Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: Citizen of Nowhere


Some people might have noticed I have not posted a WIP-Wednesday post in a while. Well, that's because my WIP, The Last Inkweaver, has not had anything new added since... November, I guess.

See, I'm having this problem, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in it.

For the first time in a good long while (probably ever in the history of my writing hobby) since I first started writing this story, I have consistently been able to write the scenes only as they are happening in my head, and there have been many long stretches (especially since I finished the simultaneous "tales" that go with it, and thus ran out of ways to "bide my time" while remaining engaged with the story) where I simply could not add to the story because every time I sat down to write, my mind remained blank and vacant. The writer had no words. (Terrifying!)

When it did happen, though, I was experiencing, hearing, feeling, thinking, seeing through the eyes of my main character. I could not get so in-depth in the mind of any other character. It was entirely first-person POV. (Another first: in most of my other stories I am able to segue back and forth between the perspectives of whichever character was the focus of the scene; in Inkweaver, I still have no idea what exactly is going through the mind of any of my other characters except the one) Practically the only difference between me and my main character/narrator is the fact that I know what hasn't been revealed yet, and how the story ends.

But we're both just as clueless as to what exactly will happen between this point and that one. And I haven't even gotten to the part where I explain what my problem is.

The problem is that, in experiencing this world so closely with my main character, I am unable to accurately and fully describe the setting and her surroundings. I mean, honestly, how often do you think of descriptors for the street where you live? How clearly could you describe the various houses in your neighborhood? How often do you carefully consider the exact directions of the streets in your town?

Yeah, me neither. Direction-finding has never been my strong suit. (For the longest time, I was convinced I would have to carry a GPS every time I went somewhere new; thank goodness I learned how to use printed-off directions... just don't bother me with that "east-west" stuff; "left" or "right" will do, that's about all I'm good for!) I never thought setting would be an issue for me; I've never had such trouble with it before.

Before now, my biggest problem was not describing my main POV character enough. (Because I always saw the action through the main character's eyes, and who even bothers thinking of how to describe what they look like?) Setting was the easy part. Sometimes, I could even think in terms of "filming locations": if the book were adapted into a movie, sometimes I would actually have real-world locations in mind, and build scenes around that.

Not so, here. I've tried everything... but just like the "dreams" I keep sending Shereya (the main character... geez, even her name is a place-holder!), the smallest details are clear and sharp, while the big, general, broad perspectives are foggy and dim.

I tried sitting down and imagining a character interview once. Here's an idea of how it went.

Me: Okay, so let's start with the house you live in. Big or small?
Shereya: Small, definitely. There isn't really a lot of room. You walk in and there's the kitchen on the right, with the fireplace and a few chairs on the left. Our sleeping pallets lay on the floor in the back corner. I can see right out the front door from my bed. There is a wall sticking out in the middle of the left side of the house, to separate the kitchen from my parents' room, and it's closed off by a curtain across the side closest to where I sleep, but other than that, it's a pretty open space.
Me: How about the town where you live?
Shereya: It's a pretty normal-looking town. We have a market square where goods are sold, a schoolhouse, and the Town Hall where the Council meets and plans out our laws.
Me: You'll have to do better than that. What are the roads like? 
Shereya: Roads? We have one big road that stretches right through the center of town, and most buildings are lined up along that. Ours is a very small town.
Me: But what kind of buildings? What do they look like?
Shereya: Oh, the usual sort.
Me: Not helping; what is usual?
Shereya: Just what you would expect in a small town.
Me: For the sake of the novel, pretend I have no idea.
Shereya: I don't know! Just average stuff! I never visit half the places anyway!
Me: Okay, we'll come back to that. So tell me about the people who live there.
Shereya: We're a mostly unimaginative bunch. Nobody likes to dress up much, because it feels too pretentious. 
Me: Any particular townspeople I can mention?
Shereya: My best friend Larryn. She's kind of the odd one in the bunch. Her father, Eidan, wasn't as strongly against the Wordspinners as the rest of the town was.
Me: Okay, got that; who else?
Shereya: Um, well nobody really comes to mind.
Me: Really? What's the baker like?
Shereya: She makes really good cinnamon buns. 
Me: No, I mean what does she look like? 
Shereya: Kind of plain, like the rest of the people.
Me: Are there a lot of old people in the village?
Shereya: There are a lot of all ages. People either move away and stay away, or they never leave and stay till they die.
Me: So.... there's a lot of people, but you don't know their names, the buildings all look about "average", the people are "plain"--
Shereya: And I don't really see why you're harping about that. I mean, the story really starts when I finally leave Mirrorvale, right?
Me: I suppose. So maybe we can talk about what the countryside looks like.
Shereya: Lots of hills and fields. The roads are dirt roads, and it takes a lot of walking to get anywhere. The Fforgan mountains are so big that they're always visible on the horizon, no matter where you go. 
Me: Okay, but what is the journey like? Any chance I can get maybe a few directions from Mirrorvale to Gramble?
Shereya: Are you kidding me? It's been so long since anyone I know has traveled, I'm not even sure sometimes that we are headed toward Gramble. We just head southwest, that's all. Anything beyond that is just "forward."
Me: So there's just one big long road that leads straight from Mirrorvale to Gramble?
Shereya: Sure seems that way sometimes. 
Me: But how is that realistic?
Shereya: Beats me; that's about the best I can come up with.
Me: But everything else about your adventures seems so clear and vivid! Why can't you do a better job of describing your surroundings?
Shereya: Um, hello, a little busy questing, here! I can tell you the things I see when I'm looking around, but most of the time I'm so distracted by what's going on in my head--for which I have you to thank, by the way--that I'm not really focused on the landscape.

And so that's what I'm stuck with; readers have thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the tiny opportunities I have taken to describe the parts of their surroundings that my characters are interacting with...
But, for all I've done in the way of setting, they might as well be floating in a bubble of existence over a plane of nothingness. More than that, the interactions and whatnot are already balanced so carefully that I cannot for the life of me figure out how to go back and "plug in" any part of the surrounding area in any greater detail than the meager references I have, short of rewriting the whole thing! ("Total overhauls" are the bane of my creative flow... please don't ever make me do that...)

What can I do? How would you take care of this setting snafu? This backdrop boondoggle?

(If it helps, please head over to "The Shelf" page and check out where I've linked all the excerpts from The Last Inkweaver on my blog. If there's an excerpt where you can come up with a way of adding more scenery, please comment and let me know!)

Meanwhile, I'll be waiting for the next part of the story to show up... I'll let you all know when it does!