Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Celeste (part one)

And now, to borrow from Monty Python, for something completely different. My very good friend (and honorary little sister) Crystal has been reading my novel and has provided some outstanding feedback. So now, in addition to my wife's name and Jan's (my other honorary little sister), I have a third name to add to the acknowledgments page. Would you like to see your name forever immortalized on an acknowledgments page? Would you like a signed first edition? These perks and more can be yours for simply reading and critiquing my new book, tentatively titled The New Girls.

But I digress.

In the midst of the critiques, Crystal sent the first few pages of her own incipient urban fantasy novel as a writing exercise. I don't know if you've ever done any collaborative writing, and I really don't recommend this exercise as a primary method, this exercise does teach you a great deal about handling authorial dialogue—those magical, transformative details Mikhail Bakhtin would have called novelistic.

The exercise goes like this: Crystal sends me the opening pages of her story with absolutely no additional information. I have to pick up where she left off and continue the story for a bit. Then I send it back, and she has to add a portion. Und so weiter.

If you've never written a novel, you might be wondering how this can  possibly be helpful. "You're the author, right? You should know where your novel is going, right?"

The short answer: no. O, you might think you know where you're going when you begin a story, but real, complex characters take on a life of their own. Very quickly, as Bakhtin notes, the relationship between author and characters ceases to be dictatorial and becomes a dialogue. This exercise is a sort of shortcut to novelistic dialogue.

Now, I should have started posting the results of this exercise immediately, but I've been busy with [blah blah blah excuses excuses]. So, to catch up, I'm going to go ahead and post Crystal's opening, my first response, and her first riposte, in rapid succession. I'll probably post my first response later today and her first riposte tomorrow morning, just to catch everyone up. (We haven't discussed a title, so I'm going to begin with the name of the principal character as a working title. I'll change this if and when Crystal makes a strong suggestion one way or another.)

Okay. Without further ado, here's part one.


by Crystal L. Thomas Worrell and D. G. Grace

Brake lights! Ice! Celeste downshifted savagely, tearing through the lower gears of her grey Jaguar. Time slowed. Her heart raced and vaulting itself in her throat as she grappled her skidding car for control. Her seat belt jerked tautly against her body as the wheels finally gripped solid pavement.

“You stupid son of a—!” she growled deep and guttural, slapping the steering wheel savagely. Without conscious thought she collapsed back into the leathery embrace of her bucket seat and took a long, deep breath.

A squeak from the passenger side drew her attention and she glanced over to see the long-haired, tan cat indignantly clawing his way back onto the seat. His tail twitched back and forth like wiper blades and his ears and whiskers pressed flat against his furry head.

Celeste bit her lower lip suppressing a laugh--apparently his pride had been sorely wounded when he was dumped gracelessly on the floor.

“Are you all right, Jacob?” she asked him, unable to stop the grin from stealing across her face.
He stared back at her, his golden eyes narrowed into thin slits as he scolded her with a deep, shrieking meow and looked pointedly away.

: What do you think?: he sent her in a short terse thought.

“I’m sorry,” she told him as she reached over to scratch his ears. How like a normal cat he could be sometimes.

“You know I didn't exactly plan that.” she said.

She stared at the snowy, ice packed road. “God, how I hate to drive, especially in this mess. Remind me again why I like Minnesota so much?”she asked Jacob as she gestured to the snow pelting her tinted windshield

Jacob didn't respond. He leaned heavily into her hand as she scratched behind his ears and under his chin. His ears once again raised and his whiskers protruding forward as he purred loudly.

With a mental shrug, she slowly pulled her car into the intersection and began to follow her mental landmarks down the snowy back streets of St. Paul.

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