It’s a story about guilt, about a powerful man’s sense of entitlement and how his assumptions cause an innocent man to cross the line.
No, it’s a story about a man’s desperate need to succeed, his last chance, and the line he is willing cross in order to get what he wants.
Or, maybe, it’s a story about a man who has gone way over the edge, and a boy who gets caught up in the man’s delusions.
How about a guy who wakes up from a six-week black-out and is coaxed into a crime plot by a bunch of grifters who convince him he’s someone he’s not?
My God, I haven’t been at the beginning for at least five years. That’s approximately when I started writing BOULEVARD. And, though I’ve just completed BEAT, my second novel, it wasn’t exactly like starting from the beginning, since it was a sequel.
But now I face a standalone. I’m marveling at the realization that…anything is possible. Sky’s the limit. Providing, as my agent is quick to remind me, I stay in the genre in which I’ve been published. Which is fine, I could write dark crime thrillers for the next thirty years.
And you know what? Maybe I can mix things up a bit, futz around with style. I wrote those first two books in third person close, which is a bitch of a POV. It’s like almost first person, but not. It’s enough like first person to keep you from knowing what the other characters are thinking. I like it, but I’m sick of it, you know what I mean? It would be nice to explore different character points of view for a change. It would be nice to really know what that other character thinks, instead of only knowing what my protagonist thinks that other character thinks. Never knowing for sure until that character says, “Yes, I was exactly thinking what you thought I was thinking when you thought that in third…person…close.” Aaaargh!
So, maybe omniscient third. And yet I want something a little edgy, and so I’m thinking of writing in present tense. Timothy Hallinan writes in present tense and he brings an immediacy to the story that makes it feel like you’re watching a movie. Which is apropos, since screenplays are also written in present tense. And I’m thinking of setting my standalone against the backdrop of Hollywood, so the present tense would also play up the blurred line between reality and illusion, which is a theme I want to explore.
Oh, God, it can be anything. I could write in omniscient third, present tense, with alternating chapters in first person for each character.
I almost don’t want to settle on a story, because once my mind is set the structure must be built, like a house. Whereas now I’m letting EVERYTHING in. I’m sponging the world around me. It’s the most exciting part of the process, yet the most frightening as well.
There’s been a magical serendipity around me lately, with the Murderati authors blogging about first ideas and how to start that next book. JT’s blog that began with the photograph of the girl really made me think about process. And Alexandra’s last blog hit home in a big way. I printed it out and highlighted every other sentence. Then I wrote a list of all the films and books I love, all the books or scripts I wish I had written. And then I wrote out the major themes, just as Professor Sokoloff instructed.
I discovered that I want to write something that combines the elements of Heart of Darkness, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Chinatown and The Player. Can I just write that on a piece of paper and call it my book proposal?
Who wouldn’t want to read that book? Forget about the fact that no writer can weave all those themes together in a believable thriller. Let’s sell the proposal first and worry about the rest later.
Slowly, comfortably, a story is emerging. A scene here, a bit of dialogue there. I worry if the inciting incident is too over the top. I worry that I won’t be able to capture the nuances of power and manipulation that exist in Hollywood, that I’ll make it a satire instead of a documentary. These are things that keep me from putting pen to paper. I’ll get over them, once I fully commit to the story. Once I decide that the story I want to tell is the story I’d want to read.
One thing I’ve been doing is re-reading books that have a really strong voice. Like Chuck Palahnuik’s “Fight Club” and Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” and “Pop 1280.” Those books are tight as hell and unique in tone and style.
I find it strange that, although I came from the film industry, I have a very hard time visualizing my characters and settings. I’m reluctant to focus on photographs, the way JT does, even though I know it will probably help in the long run. I seem to want my characters to remain physically elusive, and I suspect this is a holdover from writing screenplays, where the writer is encouraged to keep his character descriptions slight. You don’t want to describe your protagonist as Mel Gibson when the producer who buys the script has a relationship with Matt Damon.
I’m holding myself back. Because, when I commit, I don’t want anything to get in the way. And right now I’m focusing on getting through the copyedit of BEAT. But what I really want to do is drop everything and bury myself in words and images and stories and ideas. And dreams. I want to disappear for a few weeks and dive into the recesses of my mind. I used to do this sort of thing, back when I was eighteen, nineteen years old. I’d catch a bus and disappear into the countryside with a couple Steinbeck novels and a notepad, and I’d be gone for days. Gone. I’m desperate to do that now, but life is in the way. I envy Alexandra’s freedom to wallow in her dreams, to let the collective unconscious guide her every day.
Last Sunday I spent the day at Venice Beach. It was hard to pull myself away from the family, but I felt it was necessary. Watching the insane circus of humanity was a jump-start for my creative process. I wrote everything I saw, just as an exercise. It got the juices going. Quietly observing human nature is my favorite way to find my voice, my story. It’s like meditation for me. I found it hard not to buy a cheap sleeping bag and pitch camp in the sand with all the other vagabonds.
Oh, my mind’s a mess. I’m all over the place. But maybe that’s my process. Maybe I’m exactly where I need to be. As long as I’m not on a deadline, I can afford to be a flibbertigibbet.