Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finding the Beat

In Stephen King’s memoir, King used a toolbox metaphor to explain the basics of writing. The first level of the toolbox, vocabulary and grammar, two things many writers I know fumble over. I know I am guilty of not trusting my gut when it comes to word choice, so many teachers have told me not to repeat the same word in sequential sentences it raises a red flag when ever I do. But Steinbeck did it, are they calling him out? I think not.

The next layer of the toolbox is the equally important paragraph. As King explains, you can learn a great deal from a text just by looking at the length and number of paragraphs on a page. Pages of short quick paragraphs could denote action sequences or dialogue between characters, where long paragraphs set up a scene. Paragraphs can serve as stage directions, they tell you where the story pauses for breath. Once you achieve the basics of vocabulary and grammar, the next step is to establish the rhythm of your story. This is something I personally struggle with because you are trained to obey the laws of grammar and acceptable structure all through school, but sometimes your story wants you to break a few rules. Proper writing is not always fiction. Fiction is more flexible, more lenient.

Fragments are allowed. Expected, even.

King compared a writer’s story to Frankenstein’s monster, once you have breathed that spark of life into it, it takes on a will of its own. I might sit down with a set idea in my head, but once I’ve dropped into the rhythm of a piece, all bets are off. The story changes, shrugs off dead skin. It is a living breathing thing, the clack of the keys become a heartbeat, at times slow, taking a breath while I see what my characters will do next. Or fast, my fingers racing to keep up with the words pouring forth, slamming down the keys in the excitement of the moment. The action stops, my protagonist rests, the rhythm changes.

It is all a matter of keeping my fingers on the pulse.

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