Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This Blog is Not About Philip Seymour Hoffman

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Needle stuck in his arm. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Seventy packets of heroin scattered around the world. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Moron.

As readers of this blog know by now, Thriller Guy has no qualms about speaking ill of the dead. Yes, TG understands that it’s a disease, that he had his demons, blah blah blah blah blah blah. He also had a wife and three kids. He wanted to get high. He died doing it. Three more words: selfish, selfish, selfish.

One good thing to come out of the sorry affair (man, even TG thinks that’s a pretty cold statement) is that everybody is running all their old radio interviews they had with Hoffman. He was a very smart, interesting guy and gave intelligent interviews. TG was listening to a 2009 interview with Terry Gross and he said something that resonated with TG. He was talking about acting, but TG related it to writing. She asked him about how he had once said that acting was tremendously difficult, and he really struggled with parts of it. He said when you’re on a movie set, it’s usually for ten or twelve hours a day and that entire time you had to keep the character you were playing constantly in your head. Otherwise you might lose the sense of him, and that it took an enormous amount of concentration, which was very difficult. TG’s thought was, if you think it’s hard to act a character, you should try creating one and getting him down on paper over a period of hours, days, months and years. Think it’s hard to keep a character in your head for 10 hours? Try ten months.

And while you’re at it, try doing it with every other character in a book, all at the same time. And then put them all in various scenes that make sense and add up to a compelling story. You want to talk about concentration? But enough about Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The above led TG to think about how he goes about writing a scene: what does it look like inside his head? How exactly do you do it? TG (Allen Appel’s alter ego) starts writing while envisioning a scene, like a movie, except the scene is full blown, not flat like it’s being projected. If there are no characters, the scenery gets described. Then there are characters in the scenery, and they talk, one at a time, usually. Each time a character talks, it is as if there is a camera recording what is happening: first, from TG’s mental POV, (which is usually the main character’s POV) which is usually looking at another character to whom he is speaking. When the second character speaks, the “camera” shifts to that character so TG can record what he/she is saying (making up this dialogue) and see what effect it is having on the first character. These effects are then (sometimes) noted. (“Albert could see that his words had hurt. Jim looked down at his feet, considering his response. Or maybe he would just punch Albert instead.”) Usually TG will run a scene like this, or a section of the scene) through his mental projector before writing it down. Then he writes it down, and continues on within the scene or on to the next scene. Remember, the next scene has to reflect the last and at the same time move the action forward. Not only are you keeping the initial scene in your head, you’re writing the present one and thinking ahead to the next. And you are doing this from the viewpoint of all the characters at the same time.

Man, this is really hard to describe. Talk about concentration. Now TG’s head hurts.

But here’s a secret. All the above machinations that go into warming up the engine of the mind and getting settled and in gear can slip away almost without notice, and, if you’re lucky, morph into the background where they do their job silently. The mind, the story, the unconscious takes over and the writer writes only dimly aware that he is doing so; he becomes the story and simply, without conscious thought, records it through the medium of the keyboard or pen. You will often hear writers say, “The story just takes over me, I just record what it says to me.” And as phony as this sounds, it is exactly what happens if one is lucky. We used to call this “being in the zone” and maybe that’s still what they call it, and it is a true thing and it is a wonderful place to be. Hours can go by while you are in the grip and you then emerge, blinking, dazed back into the real world and you look around and wonder, where have I been? You’ve been in your own world, brothers and sisters, and TG understands, give it a few minutes, soon enough you’ll be faced with life’s usual problems to say nothing over your story’s usual problems. But for a while, you have been on your own journey, your own world, your own dream and that can be a wonderful place to be.

Concentrate, yes. It’s hard work. But also…


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