Little People

After writing about four or five different explorations of characters and ideas in very loose form, which I called the Ash Fork Series, I selected one of them to develop. Actually, Linda said something about the one with the midgets being the one she liked, and I sort of liked it also, though I had some misgivings about it. One of my misgivings was that I don't actually know any little people, such as midgets or dwarves. So I was violating the first rule, which is, write what you know.

The Ash Fork Project was begun after I had written the blog for awhile, as an attempt to write a novel online, from nothing to completed work.

When I began this page, it was as a way to get myself to sit down and write as often as possible, because after the first few things I wrote, I realized that although I had been a very good writer when I was young, it had fallen into disuse. The writing was bloated with lard, misinformation, and unjustified self-importance. It came as a sobering wake up to find that the voice in my head which had once done the writing had been seduced into the employ of a corrupt politician. I had to rescue him and give him a new voice, which could reconcile different parts of myself into one identity.

"Miguel, this is Joe Don."

"Hola, Joe Don. Gusta usted tortillas de maiz?"

Miquel Angel Asturias: "A man can talk to himself, but he has a madman for a companion."

When I was young I liked Joe Don Baker because he seemed instinctual, and real.

For example he put an enemy out barefoot on the desert, and was going to leave him to find his way back by himself. As Joe Don is starting the drive off, they guy is screaming how he'll find him and kill him. Finally Joe Don says, "All right, I believe you." And he gets out and shoots him. For somebody raised on Roy Rogers that is a brand new script. He tried to do his best but he could not.

But my favorite line was in response to some guy who asks him what he's staring at, and he says, "It's the first time I've ever seen a tub of shit in a suit."

What does that have to do with little people? It doesn't, I just dropped it in because nobody's paying me and I can do that. It gives me feedback about what I was like when I was in my early twenties, and used to go to the drive-in with friends and watch action movies. The most popular theme was revenge. The little boy's father is standing on his shoulders, a rope around his neck, and eventually the child collapses and the father dies. But he remembers the killers and he hunts them down and kills them all.

This captured our attention much more effectively than just watching some people wander around aimlessly without guns. There is a very old rule in playwriting: "If things start to drag bring in a man with a gun. The audience won't know why he's there but they'll be glad he showed up."

I pulled down the Ash Fork series and started putting up an edited version of the first draft that was centered around a spiritual being who, like Frankenstein's monster, gets loose from his masters. The story is basically getting the sperm to the egg, with the participation of Indian Shadow a.k.a. A-bomb, and a collection of little people.

Ash Fork was the beginning of a project I set for myself as a kind of puzzle, of writing a novel online, which goes against the most obvious advice in writing: Don't show anybody your drafts. Only show something when it's finished.

It's really good advice. But I wondered if I really could write something in real time, on a website. I figured it would entail several drafts, each getting progressively more logical and detailed, until there was one which felt finished. So now I have chosen something to work with, I find that the next step is just cleaning it up a bit, and looking at what scenes connect together to from a basic structure. I have to learn the story well enough that I can tell it in terms of the major scenes. When I know it in my head I can begin to flesh it out and to work out lines of logic to make it flow from beginning to end. I think this is going to be fun.

Once I've learned the process I can turn to a novel more grounded in my own experience. The reason I'm doing it this way is that I reached a point where I had enough unfinished novels to fill three garbage bags. I know because I did fill them. If I wasn't willing to finish it, into the trash with it. I decided I wasn't going to commit myself to anything again and abandon it to the unfinished files.

So now I am finishing the reposting of one of the Ash Forks, which I have renamed Indian Shadow. It stays pretty close to the first draft, but the rewriting is a way for me to get more familiar with the story, so that I can get it in my head. I don't know what it will look like when it's finished, but I know that in general, re-writing is really different from first drafts.

The first drafts are coming right out of my imagination, and the creative energy is exhilarating, but not grounded. It's like dreams coming out, straight from the unconscious. A man needs a muse. The first step is creating some kind of frame on which a story can hang. The next step, I think, is to ground the story by getting it connected to the logical consistency of time and place. If there is a location where action occurs, now I need to know where it is and what it looks like. If there is a character in play I need to see him or her in more detail.

The purpose of the entire project, of course, is to provide anyone who is trying to learn to write a way of looking at a process, or for someone not interested in the process, an online finished novel.

This web site in the near future will be an archive within a new site, which will coincide with the beginning of the third draft of the story.

Posted: Thu - August 21, 2008 at 05:57 PM