I don’t often write about writing, but when an interesting detail smacks me between the eyes, I have to write it down. Last time, it was Head Elsewhere, my regular disconnect with the real world. This time it’s almost the inverse, achieving the necessary connection with my unreal world.
I’ve been writing a novel on Wattpad (Digital Tart), fixing it chapter by chapter, each instalment getting the eyeball from my partner before it goes online. So, comments come back, this word isn’t right, didn’t follow what was happening here, please spellcheck the ******* thing. The usual.
I then go through to see what needs fixing, and what doesn’t. One particular passage didn’t really work for either of us, but I patched it up, and all was well. Or not. Yes, it was better, but no, it wasn’t right, and I really couldn’t see why not. It was sufficiently wrong that as I cleaned out the goose hut tonight, my head did a long excursion elsewhere, watching the offending scene play over and over.
By the time the floor was washed and swept, the geese fed, and everything settled down for the night, I knew what was wrong and how to fix it. In fact, if it weren’t for the chickens, I would be writing those fixes now. However, once the geese were done, it was time to put the chickens to bed, so my head went to another elsewhere.
An elsewhere of an elsewhere – cleaning out the chickens whilst thinking about thinking about the writing whilst cleaning the geese... you get the picture? I went back over the goose-cleaning operation, a bit of internal theatre, a personal flashback re-watching myself cleaning the geese whilst being head-elsewhere over the troublesome scene. Once I started looking closely – and the rewind/slo-mo playback of myself in my own head is superb – I saw the real problem. Not the fix for the scene, but why I didn’t get it right the first time, or the second. Until I cleaned out the geese, I really wasn’t there yet.
Welcome to my head. Feel free to look around a while. Just don’t touch anything.
The scene itself was simple enough – two characters who aren’t sure of each other, perhaps don’t like each other, and are about to step into a situation where trust, or the lack of it, is troublesome. I had the scene, the actions, the dialogue... but it wasn’t right, because I wasn’t there. I was standing back, doing a bit of arm waving, you stand there, you go there, now say this, do that... cut... lovely work people...
Except it wasn’t. Until I did the geese and took the time to be really there. To stop the action for a moment and ask the sarky character so what’s your problem anyway? And then the other one – why is this winding you up? And then nudge the mannequins aside and step into their shoes (or armoured boots) and really be there, take a look around, see what my characters were seeing, feel the hob-nails on the concrete.
That sarcasm isn’t just a moment of snarkiness, it’s a childhood of dodging the jackboots, of caring for family in a tight corner, protecting an innocent victim of those jackboots. And from the jackboot side, that sarcasm is a breath away from the other character being the ring-leader of a round of mob violence, it’s a warning to look up to check for incoming bricks, the moment to lock shoulders with the other jackboots... yada, yada, yada. The details don’t really matter, only the being there is important.
The fix, when I get a chance to write it, is probably a sentence or two. Maybe less if I can figure out how to be clever about it, but that’s not the point. Until I was there, it didn’t work, didn’t happen, failed to come together. Until I’m there, in the middle of everything, feeling it, being it, no matter how unreal it might be, the writing doesn’t work.
I’ve never been at the front of a riot, never been front and centre behind the riot shields, but if I can’t let my head go elsewhere (perhaps pick up few useful recollections from the shelves), and be there, I make a mess of the writing. What I have done is stood in the front rank as a pikeman in a civil war battle re-enactment, with the Roundhead army marching down on us from behind a hill. It’s only a bit of weekend fun. No-one is going to get hurt beyond the ability of the St John’s Ambulance folks to patch up. (OK, sometimes there’s a trip to A&E, or the burns unit, or the urgent need for an orthopaedic surgeon... but that’s rare.) It’s just a bit of fun... but the drums, the noise, the marching, the first sight of their pikes appearing over the crest of the hill, my there’s a **** of a lot of them... feel those butterflies anyway.
I can feel that brick in my hand, now. Just let me get a proper grip on the riot shield... hey, mate, am I holding this right? Never done this before, never want to do this for real, so just let me be a moment to soak it in, find some words to go with it.
I’m back now. Until the next chapter. Or tomorrow evening when the geese need cleaning out again. Shit happens, my head goes elsewhere, and just maybe, I’m there again.