Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is It Ok to Cheat on Your Manuscript?

After years of stops and starts, I've gotten back into a fairly consistent pattern of writing. The Antarctica novel is progressing slowly but surely; I should top 48,000 words during my next session. And I'm getting to know both my characters and their worlds better each time I write.

But I'd kinda forgotten about the other thing that happens when I write regularly. Strangers come between us. Other characters, some sexy, some surly, some childish, some selfish, slip into my mind when it's otherwise fairly blank. Story ideas emerge. Other novels or short stories or songs that I should write knock on my synapses, doing all they can to get my attention — to distract me from the work in progress.

Some mornings, I indulge such fantasies. What's wrong with a little literary flirtation, after all. It's not like anything will really get in the way of my manuscript. After all, I've been with it for so long, I must see it through to its logical conclusion.

I know I'm not the first writer to have had wildly attractive characters pop into mind and promise excitement beyond anything I've written so far. "Write about me," said the character on the New York subway train. "I'm younger than your current character. She's much stuffier than I am." I will admit, there are a couple paragraphs that would shock my current protagonist. No, not shock; she's a scientist. She'd understand, but she'd also know how to get back at me.

Still, when I get on my commuter train each night — sometimes with a beer — I know who I'll go home with.

Have you ever cheated on your characters? Was it a long-term affair or were you able to keep everything on the up and up?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interviews Galore

As someone who writes for a living — both as a journalist covering a distinct beat and as a freelancer of various stripes — I often find myself conducting interviews. Sometimes I just get into journalist mode and put any unsuspecting rube who crosses my path or sits on the barstool beside me under an impromptu game of 20 questions.

But lately, since I kinda call a lot of the shots for my full-time gig, I don't get to do many interviews. Perhaps that seems counterintuitive, but I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I don't have a lot of time to conduct the types of thorough interviews I enjoy doing.

Tomorrow, however, that will not be the case. I'm interviewing a leader of a major nonprofit arts organization (which I won't divulge here; I try not to mix work with pleasure too much, the same way some children don't let the brocolli touch the chicken.) And later I'll be interviewing someone for my college's alumni publication. Beyond that, I hope to conduct another interview with the researcher who works in Antarctica to get some more details about life there for my novel.

Which brings me to my point. Do you as writers of fiction feel you know how to conduct interviews? Do you wish you were a journalist? Or were you like me when I graduated from college aspiring to be a Writer (emphasis and capital letter added for pomposity).

Well, from my perspective it's good to conduct interviews to keep those intellectual muscles in shape. Because readers ask questions. They may just let them linger in their brain, but don't you love it when you're thinking about these characters and then all of a sudden a scene emerges that basically addresses exactly what you were thinking about? A character's love life? Why does he do certain things day in day out? What does she see in that new guy in accounting?

If you don't already, give it a try: conduct interviews. Chat with your kids. If they're teens, grill them about what's going on with their lives and those of their friends. You may not like the answers, but if you can use it in your fiction, perhaps it's useful on multiple levels.