May 20, 2005

Nowhere Land

I'm just a bloggin' maniac today. If you go check aquafortis or ReadingYA you'll see what I mean. It's procrastination at its finest.

Anyway, what I'm posting here is a totally random piece of musing that I apparently wrote while I was in the early stages of my Olwen novel, which was my first YA novel. Yet I have no recollection of writing it, nor can I fathom what purpose I might have had in mind. But it still contains some semi-interesting thoughts on craft. I thought this might be an appropriate forum for the thing, since I can't figure out what else I might have intended to do with it. So here it is:

To be perfectly honest, from the moment I started my novel I've felt a bit like the Beatles' Nowhere Man, "making all my Nowhere Plans for Nobody." After all, none of my characters exist except in my head. I, of all people, have to decide, even dictate, what they do, what they want, and why. I must do these things utilizing only my brain, words on paper, and occasionally a thesaurus. And most baffling of all, I've been faced with the Herculean task of CREATING AN ENTIRE VILLAGE. The things writers are asked to do, I swear.

Figuring out what my characters want and why they do what they do may seem like the most basic task of a writer, but I had to set the bar really high by choosing to write about teenage main characters, for a teenage audience. Who the heck knows what teenagers want, or why they do what they do? I sure don't, and I definitely didn’t when I was a teenager, that's for sure. Life has not turned me into the wise panopticon that adulthood seemed to promise back then.

And this nonsense referred to as "setting"—don't even get me started. Having chosen to set my young adult novel in a fictional town, I also had to create fictional residents, shops, pubs, dry cleaners, surly recluses, and so on. I nearly forgot to put a school in there, which I'm sure the fictional teenagers in my novel would not have minded. I've devoted pages in my notebook to this "village-of-the-mind," including a hand-drawn map full of arbitrarily placed streets and houses outlined in true elementary-school, triangle-atop-square fashion.

Then there was the whole ordeal of coming up with a NAME for the darn place. I couldn't just call it the Village O' Closed-Minded World-War-II Evacuee-Housing Unnecessarily Mean Folks; though accurate, that would be mighty unwieldy. In addition, the name had to be something simple enough to translate well into Welsh, as the village is located in Wales. Eventually I settled on Quiet Valley, which sounds like a very dull place to live, but luckily, names can be deceiving. I guess this means you shouldn't hire me to name any real-life towns, lest you end up with something like Boring-Suburb-in-the-Smog.

Many of these writerly tasks are small steps that add up to a coherent whole: an integrated and (one hopes) believable world in which the reader can solidly place herself along with the characters. I wasn't sure I was up to the undertaking--me, a young upstart, a spring chicken of a writer, still in graduate school, someone who can still clearly remember large parts of my own teenage years (at least, the parts that I haven't exerted major efforts to block out). Writing, after all, is WORK, and there are many tasks to be faced in the creative process. At the beginning, they seemed endless and insurmountable. In the end, I've created much more than I ever thought possible.

1 comment:

TadMack said...

Gosh, AF, you're impressive even in a writer's semi-daze. The idea of building this entire world that's only in your head is what keeps so many of us from actually getting out from behind our keyboard and getting brave about putting our stuff out there. It IS all in our heads. An acceptable form of schizophrenia, at last... But seriously, I do think that you have, especially with Olwen, in the end come up with something good. The village of Repressed WWII People Who Are Basically Mean came across pretty darned well. Quiet Valley indeed!