Saturday, October 06, 2007

Roller Skating, Dialogue and Inevitability

If you're a writer you know that when you write dialogue it comes with a certain inevitability. That is, one line leads to the next.

One character says flatly, "No divorce," and the other character inevitably says, "What! What do you mean, no divorce?" And the first character says, "What word don't you understand?" And the second character says . . .

You get the point, yes?

One thing leads to another, generally down the path of least resistance. And, of course, if you're lucky as a writer, this will work and you'll have a great scene.

Sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes a character says, "No divorce," and the other one says, "What! What do you mean, no divorce?" and, well, you go on and on and pretty soon you're out in left field somewhere, never getting where you need to go which is to the next scene.

And then you have to rework. You have to go back and see which line, if changed, may not at first seem inevitable, but which turns out to be the line that will get you a different response that will, ultimately, get you and your characters where you need to go (that would be 'out of chapter two.')

I had a visual illustration of this fact two weekends ago when we went to our grandson's 9th birthday party. It was at a skating rink.

It's been a long time since I've roller skated. I used to be a halfway decent skater (I even got a Girl Scout badge in roller skating, but I think, in retrospect, that the fulfillment requirements were not enormously high).

But I decided not to press my luck this time. Not because I didn't think I could still skate. I figured I could. I also figured I had a reasonably good chance of falling and breaking something, probably my arm.

And I had no trouble at all playing out in my head the logical inevitability of the dialogue that would ensue between me and my editor if I did that. "Roller skating? You went roller skating? And you broke what? So . . . how long will it be until you can finish the book?"

Hence, no roller skating for me.

But my intrepid husband, aka The Prof, who graded papers in the car all the way to the party (I drove; he didn't multi-task. God forbid that he should ever multi-task) decided that he would roller skate.

And he did.

He stayed upright, too. Mostly. He only fell once. And he didn't break anything. But watching him skate, I was reminded of chapter two.

He would get going reasonably well, heading straight down the side of the rink with remarkable grace and considerable speed -- rather like chapter two.

But, like chapter two, he hadn't found the line that would allow him to turn. He hit the wall.

So did I. So did chapter two. Often. So did The Prof. Often.

But eventually, he began doing things a little differently. He began to make moves earlier on that allowed him to change his trajectory a bit. He hit the wall in a different place, not quite so head-on. And then he changed his trajectory a bit more and wobbled around the curve, teetered a bit, then kept on going.

A visual object lesson! I took it to heart. I've changed the trajectory, backed it up. And -- finally --I've negotiated the turn. It may not be as smooth as it will be eventually, but we're on a different part of the story at last.

Blessings on husbands with fortitude and determination. Blessings on grandsons with birthdays.

And people ask, Where do you get your ideas?

Now do you believe me when I say, they're all around?

* * *
I haven't forgotten the film I wanted to talk about. But it is going to take more thinking -- and writing. And I have a chapter to finish.



Blogger Madeline said...

Hi Anne, I would love to have been there to see the Prof. skate. It must have been fun watching him. I'm sure that all of you had a great time.

Sending Hugs and lots of support your way. Hang in there, inspiration will come and, I know that you'll write another book that I'll love just as much as all of your other books. Mads:)

06 October, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Mads. It's always a little weird about this time in the book. It's coming to terms with the difference between ideas and execution -- and trying to make them mesh. They do -- eventually. In the meantime, I'm like The Prof: I hit walls with regularity.

06 October, 2007  

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