Monday, June 7, 2010

The Shape of Things

Last night I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I finally finished the first draft on a book that was giving me fits. Normally I love first drafts. Charging forward, the feeling of accomplishment as the words fill up the pages, but this time was like pulling teeth. I got to thinking about why it was so much harder and I realized I was three-quarters through the first draft before I found the shape of the book.

The "shape" of the book is my woo-woo metaphyiscal way of describing the theme, the tone, the feel - all the dimensions that make up a story other than plot and characters. The intangibles. The things a college freshman would bullshit about in a term paper about my book. (Yeah, I write romance, so I know the term papers about my books are not terribly likely, but a girl can dream, right?)

More often than not, I know the shape before I get more than a few hundred words in, but there are some times when the shape eludes me and I feel like I'm flying blind. Not a fun feeling.

Those are the times when finding the shape of the book is like looking at a block of solid marble and trying to see a sculpture in it. Without a guiding vision, I just start hacking away at the marble with the blind hope that there must be a pretty shape in there somewhere, fingers crossed that I don't chisel off any important pieces.

It took a long time this time. I was really deep into the book and starting to worry that it was never going to take shape. Then two days ago, like magic, I saw it. Voila. There it was. And it was pretty. Maybe not as polished and smooth as it needed to be, but the rough outline was there. I had a shape! I could fine tune it in revisions. From there the ending of the book practically wrote itself.

I don't know if it's any good yet. Probably won't for a while. But today what matters is that I made it through that first draft and there is actually a shape in the middle of that mess.

I don't know why it's so much easier when I can "see" the intangibles in my head before I start. If you're a writer, do your books have a shape? Is it a conscious thing for you like it (usually) is with me or something that just sort of happens along the way?

As a reader, are you aware of the symbols and themes that run through a book? Do they matter to you? Enhance the experience? Or is it just a piece of a whole book that you've never broken down to analyze? (I analyze everything. It's a sickness.)

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