IWSG—Writing lessons from unexpected places (and how Imre redirected several storylines)

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Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

Monday morning, I dreamt I was watching some James Cagney film on the big screen, and all of a sudden Chico Marx showed up as one of the gangsters. He was really brutal, cutting people’s ears off and stabbing people in the head. Even in the dream, it felt so wrong and bizarre. Chico’s character was mischievous, not malicious.

This dream relates to last month’s IWSG post, where I talked about how we know our characters better than anyone, and thus understand when something is completely wrong and out of character. It’s natural for our characters to grow and change over time, particularly if we’ve been with them for years, and it’s not unreasonable to try out new things. But ultimately, we’re the ones steering the ship. My Max wasn’t my Max anymore when I wrote that goofy opening page on someone else’s suggestion, just as my Cinni wouldn’t be my Cinni anymore if I toned down her behavior much more.

I suppose the dream was brought on by the photolithograph hanging next to my bed, and the fact that I’ve been watching a lot of Cagney films this year. Since finally reaching my goal of 1,000 silents (now up to 1,113), I’ve moved to focusing more on films of the early sound era. It’s totally hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that I decided to focus on Cagney in particular this year, since 2016 is his 30th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) year. Since I’m so tomboyish, I’m watching all the gangster and man’s man roles before touching lighter stuff. So far, my favoritest films are White Heat and The Roaring Twenties.

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In April, I revisited Thirty Years of Maximum R&B (The Who’s boxed set), which I got 15 years ago, on 3 April 2001. I still remember all the details of the day I found it, how excited I was to find it (and for only $35 no less!), and how I took three days to get through it all. As I mention in the abovelinked review, one of the little issues which really adds up is the constant segueing. There’s zero breathing time between a lot of songs. While this works very well on an album like The Who Sell Out, it wasn’t the right choice for the boxed set.

This has applications to writing, in that we should always consider how much time to put between chapters and sections of a book. Some books, or certain chapters in particular, work very well when they lead into one another, or when one chapter begins within 24 hours of when the previous chapter ended.  Likewise, it can be good to put some space between chapters, for a more natural pace and leisurely journey.

Another lesson from the boxed set is its over-focus on Sell Out and Who’s Next, with unfairly short schrift given to the Eighties material. We should always consider if a book works best with equal weight given to each part, or if it’s best to put most of the action into one section.

April Camp 2016 final I

A huge issue came up early during Camp NaNo in April, when my unplanned secondary character Imre Goldmark took on a life of his own and began cajoling me into giving him Csilla. I’d kind of already planned for Csilla to marry a man five years her junior in another book, when she’s already in Israel! Originally, Imre’s mother had only suggested Csilla might be interested in him, since they’re about the same age. Before I knew it, he was pleading his case for why they’re a perfect match, and giving me a very compelling storyline.

I thought about Imre and Csilla perhaps briefly dating, then moved it to a passionate love affair, and finally considered Imre fighting in Israel’s War of Independence as a volunteer, to try to impress Csilla with his bravery, and being killed in action so Csilla would be free to marry the guy I originally planned for her. I finally realized Imre knew better than I did what their story was, and decided to do things the way he dictated. Their road to happily ever after and the chupah has a lot of twists and turns, but that’s the best kind of love story.

Plus, the name Imre just came into my head when I was thinking of names for Mrs. Goldmark’s three children. Character names almost never come to me like that.

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9 thoughts on “IWSG—Writing lessons from unexpected places (and how Imre redirected several storylines)

  1. My chapters usually lead off each other. Occasionally there’s a time jump of a few days later.

    I’d also listen to Imre. It sounds like he knows where to carry your book to make it great.

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  2. Interesting parallels between lessons learned on the boxed set and writing. So may decisions go into every book. Nice that Csilla helped you make one of those. 😉

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  3. I’m glad you followed your characters on this one. Happy endings are definitely better. =) I always have to leave some leeway for my characters or they start kicking the walls down. Very rude of them, I know.

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  4. Ahhh love stories . . . yes, Imre definitely knows best! And I so agree with you! No matter that they’re “made up” we can definitely tell when our characters are, well, “in” character lol. I can tell you exactly what any one of my characters would/wouldn’t do. Great post! 🙂

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  5. The time between my chapters is not consistent. Sometimes there is a gap of only a few minutes. Other times, weeks have gone by and the reader is caught up through a short narrative paragraph. I let the story dictate the spacing of the events.

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  6. I agree. Well-paced chapters really make a story for me. If every chapter is a breath-stealing race for survival, I generally have to set the book down and come back to it later. Likewise, if it’s paced too slowly, I have occasionally not finished, even though the story seemed to have a good premise. Now if I can just keep my own writing from making those mistakes…

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