© 2016 Melissa Volker

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  • Melissa Volker

No, it's not a movie, it's a book -- but...


Another installment in the process of getting (the right) words on paper:

I just spent three days knowing a chapter was all wrong from start to finish but with no idea what it should be instead. I have to be honest -- that's not a normal experience for me. While I may rearrange things, delete, tweak and restructure, I'm not sure I have ever looked at an entire chapter and thought, "Nope," and come to a screeching halt.

I needed the chapter. What was in it. I needed the information, the content, the emotion. But it was all narrative. It was boring. It was a chapter of memory, of the character recalling a previous time and it's necessary to set up the premise of the book. But I was telling rather than showing and I had no idea how to change that.

I couldn't "go back in time" and write the memory. That wouldn't work.

I started and stopped over a dozen times. A slew of different first lines. Nothing.

How to get into a memory and not just drone through a narrative?

Well, I'll share some of it with you. I started with yet another first line (or two):

When asked to remember it takes Wyatt time. The beginnings of things are not always where we think they are, but rather somewhere much more obscure and inconsequential.

Okay. Good. Got my brain going in a way more interesting direction. But as I moved forward, I still fell into a simple narrative retelling of the memories.

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

And then it hit -- I saw it in my head like a scene in a movie. The character is somewhere indistinct, but not alone. We see his face as though, perhaps, he's leaning back and staring at the ceiling. He's been asked a question…

He's been asked a question!

So I back up:

"When did this start for you?

"When did what start?"

"The withdrawal, the anger, the depression…all of it. Any of it."

When asked to remember it takes Wyatt time. The beginnings of things are not always where we think they are, but rather somewhere much more obscure and inconsequential.

And that was the magic key. It became a scene in a movie, all of it vivid in my head -- the lighting, the angles, the shot tight on his face while a disembodied voice from up and to the right asks questions from the shadows. He never looks in that direction, only up beyond the camera lens to some unknown spot over his head and what that creates is a sequence that never identifies either speaker, and switches between current questions and recalled narrative:

Maybe it was the notes attached to his locker several times a week with words like "Pussy", "Einstein", "Faggot", each on different color post-it notes that grew like weeds -- pull one off another grew in its place.

When Andy was with him, he'd yank them off and whirl around the hall, scanning for the culprit, his fist at the ready. But Wyatt just waved him off and told him to forget it.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"It clearly bothered you. Why would you act like it didn't and tell Andy to forget it?"

"I don't know."

That wasn’t it, either, though. It culminated there but it didn't start there.

Farther back, maybe.

And within fifteen minutes the chapter was rewritten and it was no longer a droning narrative. Rather, it became a dynamic illustration of a current mental state and a retelling of previous events, all coming together to set the stage for the rest of the story.

The most critical part of this process was just how much I tossed out. Massive chunks got left behind in spite of my love of how they sounded, what they said. Lovingly crafted sentences and nuanced expressions -- gone.

They were lovely and I worked hard on them, but they were still wrong for what I wanted to say and how I needed to say it.

In truth, I do the movie trick a lot. Not on purpose, it's just how my brain works. I'm sure part of that stems from my background in acting, and also explains my love of photography and it's visual storytelling. I see it in my head as though through the lens of a movie camera. I see the shadows, the movement, the stillness. I see expressions. I zoom in and out and change the focus. The words on the paper come from what I see through the lens in my head.

And sometimes those words need to be tossed out to make room for the right words. That can be hard. But writing is brutal, and you need to be ruthless.

There's a story to be told, and you are there to tell it. To tell it right. To tell it well.

For me that sometimes means writing a book by seeing it like a movie.

As long as it works, right?


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