Saturday, June 09, 2007

Patching the Holes in a Leaky Brain

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever tried to put air in the tires of an old bicycle that hasn’t been used for a long time? Most often they won’t hold air. It leaks out in many places. The same thing happens when you take an old brain and try to input new information into categories for later retrieval.

In the past, I suggested you try working on more than one project at a time. The idea was to keep writing while you work through a story problem, and return to the main project when the problem is cleared up. The method worked, because it allowed me the luxury of being able to choose which project to work on that day. The system even spilled over into research.

Lately however, the futility of my strategy hit me over the head and caused me to rethink.

I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately, and I noticed it showed up in my writing. While editing a contemporary novel, I caught myself adding mystery to the exposition. This was a mistake because although I wrote suspense into it, this novel is not supposed to be a mystery.

In like manner, after reading High Stakes by Jennie Hansen and many other western novels, I found myself adding nineteenth century wisdom, and western dialog to a novel set in present day New York City.

One of my projects is set in mid-nineteenth century-California. While working on it, I found myself foreshadowing events that would give the reader a clue to solving a mystery that I never intended to write into the book.

Like the bicycle tire, my brain is leaking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, some stories could use a shakeup to make them better. But it can also confuse a reader and make me scrap 40,000 words in order to re-write the project I have already drafted to conclusion. Seems counterproductive to me.

Another symptom of brain leakage, was when I forgot the last name of my protagonist and started calling him by the name of a character in another book. The other day I had to skim back over 200 pages to find out whether or not I had established a certain fact vital to the story. Have you ever forgotten if she had green or blue eyes? With brain leakage this happens frequently.

I’ve decided to admit my defeat. I’ll still be working on more than one project at a time, but I’ll divide my projects by genre and stick to it. I think I’m also going to be selective about what I read during the time I’m working on a certain project, and I need to update my fact sheets, character profiles, and timeline outlines.

I’ll talk about those next week and keep you abreast of how my plan is working. In the meantime, just scratch a rough spot near the hole and let the rubber cement set a little before sticking the patch over the leak . . . (If only brains were like bicycle tires).

3 comments:

Marsha Ward said...

HAHA! Keith, this is great!

I have a bulletin board over my computer monitor. On it is pinned a note that says, "Robert is driving MULES! George and Luke are driving HORSES." That way I keep my teams straight. Somewhere else I have a 'style note' that says, "the dog is brown."

Since I've changed some characters' names lately, I should add another note about that topic. Thanks goodness for 'find and replace'!

Heather B. Moore said...

This is so true. What I'm reading affects what I write. Once at my critique group, my fellow members said, You have some great descriptions here (unusual for me). And it was because I was reading a book that was filled with description.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I definitely wish it was that easy to fix a leaky brain! Mine's been leaking for months.

Heather's comment is really valid -- if you read things in the genre you're currently writing, it can be very helpful to create the tone you're looking for.