Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Zone

The other night I had an interesting thing happen while I was writing.

Not much of the writing I do is planned. I have a general idea of what needs to happen in the scene, and I jump in and write it. Sometimes this starts with a focus on a central image, more often it just plays out much like a setup for a movie scene: the players, the setting, the dialogue. I have an idea and I start writing and the scene just grows from there.

So the other night I was writing a scene where the main protagonist is trying to figure out WTF is up with his brother-in-law, because the guy's done some weirdo scary stuff. The protag gets up early, takes a shower, gets dressed, etc. The whole time we're in his head, listening to him think about all the hinky things that've been going on and adding them up. I knew I wanted him to move through the scene and eventually end up at the orchard to bump into a love interest, but the space between waking up and late afternoon was as yet un-imagined.

So I jumped in and started writing and Jack (my protag) just kind of took over. This is when the writing's best; when the characters do it for you. In writers' group we call it The Zone. When you're in The Zone, it's like tapping into this current of creativity and production that whites out all other thought. You're part of the story, you're in it, and it's more real than the "real world". It's like dreaming awake, but you can remember these dreams... well, most of them anyway. Sometimes after writing sessions when I've been deep in the story, I only have hazy memories of what I've actually written. Maybe it's more like being hypnotized than dreaming...

Anyway, so I'm writing and Jack leaves his house and goes to his brother-in-law's, to talk to him. And of course, he's not there, so Jack decides to go to breakfast and make some notes about the things he's realized, and how he wants to handle the situation. He decided to go to the Venus, a little short-order cafe on Main Street in his town.

Here comes the weird part... Jack's thinking hard and making deductions and trying to figure out what's going on and how he's going to handle it, and I'm pouring myself into the story, hardly aware of what I'm doing, when a woman walks up to his table and starts talking to him. Now I'm just writing this, with no planning or thought, just plucking it out of the ether. When she started talking, I assumed she was the love interest that Jack was going to run into later at the orchard. I just thought it was her, because I hadn't introduced another woman to the story yet. But something about it wasn't right. I pushed on for a few more lines, but the current of Zone had suddenly shut down. I stepped away from the scene for a little while. Later I realized it wasn't the love interest, but the ex-girlfriend who had surprised Jack. I jumped back in and started writing again and the scene took back over. I suddenly had over 3000 words written in just under two hours (smokin, for me).

This is the nature of how I write: I have a feeling, and I follow it. In a way it's like fumbling around in a pitch-black room, trying to find a light switch. You can feel your way through the furniture and (sometimes) people in the room; you can get up close and run your hands over the contours of their faces and their minds. I started writing that scene and heard a woman's voice in my mind, interrupting Jack's deductive train of thought. I didn't know who the woman was yet, because the light hadn't been switched on. So I automatically made her the love interest at first, because I thought that's who she was... but I guessed wrong! When I stepped back and thought about it, the things defining her very shape were a sharp contrast to the love interest in my mind... this new woman had a hectoring, jeering demeanor, completely unlike the nicer character's candid but kind personality.

This was like finding a chair in that pitch-black room, thinking it's an overstuffed easy chair, then stepping back, feeling along the sides, finding the lever on the left, and realizing it's a recliner, instead. Yes, it's a chair - a comfy one. But the actual details of the chair were hidden from me at first. I had to turn on the light - the light of inspiration or creation or whatever that incredible power is - to really identify what it was.

I guess it goes back to my belief that stories are more found than created; I'd found where Jack was, what he was thinking and doing, and even that a woman was talking to him, but I hadn't yet quite uncovered who she was with my careful applications of brushes, shovels and picks. After a little more careful digging, she revealed herself to me.

Neat, huh? Told you it was interesting.

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