I’m currently reading one of the most recent novels by Stephen King, Lisey’s Story, which is a twist on the old writer writing a story about a writer plot. The story is about the widow of a writer, and is full of insights from an odd perspective. The perspective, in this case, is that of an author, Stephen King, writing through the mind and eyes of a woman who was married to a horror writer. In other words, it’s a way of writing about the writer without doing it in first person, and with the more objective mindset of someone on the outside looking in. I don’t know, of course, if this is an autobiographical piece, but I have to believe it’s likely. How does one resist an opportunity like that? I mean, we all know deep inside what our failings, shortcomings, bad habits and foibles are, and we believe we know our strengths. Given a chance to present our case before the jury, why not take a stab at it?
Simple answer, of course. It’s terrifying. If you could just write such a thing and walk away from it, that might be therapeutic, but not if the world is going to read it, dissect it, and half of them are going to believe it’s all about you — maybe including the woman you’ve been married to for decades. I mean, the characters and situations might be wholly removed from your own world reality, but that doesn’t mean an insightful reader - one close to your heart - wouldn’t see through the smoke screens and know when it was real.
Anyway, none of this is the point of what I sat down to write. What caught my eye (the first of many things) in this novel was a passing mention that the protagonist, Lisey, makes to “the myth pool.” In the opinion of her late husband, novelist Scott Landon, all readers and writers go to the same place to “drink”. Writers bring a buckets full of themselves, I believe, and readers bring dippers, mugs, jugs and barrels to cart the stuff away in, but that central connection is the same on either side of the fence. Sometimes I feel like I’ve set up a lemonade stand by the pool and everyone has come looking for beer, but that’s beside the point — I think King nailed the experience with his metaphoric pool. Maybe he created it by writing about it. Maybe it called out to him for some cheap advertising - and then to me to get a banner up on the web.
When I’m writing well, and the world slips away, the sensation is one of slippage. The things in the story take on substance and importance that made-up things don’t possess in regular day-to-day life. It’s the same when I’m reading. If the words I’m reading catch my attention, the world shuts down while I’m visiting whatever place, time or dimension the author has presented to me. When I have reached the end of a long writing binge, it sometimes takes days for my brain to really disengage from the story. I worry over details and replay scenes in my mind. When I finish reading an amazing book, it’s the same. I don’t want to come back. I want more information. I want to wake up with the characters one last time. It’s a very strange, very pleasant sensation. It isn’t called escapism for nothing…there is a place you actually go. Since Steve named it first, and I think it’s a fine name that will stick, I’m tacking a sign on the tree next to the stream were I serve my words to the world that reads MYTH POOL in big bold letters so people will see it and stop by more often.
And speaking of words, that brings me back to the other half of my entry. Perspective. A long time ago I wrote the first chapter of what I thought would become a novel. The title is “The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J (Jehosephat) Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature.” That isn’t important. What is important is that I wrote the first chapter of this, and I loved it. I then got derailed, distracted, etc. - life took me down another road. Now I’m working on that project again. I wrote a short outline. I started to write chapter two. I hated it. It was like pulling teeth. I ground through it, and finished it, and was absolutely dissatisfied with the outcome. The worst of it was I was absolutely unable to figure out why.
Then I let it go for a day. Yesterday I was driving home, and I started to run through the plot in my head again to figure out what was wrong. I didn’t get any further than the title in my mind before it hit me so hard I nearly pulled off the road. I had started chapter two as if it were a completely new book. The POV shifted, and since this is — at its heart - a mystery, I was giving away things that I should have been keeping in my notes…things I know, but that neither the reader (Nor Cletus) should know in the second chapter. I cheerfully saved it as a spare chapter and started over last night, writing back in the POV of my protagonist, and all is right with the novella. The title was the key. It’s Cletus’ story I’m telling, and it has to be in his own time, and his own way.
The lesson in this case is that no matter how many times I tell people something about their writing, or writing in general, I still have to remind myself. I have to watch tense and POV and keep the timeline straight for all groups of characters involved and make sure that I don’t write about a character’s reactions to things they couldn’t possibly know…
I was told once a long time ago that you can’t write a story in multiple POV. That was, of course, silly. What IS true is that you can’t do it without extreme care, and if you can avoid shifting POV, you almost always should. The characters Cletus will encounter are a hell of a lot creepier revealed in tiny bits and pieces than they ever could have been if I told their story in the beginning. I may make it to chapter three yet. All I have to do is drag them out of that pool, pour them into pewter mugs, bowls, and goblets, and wait for someone to drink…
I wonder if the pool is filled with ink?
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