Monday, July 7, 2008

The only way to have an intelligent conversation

I was posting with some folks on-line this morning about writing and the conversation turned to the topics of character development and author immersion.

A couple of years ago, while we were living in the Florida Keys, I took a novel-writing class at Miami-Dade College, once-a-week evening sessions that were supposed to be convenient for working writers. I imagine they were, for the other students, but it was a five-hour round trip for me.

Every Thursday, for eight weeks, I was on my way up U.S. 1 by 4:00 p.m., to make the 7:00 p.m. start time. We would talk about writing for three fleeting hours, and then I would have to tear myself away to get back to Ramrod Key before 1:00 a.m.

It was exhausting and exhilarating, worth every minute of drive time; as a bonus, I managed to dictate a rough draft for each week's assignment into a tape recorder as I rolled down U.S. 1, across the sea and under the stars.

There is nothing better to stir the juices than being able to act out a story aloud, playing all the characters and detailing the action, without fear that someone will think you insane.

Anyway, I told you that to tell you this.

The instructor talked a lot about reaching "critical mass". It didn't have anything to do with pages or words, she said. It was the point, in the creation of a story, at which you begin to talk about the characters as if they are real people.

Or talk to them as if they are real.

Of course, she was being practical; how can you expect a reader to believe your characters are real if you don't. But have you ever had a serious chat, on the back side of midnight, with a person you created whole cloth?

What a rush.