Thanks to the wonderful Kristina for helping me realize that there was a post in my head all along (much of this email belongs to our e-conversation)…

Another of those writer-technical posts. But, again, bear with me.

One of those moments discovered in the dark, validated in the day, tested in thought.

That durned tape recorder. If you’ve spent any time reading here, you know what it is and the uses I make of it…the most persistent and relentless bed-mate a woman could have. (Yes, go there. And don’t.)

For the writer, the emotional arc is our “must.” It shapes characters, dialog, chapters, whole books end to end. It colors logic and reason. It makes our characters worth knowing…and worthy of continuing curiosity.

Creating an emotional arc is an interesting process, often as much the product of happy accident as of plan. My handwritten notes are usually so scattered that they follow no form. My mind visits the appropriate chapter or section or scene or exchange of talk when it is ready–not when I am. The notes belong to an internal logic that has found no form yet.

When a chapter wants to be written (sometimes in order, sometimes not), often it is only then that I start to figure out what precise thought/emotion/action leads to the next. (In the current chapter-in-progress, one of the characters is trying to speak sense to another who has gone round the bend and is planning something irredeemable.) In finite-focused instances like this, as in the greater whole, the shape of the argument is critical. It calls upon past knowledge and upon my knowledge of what’s coming; it has reminders of what has gone before…and it must bend to a conclusion. Many times, I can’t carry all of those complex nuances in my head. So….

I discovered the other night that if I speak the progression of thoughts or emotions or dialog exchanges into the tape recorder (a tough feat from pure memory, sometimes), I am forced to say “this happens, then this, then this”; in describing the section end-to-end, a logic–complete with embellishments or alternative avenues–presents itself.

An example: the character is watching an elegant festive party through a window. He looks ragged and forlorn out there…but the impression is an illusion; his mind has gone to a far more dangerous place. Reciting the sequence from memory helps me visualize the scene and its progression in a different way; helps me hammer out a logic for the emotions and dialog that will follow; helps me discover how the shape of an argument can help make the point I’m aiming for.

I expect that this is rather the equivalent of some writers’ practice of post-it notes or file cards…one that I often hear turns out to be more unwieldy than desirable –and is then abandoned for exactly that reason. The tape recorder-speak is more nimble. It tests the place from which the logic will come, rather than the puzzle-piece method that is so much more accidental and haphazard.

And, most delightfully, it gives me the chance to tell a bedtime story to myself. It fills the well. It primes dreams.

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