Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Re-writing: My Characters Don't Make Sense

As an actor, you're given a script and a character and told to go from there. You have to figure out why that character does what they do, and then you have to commit to that and sell it to an audience who will (hopefully) be engaged. And if they do not care about the character, they likely will not be engaged. This even goes for the school of thought that says audiences shouldn't be totally immersed and sympathetic -- but if they don't care about what they are seeing onstage, then why should they care enough to critique or think about what they are seeing?

So: you get a script and a character, someone who is not you, whose motives and actions may be totally incomprehensible. And you have to figure out why. 

Writing and revising are a bit like that. 

I'm currently rehauling That Novel I Wrote In High School* (yes, it is about as bad as it sounds) (and technically I wrote it in high school, finished it in college, and wrote the second book in college) and it's a lot like being given a script as an actor. I'm faced with the same sorts of questions, like...

Why do the characters do these things, apart from the fact that at the time I clearly wanted them to do it to advance plot?

Why does the plot move forward like it does? 

Do characters' actions make sense?

A lot of the time, I found that there was no reason for the plot to move as it did (apart from that I wanted it to happen). Characters did not have compelling reasons or motives to act as they did. Their actions did not make sense beyond getting from A to B. 

I thought for a long time that I was bad at plotting -- because all the above objections meant my plot made no sense. 

But then I realized: it's not that my plot doesn't make sense. My plot doesn't make sense because my characters don't make sense. 

I'm not bad at plot. I'm bad at character.

Luckily, I get to rewrite this "script." I can take the bones of the actions it contains and then write characters who would do those actions. And I can let those actions change as the characters develop. 

Giving the characters things and people to care about in order to inform their motives has been difficult. Letting go of some of the basic assumptions I've held about this story and these characters for years has been difficult. 

And -- if you'll permit me to ramble on about myself a bit more -- I'm glad I wrote that third book in college. I always heard that you should only work on one big project at a time. However, working on a different book helped me let go of this first project. It stopped being my "baby." Now that I'm not so attached, I can step back and rehaul it. 

Rewriting an old project has taught me a lot about writing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adventures in the ER

Things took an unexpected turn for the worse last Friday when a trip to the health clinic ended up with me in the emergency room.

For a little under a week, I had been feeling dizziness, weakness, nausea, blurred or randomly unfocusing vision, difficulty concentrating and putting words together, and a laundry list of other weird symptoms that added together to make "I feel like crap and I can't blame it on my usual spaciness." When I had what I thought was a fever on Friday, I decided enough was enough and went to the clinic at the local Wal-mart. That's my litmus test for sickness: have a fever, see a doctor. 

They listened to my symptoms, got very confused and concerned, took my vitals, and did some tests. While I had teeth-chattering chills, I didn't have a fever -- but my blood pressure was low enough to make them alarmed and my symptoms were bad enough that I didn't feel safe driving. They called me a taxi and sent me to the ER. 

This experience fucked up my entire weekend. I had to call out of work for the duration of the work excuse they wrote me (but still had to go in the day after that while still feeling horrible, because I need the money). I missed the deadline to apply for a TA position at my college. Luckily, they extended the deadline and I sent my application in (sans any kind of real work experience apart from a very earnest, hopefully not-too-desperate-sounding cover letter). I also missed the deadline to submit something I was working on as a freelancer. I've communicated the situation to the client, and hopefully I can finish it by Thursday. It wasn't going well to begin with, but since then, I've had even more difficulty concentrating. 

Also, whoever put the IV in to draw blood managed to BEND THE NEEDLE while it was in my arm. OUCH.

On the other hand, the experience was oddly positive in a couple of ways. This is one of the only times I've felt like I was taken seriously by a doctor. I'm someone who doesn't typically go to a doctor when sick -- partly because I've learned that all they will do is take my money, shrug at my symptoms, and manage to imply that I'm either pregnant and lying, on drugs and lying, or making the whole thing up and super-lying. They don't listen, they constantly interrupt, they make it clear I'm wasting their time, and they don't act like it's serious. The doctor's office is already a very unpleasant, invasive place where everyone acts like you're a fool. I avoid it whenever I can.

So normally, I just shrug and assume it's nothing serious. But for once, the clinic and ER doctors actually listened. I was even trying to downplay the concerns of the clinic doctor, and was forced to acknowledge their validity when she asked if I felt safe to drive and I had to admit I didn't. Under different circumstances, I guess I might have been worried or scared. But I was too out of it to care at all, and my main concern was the work I was going to miss and how everyone was going to hate me for calling out of an opening shift the next day. 

End verdict: they didn't know what it was, but diagnosed it as vertigo probably caused by complications from an ear infection. But they also advised me to push fluids in case it was dehydration, and sent me home with a prescription for anti-vertigo medicine. Getting me out of the chair was kind of funny, actually. I kept shivering, so people kept offering me warmed blankets. By the time it was time to leave, I needed the nurse's help to break free of my blanket burrito.

I don't know. Maybe this IS something to be worried about. As the ER nurse told me, I'm awfully young to be having these kinds of symptoms. In the past few days, I've also experienced the added joys of shortness of breath and tightness/pressure of the chest. 

I've avoided finding a doctor in this area because of my dislike of doctors, but I'm going to pursue that this week -- to follow up on the symptoms if nothing else.