as a sentence. "Maria Andrade was a genius." An almost inexcusable sentence in any work. However, the preceding paragraph explained why, and more crucially it was written as another character saw her, therefore excusability crept slowly back. However, the sentence was extremely judgemental and gave the reader no room, which I don't like, so I changed it to "She was undoubtedly a genius." which was much more polite and gave the reader room for an opinion of their own.

All of this potential complexity makes the process of character writing complex, and as most stories are character driven and involve relationships it makes writing a skill that demands empathy and understanding of relationships. In fact it's that process that makes writing more enjoyable than other artforms. Imaginary statements on philosophy are less fun than imaginary people.

In my new Chapter 4, the hermit is a hedonist hippie, who lives in ragged chaotic conditions with a clutch of wives and a gaggle of urchin children. The chapter shows, or tries to show, the consequences of a hedonistic lifestyle and why the old saying of "live each day as though it were your last" can't really work... well that was the plan.

The first draft is complete. I'm excited about the whole thing and am now convinced that Terry Gilliam will want to make this into a film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. And why not?

The picture is a quick illustration of George looking through the portal.

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