Thursday, September 13, 2007

Analyzing Creativity

First, I must say that Terry Pratchett is evil. EEEEE-VILLLLL. There are no chapter breaks in his books, which means that when it's past midnight and you know you really need to get to sleep, you can't just tell yourself you'll put the book down at the end of the chapter -- because the end of the chapter never comes! Yeah, there are scene breaks, but it's nearly impossible not to glance at the first line or so of the next scene, and then you want to find out what happens, and next thing you know, it's past one in the morning and you still have a big chunk of book left, so you have to just give up and sleep without reaching a satisfying stopping point. I'm sure that's all part of his evil scheme. People will have to say they can't put his books down, simply because he doesn't leave them a convenient place to do so.

Hmmm, maybe I ought to try that.

As you may have perhaps noticed if you've read here for long, I'm rather fascinated by the creative process. I joke that I'm equally balanced between left and right brain because I've done so much writing with technical content in my old job, but I think I kind of am. I have to be pretty creative to do what I do, but I'm also very analytical. I have to know how things work, and I'm perhaps a bit too fond of taking things apart, metaphorically or physically (I have quite the collection of screwdrivers, socket wrenches and Allen wrenches). So, I love looking at the creative processes of others to see what I can steal learn from them. Where do other writers get their ideas, and how does the initial idea translate to the finished form?

I found something really fun in conjunction with last week's Doctor Who episode (the US Sci Fi Channel airing -- and really, the last two episodes, since it was a two parter). The two-parter was an adaptation of a novel written about the Seventh Doctor, and the BBC web site has it posted as an e-book, along with some pretty extensive notes from the author (who also wrote the episode) on how the novel developed and how it was then translated to a television episode about the Tenth Doctor. Some of the changes were more to do with updating it for the current Doctor, then there were the usual changes that need to be made to move something from prose to a visual medium. And then I think there was also some bit of the chance to revisit something old and fix it in the new version. I like the TV version better, perhaps in part because of the fact that I know those characters, while I'd never seen a Seven episode, and therefore didn't feel quite the same connection. But there's also some structural and thematic things I think worked a lot better in the TV rewrite. If you're interested in exploring it, you can find the e-book and the notes on the adaptation here.

Now I'm curious about seeing how authors have gone about writing the Doctor when he wasn't being human. I'm not quite sure how you'd manage to really capture his point of view in a way that would be coherent and readable, yet straightforward narration seems like it wouldn't be an accurate representation of what it's like to be inside his head. Ten, in particular, doesn't seem to have much in the way of focus or filters in what he says, so imagining the way he thinks would be rather mindboggling. The inside of his head would be very noisy and chaotic, which would result in narrative with thoughts left incomplete and picked up again with no transition pages later, logical leaps, lots of asides and ramblings and really funky use of verb tenses, because when you live your life traveling in time, what really is past, present and future? I picture text that more or less progresses the story with lots of random notes in the margins. It would be fun to play with as a writer, but I couldn't imagine doing a whole novel that way, and yet a more conventional use of narrative would be out of character. If I were to try to write a novel about these characters, I'd probably put it entirely in the viewpoint of the companion character. Or maybe I could do the Doctor in first person, with it set up so that he is consciously telling a story, and therefore might filter a lot out, though still with a lot of digressions and asides. And he'd be an unreliable narrator. You wouldn't know for sure how accurate what he was telling was and what he was leaving out. But normal third-person POV where you're just lurking in his brain and spying on him without him knowing he was part of a story? Fast track to the loony bin. Might be a fun writing exercise, though, if I ever find time for non-profit play.

In the meantime, there is work -- an article and some book revisions.

Oh, and one more thing, if you're in North Texas or able to travel here, I'll be hosting a table yet again at the Buns and Roses Romance Tea for Literacy October 14. It's a fun high tea event with authors and readers, where you get to sit at a table with a favorite author. Plus there's a booksigning. I had a blast last year.

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