Friday, July 10, 2009 Seeing Again
Some of you may have been wondering what the delay was all about with this assignment. The truth is partly my new addiction to Face Book, blush, which is already waning, but more a necessary procrastination for this very important final step. Too often we write something and we are caught in the spell of our own words, the wonderful metaphor we dropped in that paragraph of description, and, oh, weren't we witty in that little scene with Great Aunt Prunella? Good as Oscar Wilde! Either we are charmed or we have the opposite reaction. Our words seem flat and boring. We think we can't write at all, wad up our attempts and throw them away. The reality normally falls somewhere in the middle. Occasionally the words flow, we know it, we go with it. It's good all right, but mostly what we've written still needs shaping--later on, not in the heat of the moment of writing. The same holds true for times when the writing seems dead on the page. Maybe it is, but even then it often has the seeds for the precise emotion or insight we're digging for. It needs work, yes, but it's not hopeless. I wish I could remember which poet told me this: "Success lies in the attempt." Molly Peacock, I think. What you have put down in your rough draft of memories will show what is important for you to write, your emotional stories that break your heart, make you weep, or laugh out loud.
If you've had some time away from those drafts of childhood memory, take them out now and reread them with a cool, fresh eye. Be gentle with yourself, and don't worry about the writing. What I want you to do now is look for moments of revelation, epiphanies, times when you had an insight about yourself, about your siblings or parents, or about friendships or life in general. You might also take a second look at your fears and moments of joy. What you're looking for is material for a story or a picture book or the beginning of a memoir or novel.
We often talk about story ideas. We might say that we start with a character or a situation or an action, but to find success in an idea or a character or a situation or an action, we must connect to emotion. It is honest emotion that connects the reader to your work and makes them care. That's why reliving your own personal memories, drenching them with recalled sensory perception will bring you to your emotional center. Start there. If you're writing fiction, feel free to wildly lie. There's a line in the movie, State and Main, that William Macy says to the screenplay writer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) about a change he wants in the script: "Don't think of it as a lie; think of it as a gift for fiction."
To recap the assignment: Read through what you've written. Look for moments of revelation. Look for conflict. Settle on a few that you think might work for a picture book or a short story, etc. Read those parts again. Put them away. Then go and read and read and read. Look at picture books. Look for the emotion. Read your favorites over and over. Why do they resonate with you?
Stella Luna is a good picture book to study for how emotion is carried through a book. It's a wonderful book. (But feel free to pick a different one.) Read it aloud. Type the first page. Type several pages to get a feel for the words and rhythm of the book. Read it again. Go back to your material and look at it again. I think you may begin to see a form taking shape for your book. I'd love to hear what books resonate with you and why.
I think this might be a good place to add that my short story, "A Spring Coat for Sarah" published in "Highlights for Children" was written from a childhood memory. See, it works!Happy re-vision and happy reading!