Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lists and Repetition

     When I write, I write a lot of lists and I repeat myself a lot.  I write a lot of lists and I repeat myself a lot.  I get listy and repeaty.  The lists help make sure I'm not just taking the first idea; a list of ideas help flush the bad ones away and the let good ones float to the top.  Repeating myself helps me stay focused on the truth of the matter; saying something many times helps flesh out the character and the situation.
     I use these techniques differently for different formats.  When writing a sketch I use many more lists, and much more wildly.  If the nugget of the idea is hairy things, then I make a list of as many hairy things as possible.  Hopefully within that list, and in the process of making it, I come across the hairy thing that should really be the star of the sketch.  There are times the first thing on the list is the best, or the most fitting.  But why limit yourself to the first thing you think of?  The first thing I thought of just now when writing hairy things was a kiwi.  The second was gorilla balls and the third was mold.  Three very different sketches really.
     I use the repeaty technique more in longer form writing.  It didn't start off as a technique, it started off as an irritating habit where I couldn't remember what I had just written about a character or a situation.  But now I use it to maintain focus on the truth of the matter.  Sometimes characters get away from us.  Or we start to forget what the story is really about.  We get wrapped up in the fun we're having with characters, quirks, situations, wild settings, and all the robots.  I mean, of course we do, those are all fun things.  So in order to make sure I haven't had the kind of fun that completely ruins the story or character, I'll repeat myself a little bit.
     I'll think of the impetus of the story--what is the heart of what's going on--and I'll summarize it into a sentence or two.  In the middle of the ramblings at the start of my writing process, where I'm really having a lot of fun with the quirks and the robots, I'll repeat that sentence.  Does it still check out?  Is the heart of the matter still true even with all that fun?  Yes?  Great, I will keep at it. No?  Well, then, I need to think a moment.  In that case the fun may have gotten too muddy or the heart of the matter may have changed.  Then I can go in for readjustments.
     Really, it's just a simple check I use to make sure I'm staying, err, consistent with my characters, stories, etc.   It's not an end-all be-all.  And I realize that my terse description of it makes it sound like I'm not leaving room for change, or growth, blah blah.  But that's not it at all.  Sometimes the impetus of the story is "she just really wants to do the right thing."  That doesn't mean she doesn't do the wrong thing sometimes, but it does mean she probably doesn't knife people in alleys for tennis shoes or stick gum under desks.  And if she does start doing those things, I need to figure out why.  Maybe the why is the story and I should keep going. It's possible she knifed the guy for good reason.  That would also be a good place for a list--reasons for knifing a guy in an alley.
     It also means she's probably not a cat person, so if she ends up with a cat somewhere down the road, it's a clear inconsistency in her character.  If you want to do the right thing, you own a dog.  If you have a flagrant disregard for morality, you own ferrets and uncaged cockatiels. 

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