Thursday, April 08, 2010

Fingers For Rent

I've been plowing my literary field this spring. My office is a mess. I've written scenes for my next novel; they're splayed across a long, skinny table as I work relentlessly on this story. I'm concentrating on my research and pulling it in as needed. In a few weeks I'm visiting a wolf sanctuary. If my suspicions are correct, wolves are not what they have been portrayed. A critical piece of the narrative, the wolves represent the strange and the misunderstood. That which needs protected. Not destroyed.

As I roll deeper into the story, I'm finding--once again--my characters have voices of their own, totally separate and apart from me. It's a bizarre metamorphosis. I look down and suddenly my fingers are those of a thirteen-year-old girl, fair and fragile. Within minutes, they turn old and masculine. They're covered with tobacco that clings to my arms like pine resin. They belong to a black man who types as fast as the wind. He's got a few things to say. Because it's 1960, and the times, they are a changing.

A scene change and my hands belong to another character. They're slow and angry, and hot to the touch. Dangerous. They belong to a man, this time he's white and wrinkled. The fingers pound the keys and occasionally they ball into a fist. But just like that, they fade into another set of hands and suddenly I'm needing to get up and find my own fingers again. I need coffee. A break. It's not easy allowing these characters to flow through you and come out your fingers. It's not easy.

I have to laugh. I think I've read and studied every good book on writing from here to eternity in the past twenty years. But nobody can teach you how to tell a great story. Don Maass has come about as close to anybody I've heard, but in the end ... I've learned it's almost a spiritual thing. My explanation is that we have to become somebody else.

We have to look out the eyes of the man/woman/boy/girl/animal we're writing. A good storyteller can write it down and make it believable. But a great storyteller can become his or her character and make it real. I've learned that, I can only hope that in the end, that is my accomplishment.

One does not write to fulfill a fantasy. Or to become rich. A real writer writes because if they don't, they go mad and become a conglomerate of all of the characters stored inside them. Or worse, the writer shrivels up and fades away. Take away a writer's pencil or keyboard, and you strip the soul away. A writer is many people, patiently waiting for their turn to tell their story.

That's it. It's how God made me. I can't help it. I plow my literary field and life goes on. Until one day when it stops. Hopefully, by then, every character inside of me will have had their chance to use my fingers.

Blessings to you and yours.

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