My Painfully Slow Progress

I am plotting out my book in great detail, scene by scene by scene, a method I’ve only really used for work-for-hire novels (because I had to, under the contract), but I guess for my own stuff it could be helpful, too. I don’t have to stick to it exactly when I’m writing… But as I go I do feel the shapes coming clearer, the people. This is the whole point, huh? Well, don’t say you told me so.

It is taking an exceptionally long time, I’m afraid. Some days it feels like I’m making no progress, but I have to be. Right, right?

As I work through the scenes I keep getting flashes of Robert McKee. He said a scene has to turn, so if you start in one direction, you can’t continue on in the same direction and end just as you were. The emotional values of your characters are energized either positive (+) or negative (-), so if you start your scene at a high point (+), don’t keep going + + + + and end on +—what’s the point of the scene then? Start + and end -. Or start – and end +. You could even start + reach a moment of – and return again to +. That’s my memory of it anyway. I realize I’m garbling the explanation, and I could look it up online but I don’t feel like it. I just sometimes, as I’m working through scenes, have these little symbols hovering over my page. I’m all + -. Or – + -. Or + + + + + + + – + – + – – – – +, but no that’s just crazy.

I’m sure I’ve talked before of that weekend I was forced to spent three days at Mr. McKee’s infamous Story Seminar. I was sent by the job I had at the time—as an assistant editor for a comic-book company; they sent about a dozen editors so we could be better with plots… this was the summer of no flashbacks (seriously; flashbacks were banned). By the third day, I was so burned out, the hard seats of the lecture hall just killing my back, that I had to stretch out on the floor where I couldn’t even see Mr. McKee (and I may have even, for a few minutes or so, napped? the people who paid their own money must have been horrified). It took me years to be able to watch Casablanca again.

But I guess that story seminar made its way into my subconscious, hearing him bark out his directives, hearing him attack people whose cell phones went off… his methods have seeped into me, as if from a dream. I think it’s just actually really helpful, as a writer, to hear people talk about writing. The mechanics. The pieces. Their methods, even if they’re not yours. Then you reinterpret them in your own mangled way, as I did this + / – thing, and make it your own. Hey, today, by the way, I woke feeling (-) for just a second but then felt (+) for many hours and now, though I have to go to work (-), I do have this outline to come home to tonight (+) and the stories I’m working on for my collection (+++) and I know I can’t accomplish everything I want to this summer—I am slow slow slow (- – -)—I will still try.


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