The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Youngest Writer

I can feel it: the excitement is growing.  For the last week,
I've boiled the story for the sequel to GREAT SKY WOMAN
down into terms so simple an eight-year-old could
understand it.  'Once upon a time...' the synopsis goes.
About twelve pages of densely braided story threads
wound together.

I started by looking at my female protagonist, because I
wanted to be absolutely certain that she got proper
attention.  In the first novel, the male character, Frog, got
slightly more focus than I wanted. These things happen.
So I'm compensating this time.  I'm playing with some
important themes, and one of them has to do with
male-female relations and matriarchal structures.  For
many years I've wanted to read a story about a
matriarchal structure that can defend itself against
a brutal patriarchal invader.  This will be the one.

There are elements that have to do with the origin of
human consciousness: this book is sort of Cognitive
Paleoanthropology, guided by speculations by
everyone from Julian Jaynes to  Noam Chomsky. 
The point is that in a story with so many complex,
and complicated elements, it would be easy to forget
the central focus: telling a good tale.

So I sketched it out on 3X5 cards, boiled those back
into a simple fairy-tale type story, put it into an outline
...and read those simplified pages over and over.  And
over.  And over.  Letting the youngest writer inside
me (talk about Chomsky's theory of multiple 'thinking
devices' in the human mind!) memorize the tale. 
Letting the youngest part of me that can understand
speech tell me if the tale is engrossing.

Allowing my subconscious to tell me if the shape,
direction, taste, and smell of the story holds water.
Is grounded. Has heat.  Yes, I know I'm mixing
metaphors terribly, but I'm trying to give you a sense
of something that goes on inside a storyteller that
can't quite be explained, but is nonetheless quite real.

At any rate, I woke up this morning knowing that the
story is sufficiently developed.  It is time to lay it out
in Final Draft, to create an (approximately) 400-page
script of the story.  In this process I'll feel my way
into the characters, and get a sense of whether or
not the pace is working.

Then...after the script is done, and flows, and works,
I'll turn it into a novel.  I've done things this way for
about six books now, and it works surprisingly well
for me.  Let's see what happens this time.

No comments: