Saturday, June 30, 2018

Letters from Marilyn - Update 26

Two things have been on my mind this past week: time and causality.

Time, in the purest sense of the word, is defined as the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.

In connection, causality is defined as the relation of cause and effect. 

When I was in college, my writing professors would have us participate in various freewriting techniques. The one I remember the most is called loop writing, in which the writer engages in a topic of choice for a timed interval. When the timed interval is up, the writer goes back to underline three or four key words, or even phrases, in their writing. One underlined segment is selected, and it becomes the starting point of the next timed interval. In essence, the writer is writing in a loop, a continual chain of ideas that are the result of the previous.

If we could describe the way our minds work, 90% of the time I would state that mine is in a loop. One idea is a result of another, and so on and so forth.

This brings me back to my opening remarks about time and causality. Every writer needs a little help every once and a while, and for me, that help comes in the form of my various books on the topic of writing. I pulled The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing from my shelf a few days ago, skimming the chapters for assistance on the structure of my beginning chapters.

The author, Alice LaPlante, has a chapter focused on the definition of plot. I flipped right through the first few pages, my mind scoffing at the need to review a chapter about plotline. I am a teacher of writing, I thought. Why, as someone who has a degree in English and communications, would I need to review a chapter on plot? 

Ego can be a writer's biggest enemy. As I scornfully continued flipping, a heading caught my eye: "A Word about Causality." What are the odds? I pondered. I have been thinking about that word all week! Curious, I paused, and this passage jumped out at me:
"Why did I leave out the word causality when formulating our definition of plot? It seems as though that would be a prime determinant of the plot points chosen. And it is, it is - but I'd rather imply it (after all, we do say that the series of events brings about the desired effect) than build it more directly into the definition. [. . .] To put too much stress on the fact that every plot point must have its own particular consequence is to undermine the subtlety of many stories and novels."
Voila! And that, dear readers, is how I pinpointed why I have been struggling with my beginning chapters: I have been overthinking it, seeing the beginning as the start of the plot in which every detail, every interval of time, needs to have an underlying reason. It was a very humbling moment in my process. Thank you, Alice LaPlante, for your wise words on the subtlety of story and how it impacts "complexly motivated behaviors."

For all my fellow writers reading this, I am sure you are nodding your heads sympathetically in understanding, having been in a similar predicament yourselves. For my non-writer readers, here's what this means in a nutshell: time and causality are fluid writing components, meant to guide the process but not necessarily set events in stone. 

The purpose of these updates - if you think back to the first one years ago! - has been to keep you informed on Letters from Marilyn. Phase 1 was to share excerpts from M's letters while I took notes and laid the groundwork. We are now in phase 2: updates on the writing process and excerpts of chapter drafts. 

I am sharing a draft of the beginning with you (finally, I know!). I chose the beginning because I've written a lot about it and my process. It's just a teaser, only five pages - and will only be online for a short time. A note about structure: I am writing this novel in four parts, one part for each year Marilyn was enrolled at Augsburg, along with a prologue and epilogue. I did make the decision to switch to third-person point of view, mainly to incorporate other characters' thoughts. I feel that third-person POV deepens reader perception of Marilyn and the people in her life.

Here is the link. Enjoy. Love always, dear readers.

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