Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Writing Rule Questioned

Bootleggers Caught After Car Chase from Art.Com

If you attend a Q&A with an author - famous or not - inevitably an audience member will ask how the author finished her book. The author will answer along the lines of: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard; or, (my favorite) you can't fix a blank page.

It's all great advice but here's the rub: sometimes you gotta get your butt off the chair and leave the keyboard for a pen and notebook and go out into the world. A reporter can't write a story from her desk. My best interviews almost always happen face-to-face because you can hear the inflection of the person's voice, you can see it in their face and the way they move their body. And when they can see you, typically they'll open more than they would on the phone or God forbid, email.

I finished my NaNoMo book Friday, November 14th at 250-odd pages. (Clearly more work needs to be done to whip it into readable material.) One of the biggest challenges of writing a story, especially one that takes place in 1926, is experiencing it as much as possible. I've jotted down notes from conversations with my grandma, listened to oral histories in library archives, studied maps and read through newspapers. My imagination can only fill in so holes.

One of the best times I had writing the book was a sequence when my heroine smuggles alcohol across the Mexico border. But I could feel myself hesitating when describing the car she was in. I've never riden in a 1920's era car much less sat in one so when I read about the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo - where on Sundays you can ride around in a historic car - I realized that manna comes in different forms from heaven.

At this museum you can sit in a 1937 Piece-Arrow towncar and imagine you're Jean Harlow driving down from the Holmby Hills to work at MGM Studios. Or, you can sit behind the wheel of a Ford Model A and realize how much we take for granted with today's computerized, air-bagged, power-steered cars.

When you're stuck in the middle of your book, or you're thinking of revisions to a finished manuscript, I recommend that you get yourself out into the sun (it won't hurt, I promise) and experience what you can of your characters' lives. It works for me.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

1 comment:

J.K. Mahal said...

Love it! That sounds like so much fun.

Happy Turkey Day to you too!