It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Tue 2 Aug 05 14:44
That is very encouraging to hear....sometimes you get the impression that novelists get the whole picture at once and then just sit down to sketch it out...glad you are so enthusiastic...all the best.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Wed 3 Aug 05 10:19
I would love to be one of those novelists But alas...
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 3 Aug 05 10:36
How do you get language and idiom for your characters, especially the ones of different ages? Do you have to go out evesdropping on teenagers?
Idea Hamster On Speed (randomize27) Wed 3 Aug 05 10:57
Marisa - I'm still reading the book, and am enjoying it greatly. (Although there's one error that was like a slap to the face, it's Indian/India, not Asian/Asia. An elephant with ears the shape of Asia would have wings on the side of it's head, like Dumbo.) I'm curious about how you chose this interesting mix of 1st and 3rd person storytelling. At times, it seems like we're nestled in one of the character's heads, then at other times, it's like we can see and hear all of the character's thoughts and emotions. For example, the interaction between Christine and Amador - You see a lot of it from his perspective, a little from hers, but at a key point (don't want to spoil it,) it's written with a taste of both perspectives. I also really like the way you've handled Will's walks with his grandmother. In fact, I'd have to say Will is my favorite character. Again, I'm finding this book absolutely fascinating. I've only got a hundred or so pages left. Should be done by tomorrow.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Wed 3 Aug 05 11:05
That's funny. No stalking teenagers. Might take it up when my own kids are teenagers, but for wholly different reasons... I actually don't write much using current slang or whatever the argot is of a certain clan. So far, I haven't written characters who would require that kind of fully idiomatic language. I think what i do is try to be so inside my characters, that their words are a reflection of them, of their attitudes, of their point of view on life. There are certainly many instances when I think of a line of dialogue, but decide that my character wouldn't say that, or say it that way, and I have to find the right way for him or her to express feelings, depending on he or she is. In No Direction Home, one of the characters is a Mexican immigrant named Amador. He speaks only a little English, so in his dialogue with English speakers, I had to hear the very particular way that he formed the new language, what words he omitted, how he structured sentences based on his knowledge of Spanish grammar more than English grammar. But in his interior life, he is fully articulate, as of course he would be, and his language and idiomatic speech feel very different. There are two young boys in the book, age 10. These are pretty easy voices for me to hear as I am usually surrounded by boys around this age. As for the other characters, what they think about, and the emotions that they bring to these thoughts often determines how their voices sound. For me, writing characters is a little bit like acting, although having barely acted, and when I did, being only horrible at it, I shouldn't presume. But when I'm into a scene, I am quite literally residing in the characters, standing where they are standing, in some ways feeling what they are feeling. I guess whatever language results, to the extent that it feels particular to character, comes from this close identification with them as I write.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Wed 3 Aug 05 11:37
Hi Idea Hamster...just had to write that. What a great image that is. I'm so glad you're liking the book. That's always comforting to hear! And great question about voice. The choice of voice is probably the first craft issue I deal with when setting out to write. I circle around whatever my subject is, testing out various points of view. I will often write big patches of the thing in various voices, trying to decide which one feels right, which affords me the kind of view I need depending on the story I am telling. I often think about it in terms of standing in a room. Depending on where you're standing, you see different things, the "world" of the room alters, sometimes greatly, sometimes minutely. But it really changes the whole story. Since I had so many stories to interweave in No Direction Home, I pretty quickly decided that absolute first person was not going to offer me enough of a palette. First person is a really fun voice to write in, but you are often restricted to writing about what that person would actually witness or have knowledge of. There are exceptions to this. I've read narratives where even though it is first person, the narrative also assumes a kind of omniscience, but that gives a story a kind of magical or mythical quality that I didn't want for mine. I tried a kind of distant third person, which didn't feel right either -- to far away from the drama, too stately. So I settled on this close third person voice, which is kind of a blend of first and third but is definitely not omniscient, not hovering about the whole scene looking down. There's no sense of ultimate authority, you don't feel as though you are being "told" a story by a narrator who sees it all at once. Instead, the characters compel you forwards through the story, and as a reader, you are left to fill in the parts that they cannot see, as you have no ultimate guide. I like that. I like giving the reader the opportunity to figure out how the whole puzzle fits together rather than telling them how it does. The close third voice also gave me a chance to really investigate the interior lives the the characters, which is so much of what the novel is about.
It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Wed 3 Aug 05 16:04
Are there certain strengths or skills that your directing bring to your ability to write novels; do you visualize scenes?, tend to block out arcs, etc.?
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Wed 3 Aug 05 20:06
I do visualize scenes as I write them, although I imagine most writers do, so I don't think this is a particular skill I got from filmmaking, it's just that I used the skills in my film work before I every wrote fiction. . I think that, as I compose a scene, I definitely think in terms of what am I showing to the reader, which I guess would be a corallary to what is a camera seeing - what's the shot. Although I don't think in terms of camera angles as I write, when I look at scenes, I realize that I make choices as to how close I am to a character, both physically and emotionally, how far away. Am I describing a whole landscape? A small detail? These considerations are no different in film than they are in fiction writing. In the same way, the movement of a piece of fiction is not unlike the editing of a film -- deciding what scene goes next to another, deciding at what point to start telling the action of a particular scene, how to jump forward and backward in time. But again, all these are the considerations of writers as well as filmmakers, so I suppose you could say that I first practiced these skills with film before I got to writing fiction, but I'm not sure there are particular skills that I have from my time in film that I wouldn't have developed over time as a writer.
Howard A. Rodman (rodman) Thu 4 Aug 05 13:25
Speaking of slang: one of the characters in "Babe..."--a limo driver--refers to circling the terminals at LAX as going round "the drain." It struck me as such a telling and perfectly observed piece of slang-- Except that Marisa invented it.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 5 Aug 05 17:12
Where do you come up with ideas like that? While sitting to actively work on the writing, or while... you know, driving around and such?
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Fri 5 Aug 05 18:13
It just comes out as I'm writing. Sometimes, I can get into the rhythm of a persons character and style, and his or her POV on things, and stuff just comes. It's particularly helpful with subsidiary characters, as is the case with the woman who says that line. We don't really get to know her that well, so her language, the strong, very character-specific things she says help to cement some idea of her in readers' minds in a very succinct way. It's fun when something like that comes out in the writing -- something that is not actually observed in the world, so is not officially "true" but it feels true, feels like the kind of thing someone like that might say. As for where do I come up with the stuff -- I never write except when I am actively writing. Although I do believe that driving is an amazing time to let the subconscious stir around. Strange things do occur while writing. Have you ever listened to a kid sitting in the back seat talking to you? They say the most amazing, uninhibited things. It's where you get all the real news.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Fri 5 Aug 05 18:14
Correction to that last: strange things do occur while DRIVING. One hopes that strange things occur while writing, but often, it's drivel.
Howard A. Rodman (rodman) Sat 6 Aug 05 18:08
Gives a whole new perspective on the phrase, "automatic writing."
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Sat 6 Aug 05 19:36
If only it WERE automatic.
Howard A. Rodman (rodman) Sun 7 Aug 05 10:03
At a certain point in writing, the characters start to kick back. They surprise you. They do things you'd never have forseen them doing. How long does it generally take before the people in your fictions start moving around from the inside? Is there anything you do to hasten the process? When they first start speaking in a voice that's not precisely the one that you consciously endowed them with, do you trust that moment?
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Sun 7 Aug 05 16:41
That's a sweet moment, when that happens. Unfortunately, there is nothing I've found to do to hasten it. When I begin to write, I may have ideas for characters, but they are generally not fully fledged., As I write, their voices wobble around like an adolescent boy's, their actions are sometimes consistent with ideas I have about them, sometimes wildly divergent. I try to write the first pass without minding too much about the inconsistencies -- I allow them to do and say all sorts of wrong stuff in the hopes that some of what they do or say strikes me as right and then I can focus them more precisely. But of course, the key thing about any character is his or her surprises. As with real people, they must not act programmatically, or follow some too narrow idea I have of them. If they do, they begin to seem like caricatures, not characters. People in life do not act consistently, at least not in some obvious way. My favorite real life example of this is the woman I know who is into holistic medicine, healing the environment, allowing children to grow unencumbered by much adult prescription, very non-judgemental in that particularly Californian, somewhat flabby way. But then she allows her husband to keep a gun in the house! Totally inconsistent, but the inconsistency reveals a lot about her on a much deeper level. So, I try to listen to all the wrong moves I make for the characters because sometimes, the wrong moves may lead the way to a deeper understanding of what makes them complex, surprising. real. That's when they really start talking back to me - when what they do is so seemingly perverse, yet so thoroughly right. Character is the strangest thing to get at in the same way that getting to know someone in real life is often a most perplexing problem.
It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Sun 7 Aug 05 19:56
That is one of the best and most helpful recaps of character development I have ever read. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So practical and organic.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Sun 7 Aug 05 21:21
I'm so glad! I only wish that being able to articulate my process made it any easier for me to do my process. But no such luck. This is why whenever I read about writers and immediately think it sounds so easy for them, I have to remind myself that they are probably have an easier time talking about it than actually doing it. I think all of us who struggle to write have some notion that other writers just dash off seemless prose without any stress, that their books write themselves. But if this is true for other writers, I have a feeling they are a small, if blessed, minority.
It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Mon 8 Aug 05 08:19
That's what I really liked about what you wrote...it is the truth about the difficulty of the process, and it is heartwarming to know that that is the way it is...since I find myself in that conundrum all the time, it is actually quite encouraging. To some degree, some books may lend themselves to "dashing"...but they are mostly memoirs based on near total recall, or great fantasies that seem to be fleshed out from the moment of inspiration...but the really great novels, like War and Peace, etc. seem more true to your characterization of the process...being born as they are written.
Howard A. Rodman (rodman) Mon 8 Aug 05 17:26
Marisa, can you talk a little bit about rewriting? I'm particularly interested in a questions which always plagues me--how do you know when you're done? Are books never quite finished, just at some point abandoned? Do you leave time between drafts for the work to 'settle,' or do you just dive back in?
Idea Hamster On Speed (randomize27) Mon 8 Aug 05 18:29
I have to admit, the thing with Amador's son delaying in the border town struck me as "wrong", but in the end, it really worked out for the character, I felt.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Tue 9 Aug 05 11:42
Re-writing is, for me, the most fun, because everything, or at least a lot of things are there in front of me and I can begin to look at the book like a puzzle, which appeals to me. I do this extremely time-consuming and strange thing when I rewrite: I type the entire book again, from beginning to end, making changes as I do it. Why do I do this, in the age of word processing? To increase my typing speed? I think it helps me get a feel for the whole, and typing it forces me to slow down and really think about what I've written instead of just reading through it which goes faster and sometimes makes me less critical. If I am going to type something again, I better really like it and think it belongs there. I also find that literally "rewriting" or retyping, as the case may be, puts me deeper inside the characters than just reading through. But this is my own strange habit that I can't really suggest for anyone else as it borders on masochism. One of the hardest aspects of rewriting is trying to read what you've written as if you'd never read it. In other words, I have so much knowledge that I have brought to the book, knowledge that may or may not be on the page. So it is important to make sure that what I am trying to get across, I actually have gotten across, that I haven't been to sparing. Since I tend to underwrite rather than overwrite, this is an issue for me. Even as I do a first draft, I'm always, taking away, taking away. So sometimes I have to look at the piece and think about whether I have been too oblique, or too "less is more". I take breaks between drafts both because I generally have to wait a bit for whoever I've let read it to read it, but also because, as frustrating as it is to not dive back in, the time between drafts is often very, very important. If I go right back in there, I'm not looking at the thing with particularly fresh eyes. And time away often allows my brain to stir around a little and come up with new stuff. When I'm done? When it's the deadline! More seriously, there is a done, I think. There is a point where the book is what it is and can be, given who I am at this particular moment as a writer. When I find that I am beginning to take out changes and revert to earlier versions, I know I'm done. In other words, I can look at the book and say to myself, this is the book I am capable of writing right now. A book exists not only out of time, but in a very specific time of a writer's life. In the same way that you can't be thirty years old until you are thirty years old and you can't have the knowledge that come from your twenties until you live them, a book is what it is and at some point, can't be all that different given who the writer is at the time.
Marisa Silver (marisasilver) Tue 9 Aug 05 14:29
To Idea Hamster: Glad you finally felt it all came together and felt right!
Idea Hamster On Speed (randomize27) Wed 10 Aug 05 12:28
The last paragraph of <47> is great. I hadn't looked at writing, or books, in that way before.
Howard A. Rodman (rodman) Wed 10 Aug 05 13:48
re:47 what a lovely answer. full of truths, and things to contemplate. Here's another question: do you have 'favorites' among your characters? Do you like the grrls better than the boyz, or vice versa? Do you ever find your affection for a character borders on indulgence, or somehow blinds you, however slightly, to the full subjectivity of the other characters?
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