Outlaw at the Lake House

Posted: December 20, 2010 in Updates from the Outlaw

Here I am, at a lake house with nothing to do but write, and what has happened? I have suddenly become an avid and intricate cook.

The other thing that has happened is I have been gripped by a story I did not intend to write while I was here. It’s an idea for a television series, a high quality, short season series that would belong on a channel like HBO. I didn’t intend to work on it because if I get to see this project to fruition, it won’t be soon.

Here’s the worst part. I have thought my way past the series time frame, when things are interesting, way down the road to the characters all settling down and having children. I am gripped by it. My thoughts keep straying away from the task at hand to this epilogue of something else I have no intention of writing right now.

Usually, when the imagination is forging new territory, that is the perfect time to bang out a first draft. But this isn’t the draft I want. This isn’t the draft anybody wants. I can’t imagine anything more dull than the junk I can’t stop thinking about.

It reminds me of playing Legos with my brother as a child. He would stage battles and build vehicles. I would build a house. Not a good house. Just a one brick high outline of a house. And I would enact Lego Man sagas of love, family, and death. I went through generations of Lego men. I wept over their little travails, that I was the author of. There were unending birth scenes, death bed scenes, and marriage proposals. I did this compulsively. There were variations of course. Sometimes the little Lego couples would get married on my brother’s bed. Sometimes they got married on the floor. The words changed. I thought they changed.

But as a writer, I now know that most of the times a child is born, it is a great moment to that child’s parents and family, but not the rest of the world. Just like I know that a story shouldn’t begin with the main character waking up. It seems like the beginning of something, but isn’t.

Because there is the one big question the writer has to answer with the story. So what? And this stuff I’m lingering on fails to answer that question.

I spent an hour planning how one family would make space for the Mother-in-Law to move in with them.

So why can’t I get past this?

Reason number 1: it is a sophisticated procrastination technique.

I can believe this because I sometimes feel like my own subconscious is the greatest enemy of my writing. And because I am being more compulsive than normal about it. And because I often feel the need to lay down on the couch with my eyes closed to more fully concentrate on it.

Reason number 2: it is more interesting that I think it is, and I should be writing it.

Maybe. But my judgement says no, and if I don’t trust my own judgement, where does that end?

If I got to a place where the original story got made into a television series, it would have to last fifteen seasons to get to this place. And the tone is different, and the characters are all more mellow and accepting, and the conflict is over, and really, it’s just the stuff that happens after the story ends, which is still a story, but a different story, for a different audience. But without the original story, none of this would make much sense, and people would care less.

I care. The audience is me. Because that’s part of the schizophrenia that is fiction writing. I invent people in my head that I then fall in love with and want to know their whole lives, even though the story is mostly them surviving the disasters I have inflicted on them. Yet there is also the feeling that I didn’t choose, that these things are inevitable. See reason number 4.

Reason number 3: it addresses some problem of my own personal psyche.

I am purposefully isolating myself. And this story is all about mundane interpersonal connections. Maybe my subconscious is screaming at me to have some company over.

Reason number 4: I have lost my mind.

We must acknowledge that this very well may be the motivation for everything I do.

  1. notDwight says:

    Reminds me of the tremendously long epilogue of the original My Fair Lady. There was more emotion, intrigue, dramatic turmoil and character development in the paragraphs that followed the conclusion of the play than the play itself and as I read them, all I could think was “so what? show’s over.”

    But that was when I was young and didn’t appreciate the attention to fine details like what happens in the ever after.

    Now I care about that stuff. And so do a lot of people. Maybe not most, but there’s an audience for it. So shucks, why the heck not?

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