While there are many aspects of the story arc that make sense in terms of pacing and development – like good old hamartia – the arc is a dated idea, limiting our understanding of who are to exacting plot points that only satisfy writing coaches and network executives.
Stream of consciousness is not the answer nor is it supposed to be all higgledy piggledy, but a style that reflects a understanding for ourselves. Reality television is the bald ugly version of this or the latest insanity of Trump’s dying days.
An amalgamation is needed of the two, an arc that that follow a path and yet simmers and U-turns with significance. That is my aim in The Cx Trilogy, to guide readers into a world and leave them there to look around.
2:00 pm Ride stationary bike and listen to intense music (Rage Against the Machine, Cheap Trick, Nine Inch Nails, etc.) in an attempt to get brain moving. Watch birds flying past, beds being changed in hotel rooms across the street and people working in adjoining business. Writing problems do not come to mind.
6:30 am Think about the big picture things – characters, theme – when I wake up.
8:30 am Ideas drift around for the next few hours as I sort through emails, purchases, music downloads and desk cleanup. These activities get my brain moving, akin to rocking a car back and forth out of the mud, until I think it might be ready to gun it and get on the road.
11:00 am Review what I wrote the previous day(s), read through a scene or two, and identify problems – weak dialogue, weird scene arcs – and make brief edits.
12:30 pm Lunch, news and emails. Maybe apply for a new job.
And so it goes. I review the ideas and accumulate more and more, until I am up to as many as I can remember – my maximum is around a dozen – and then repeat them in my head until I can get them in a pattern. I finish the workout and write notes on everything I can remember – hopefully all of it.
3:00 pm Enter the ideas into the text while listening to electronic music.
4:30 pm Write. Momentum on my side, this is where I write and write. This might go for another 3-4 hours, pauses and beers in between, until it begins to taper.
8:00 pm Save some things for tomorrow. I agree with Hemingway’s assertion that writing to the last drop is a dreadful error. That only means that tomorrow there will be nothing. The next day too. And so I leave an idea or two on my screen to help me regain my momentum tomorrow.
Years ago, I read an interview with James Bond author Ian Fleming who detailed his daily writing regime at his Caribbean home. He would rise early every morning and write five pages by noon and then spend the rest of the day at the beach with a cocktail in hand.
I liked the idea so much that I blogged about it and mimicked it – albeit without the beach and Caribbean home. I wrote five pages every day for my first novel, The Sacred Whore, but realized that the pages were weak and ill-conceived. I was going through the motions to get to my metaphoric (and literal) cocktails.
Later on, I tried writing at different times – afternoon, evening and night – with a similar page count in mind. No dice. Fleming’s process simply was not for me. I needed something else. I needed my own process.
Something that I have learned over the years is that I don’t work well with an exact routine. My system tends toward the erratic. That is not to say that I don’t have a system, but that when I am overly regimented, the work loses its divination.
That said, when the writing is working, I have a pattern that works. I suppose you might call that The McPhedran Way. More on that tomorrow!
I have a memory, if it can be called that, a moving image that bubbles up when I’m writing.
It is of a stretch of road called Marine Drive, connecting North and West Vancouver. It’s a thoroughfare, three lanes each way, thick with strip malls and autobody shops on each side.
Nothing happened there that I can remember. I just have to make a U turn. That’s the memory. I have to get back to something. Not a place, but a person, someone I left on the side of the road. And I am waiting to make that turn.
But I never make the turn because the light doesn’t change. I just wait and look at the orange and white sign for the autobody shop across the way.
I push hard to get my point across and, to make that clear, write the thing again. I might write it in another way. Or maybe not. I repeat myself to make sure that my point is getting across. It is the point, as simple as that. And I have to make that clear.
This veers toward a tendency to overwrite, filling a cup well beyond its capacity, thus defeating the purpose. The trick is to find the right words and use only those.
The apocalypse isn’t a gloriously massive event, although that’s what we would like to think, with colossal tidal waves, mountains collapsing into valleys, cities vanishing into dust, the wicked witch waving her squadrons of monkeys over all.
It’s more of the hiding in a wooden teepee without walls (Lars von Trier’s Melancholia), a face buried in the dirt (Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line) or the burning of a solitary house (Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice).
This Covid Pandemic is carving pieces of people away. In an attempt to maintain a semblance of normalcy through posting images, completing puzzles and asserting that all will be well, a feeling of identity loss dominates instead. Or thinking that anyway.
The need to belong somewhere – friends, family, a team or bar – has been eroded by life being moved onto the screen. This has created a sense of mutation, a half-shell of selves turned sideways into paper-thin abstractions with cartoon broken arms, modules and warts sloping out in disturbing and hopeless directions.
This isn’t a one-dimensional thing, but a sputtering prick into the bubble of self-awareness where one thinks of being half-asleep in a dream, shruggling (shrugging & struggling) with the accusations and denials of one’s most obvious flaws made obscene and dull. And it’s only getting louder.
A pause is needed in writing. Otherwise it’s just going straight ahead with half things trundled out, the ride getting faster, the wheels getting wonky, leaning to the side and then the other, into an impossible turn which spins so tight that it becomes a centrifuge. And the reader has long since gone.
The writer needs to take a break and breath, step back to make sense of it, find what is working and what is not. Think about other things. And then, bang! Fewer conversations about assault and misery, and more things happening. Best to go with that.