Monday, February 18, 2013

Shooting From the Hip: Wrangling for Ideas

No caption necessary, am I right?
Gonna shoot from the hip. I haven't done this in a while. Usually I have an idea and I sequester it and think it through. I come up with some supporting angles in which to hurdle this concept through time and space. But now, I'm just letting it out, letting it loose, letting it run wild--

But not too wild. Gotta have some plan. Gotta have an angle. No one likes sloppy writing. No one enjoys the too-glib approach, sounding like you love to hear yourself write.

But I love to hear myself write, to let an idea spin out of me; it's like wrangling a wild animal. Heaven knows I've done that a few times in my youth. Growing up in Yakima on a mere acre, we city folks from Las Vegas tried to be sons and daughters of the soil, or at least of the flock. Yeah, we grew hay, cut and bailed it; stacked it I did, like Abel, but like Cain we raised animals and drew the ire of God upon us with rabbits that ate their babies ("Hey, we were gonna eat those!"), calves that wouldn't eat and had to be force fed with a tube rammed down their throats, and sows that wouldn't give suck and their piglets having to be hand fed all summer, day and night. Especially night.

I'm dramatizing. But not too much. We raised pigs and ate well from them. Moving them from pen to pen, from pen to trailer, from here to there, was an event, an invertible hell. I was posted like a Roman guard, ready to inflict pain and punishment if the prisoner didn't obey. It's like when we write, when an idea doesn't want to budge, refuses to take a step this way or that, and you have to use brute force. Get that character moving. No, you don't want to hurt him, too badly, or kill the story, but you do need to jostle it loose so it can go to a better place, either a new more comfortable pen, or into the freezer, in nice little packages. (Were we talking about writing or raising food? I mean--animals.)

Isn't this what we do with our characters? Don't we hog tie them and haul them through all sorts of mayhem and torture? I have a character on a space ship, hundreds of trillions of miles from Earth and his only friend is a artiform, or in this case a hologram, not an android, which is very different. I'm giving this character of mine a good going-over, a real agonizing mental torture as he struggles with his past, present and future--and with the behavior of his friend, who is not human.

Ah, but I hear you say, "Those pigs your family raised, slaughtered and processed were real living breathing creatures, not the fictional imaginarians of my brain." (Or should that be the imaginations of your brain? Come to think of it, can you categorize and process these collections of imaginations? Oh, wait. That's a librarian, not an imaginarian.) I submit to you that the animals, I mean the characters that you create, are just as real, as were the dozens of poultry, coneys and beef--I mean chicken, rabbits and steers--that we raised on our little farm. And oh boy were they good to eat, I tell-you-what. And what good fun it is to do the same to my characters. It really is. I don't mean eat them. (Oh my heavens. I'm like Hitler. Or very, very hungry.)

"Garçon, I would like Eastern Europe, with a side of France."
Hey, wait a minute. Is that why Hitler went for Eastern Europe? Yes, yes I think it was. Lebensraum. They were after the Russian breadbasket, all that rich growing land that Hitler and cohorts drooled over. They wanted the wheat, for bread and for baking. Then those Nazis went after France. Ah, yes. All that butter and wine. And Italy? Nazis love the pasta. Oh, my oh my. Hitler and company were foodies. Blood-thirsty evil foodies!

But wait another minute, here. They went after the British, and with a vengeance. No. They weren't foodies. There goes that theory. Dang.

Man, I thought I was onto to something. Now I gotta go chase after that something again. That ever elusive something. Just like that stupid cow that got loose in the next door pasture. Again and again. But I did refer to Nazis as foodies, and not the other way around. That's something.

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