Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just Tell The Damn Story, Part 2

It's been a week since I saw Great Big Sea in concert. A fabulous show--as always--with great music and funny banter between the bandmates. Fifteen years of touring and recording. Not necessarily an easy life, but one that has honed their skills. Musically, of course. It seems that every year Bob adds another instrument to his repetoire. And the songs have become more nuanced. But they also get better and better at connecting with an audience. They were good at the beginning, but now . . . you feel like you've known them forever.

Most of the songs they sing are like flash fiction. They tell a story in very few words. Many are the traditional songs of Newfoundland. Stories of fishermen, loggers, hard drinkers and hard workers. Their original songs are stories as well. Many are about love and loss. About the life of a touring musician. About drinking too much and playing too hard (these took on a different feel for me after one of the guys started writing about dealing with addiction in his blog). The shows I've seen have all included some intros that explain the story behind the song--kind of an abbreviated Behind the Music. This tour was no different. Here's Alan's story of how he came to write How Did We Get From Saying I Love You.

Confessional for sure. I haven't found video of Sean's intros to Hard Case or Long Lost Love, but they too prove to be very very personal. Now I would suspect that the first drafts of these songs bear little resemblance to what we heard last week. That they contained a lot more angst and anger. That they were raw. They most likely just told the damn story. Then they were reworked gradually into something a bit more generic. Throw in feedback from the bandmates and you've got a finished song. Still personal, still a bit raw in some cases, but something people everywhere can relate to.

Sound familiar?

The strange thing is that the story behind the story may be fiction as well. Doesn't matter really, I guess. Because there is still most likely a grain of truth somewhere in there. Some spark of what really set off the creative process.

So what about you? Do you like to know the story behind the story? Or do you prefer to experience books, poems, songs, whatever as standalone experiences?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NaNoWriMo Challenge

So, I was thinking of doing NaNoWriMo again this year. Maybe "win" it for a change by actually making the 50k word goal. And I had planned to do that by finishing Vesta and then, if I had word count left, I'd start something else. But I didn't have a something else to start.

That's where Evil Editor comes in. On his blog he is issuing a challenge to the minions. Go to a random number generator site. Set it to pick 5 numbers between 1 and 562. Take those numbers and find the Face-Lifts that go with them in EE's archives (the hardest part of the whole thing). Each will have 5 fake plots to go with the title and one real plot from a query letter. When you're done, you'll have 25 fake plots to choose from. You'll have to scan the query letter to see which is the real plot. Often, they are much worse than any of the fake ones. Pick one, make sure it's not listed on NaNo Prep 1 list and submit it in the comments section of that post. Then on November 1st, start a writin'.

Whaddya think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Tell The Damn Story, Part 1

Over on Ali's blog she has been talking about what she took away from seeing Neil Gaiman in person and from looking at the nuts and bolts of his writing in The Graveyard Book. And the "it doesn't have to be perfect" lesson is a great one. One I have had to remind myself of most of my life. There is a reason that so many half-finished projects--not just writing but quilting, embroidery, sketches, knitting, etc.--are strewn around my house.

My big lesson from the experience? Just tell the damn story! I've said this to other people in critiques. A couple of them in particular. And it's always been for writing around the story. For trying to be clever to the point of obscuring any real nugget that might move the plot forward. Now don't get me wrong. I've talked before about how much I love literary writing. The "pretty" of writing. But, as with people, pretty that has no real heart, soul or brain gets damn dull after a while. After a very short while, usually.

But it also applies to my own writing. Or lack thereof. Because I stall out when I feel I'm not writing it right. "Maybe this would be told better in 1st person--or maybe I should include a flashback. Wait! Flashbacks are bad, right? But sometimes they're okay. Or I should change the main character. Or the setting. Or or or or." And I don't do anything. But if I'd quit looking at the perfect and just told the damn story that's in my head, I wouldn't have those problems. I'd probably have other ones, but that's okay. Clean it up later, right?

When Mr. Gaiman uses "to be" verbs, I believe it's because that's the way people tell stories to each other. "Once upon a time, there was a little girl who . . ." "I was at the Neil Gaiman reading the other night and . . ." And he is a storyteller. And, yes, they can be overdone, but that's what revision is for. To take out the ones that don't work. I just think we need to be mindful of the ones that do and be brave enough to leave them in. Forget about that critique group in our heads, who may even be worse than the Heckler.

Now, I'm probably the biggest offender when it comes to marking up things like passive voice and adverbs and the like, including "to be" verbs. And as a part of a critique group, it may be my job to point out overuse. But I think we all need to be aware of when we're overdoing the critiques too.

So, Just Tell The Damn Story is my new mantra. When I'm stuck. When I'm confused. When I don't feel like working. Just Tell The Damn Story.