nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (my oh my what a)
Having re-attempted silent improv last week and failed miserably at the whole "not talking" and "emoting in every way except moving your mouth" thing, I have a renewed appreciation for silent film and other wordless forms of moving entertainment. These stills pretty much speak for themselves, in terms of I want to see that and I want to tell that story. It's like the inverse of "use your words."
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (little boxes)
First off, I have to thank all of you who gave me a boost and held my hand when I was flipping out. I feel a lot better about plowing ahead and finishing the draft, though I am beating myself up for not finding the time to actually sit down and do it. There's a fella at work who told me the other day that he does an hour of writing at a cafe before he comes in at 8:30. I am in awe. (I know this wouldn't work for me for several reasons, the first and foremost being that I am not a morning person in any way. My best work happens curled up on my couch alone in my apartment late at night, though I do envy people who can produce in public spaces.)

Improv keeps teaching me great things about writing. I always have to work hard to turn off my writer brain when I do improv, where plotting will ruin a scene or a whole show in two seconds flat. The idea is to take a strong point of view and see where that takes you and your scene partner(s). A strong point of view can be as simple as "I need to hold your hand" or "I am always polite" or "I am a soldier," and it'll work as long as you let emotion guide you.

Donald Maass is talking about emotion at Writer Unboxed, and he makes all the same points my new improv teacher made at my first Level 4B class last night. The emotions that cause conflict are inherently boring onstage: no one wants to watch scenes of people fighting, or people being miserable, or people giving up, especially when the audience came for comedy, and especially when a scene should be no longer than three minutes.

This is obviously not the case for drama. But Maass does have a point when he talks about a reader or a viewer sticking around to see triumph. And here's where I fret sometimes (can you sense a theme here?): I can plot like nobody's business. Plot is easy for me. Writing with emotion, on the other hand -- I have to wonder if it's because I worry about exposing myself. I wrote a play in college once, and was horrified to realize that I had laid out some very personal, very confusing issues in the text, for everyone to see. It was totally unintentional, and it scared me a lot. People loved the play for the most part, though. There was a lot of unfiltered, unself-conscious emotion in it, and while technically it may not have been amazing, there was something that made people respond. (It made my Shakespeare TA cry, actually. I was proud of that. Not least because I had a monstrous crush on him, but as a writer too!)

Anyway, the point is I'd like to challenge myself this year to be less guarded with emotion in my writing. I think of most of what I write as removed and controlled and plot-driven. I feel like both my writing and my improv will improve if I can push myself there more.
Music:: "Rehab," Amy Winehouse
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (there was another one; something else)
I'm so excited about these links I can barely contain myself. One thing about post-apocalyptic Americana is that it's a vernacular genre: it's deeply rooted in individual, local experiences and worldviews. It may incorporate mass phenomena or communications, but often it's very singular. (My big essay laying the whole thing out has stalled out in favor of NaNo, but I still have all the notes, and I know I'll want a change of pace once I wrap up the first draft of The Falling Woman. Expect a lot more of this at the end of this year and the beginning of the next.)

Vernacular photography is about personal snapshots. A lot of it is weird or strange or even a little distant, but I can never shake that oh feeling when you look at faces fifty, sixty, seventy years gone and just recognize who you see. Accidental Mysteries was the first place I encountered the phrase "vernacular photography," right around the time I was first introduced to the concept of outsider art. Now I've found another site to pore over: Square America, which is full of oddball vintage photographs. I was introduced to the site because of the Amelie-like In the Booth section. If you ever need to meet characters for a story, this is it. Your work is almost done for you, once you look them in the face.

Back in the writing part of my divided attentions, this is a great post about "guerilla writing," or finding the time to do work when you're on the go 28/7. I admire anyone who can use those 15 minutes of waiting around time so efficiently; I'm usually staring off into space daydreaming, which is useful and necessary, but not when I'm at my desk.

Speaking of which, on the train this morning I found myself wondering how improv is going to change how I do NaNo this year. One of the key elements to improv is making a strong, clear choice at the beginning and giving it legitimacy by committing to it utterly. Quick decisions and listening are what drive your storytelling. If I wind up agonizing less because of comedy theater, I will share my notes. For now, I keep running over different starting points and wondering which one will make for the strongest opening. November is almost on top of us, and I've been waiting for it so long I have no idea why I'm still surprised.
Music:: "People Get Ready," Eva Cassidy
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (August and nothing after)
I lied about not being able to go on. I took a lesson from my improv: I was overthinking it.

This is all true.

* * *

Here's what I always remember about Dow Lake: the mud. The sludge by the reeds, away from the beach where we weren't allowed to go, because it was all goose droppings. There were always flocks of Canada geese at Dow Lake, and you were always aware of them, and interested and curious, and wary. Dow Lake was one of the only beaches in my life for a very long time. We tended toward cold, rocky beaches on our vacations: Seattle, Chatauqua, Kelly's Island. Read more... )
Music:: "The Park," Feist
Mood:: 'calm' calm
nightbird: Mucha illustration, young peasant holding scythe and grain (downstate girl)
There were some challenges I was banging my head against in my improv class yesterday. I also came to appreciate just how wonderful my teacher is: she has this wonderful ability to praise you, diagnose you and help you see how to fix where you're erring and make it a great, positive thing.

"Esther," she said (paraphrasing), after I had just blanked out and done an initiation about Wiggly Bones Surgery, "I love your brain. It's wacky and weird and I love the stuff that comes from it. You'll notice, though, that all your information is plot-driven. That's why you're having trouble moving forward with the scene. If you focus on character details and personal connections and relationships, everything will just happen organically."

I'm having a lot of fun coming up with settings and societies and Big Themes, but for all that, I have always felt a little shaky on my characters at this stage. I keep trying to ask myself questions: What makes Gruoch scared? Why is Ellie so resilient? Does the Nightjar still want the same things? How does Imber feel about her mother being a pirate and never home? (Yes, the last bit is true. I'm still trying to work on how to make it relevent to the story, but it's true and there's nothing I can or want to do about it.)

Get your characters together and the plot will come organically. That's the goal for this stage. (Also, to get more class time with my improv teacher, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite people ever. She was right: in the second half of class, I sat down, took my time, found a character and had a screamingly good time. The improv was better for all of it.)
Music:: "Gun Street Girl," Tom Waits



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