ME (placatingly): Okay, that’s really interesting and all, a truly great conversation… so, let’s remember it, and I’ll record it at a more civilized hour. In the meantime, I wanna go back to sleep.
BRAIN (insistently): No, Dave, I really think you need to get up and write it down now.
ME (peering blearily at bedside clock): You do know it’s 4-fricking-30 in the Ay Em, don’t you?
BRAIN (maddeningly calm): Creative genius doesn’t keep regular working hours, Dave. You, of all people, know that. Get up.
BRAIN: Besides, you know you won’t remember it in the morning. It has to be now.
ME (firmly): We’re going back to sleep.
BRAIN (hesitates, then can’t help itself, recalling one of the film’s most famous lines): I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.
ME: (mentally making snoring noises) ---
BRAIN: I’ll fixate on it and stay awake...
BRAIN: Fine. You leave me no choice. (Gets on the interior phone.) There. You have to pee now. Get up.
ME: (wearily) !@#$
So, yes, Virginia, I went and wrote the conversation down (after stopping in the bathroom on the way, of course). And it was a pretty good conversation, too, if I do say so myself. The written one, not the one with my brain, that is.
Now, the reason why I’m relating this is because there’s a couple of interesting points to be gleaned from this pre-dawn insanity (well, I think so, anyway):
First: the problem with the conversation I was given (!) is, it quite obviously doesn’t take place at the point in the narrative where I am right now --- you know, the sentence where I stopped the evening before, did my final save, and shut ‘er down for the night.
(BTW, I like to call that point the ‘mine face,’ because there I am, miner --- AKA writer --- slaving at the end of the literary mine tunnel with my word processor/pickaxe, hacking pearls of prose from the hard and unforgiving rock face… hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go…) (Thanks. I think it’s a pretty good metaphor, too, he said modestly. In fact, I wrote a post on writers as miners; you can find it here if you’re interested.)
Anyway… what does one do about that problem?
Well, the answer is quite simple: write it down anyway and find a suitable place in the narrative for it later. Maybe really soon later, maybe quite a while later. Doesn’t matter. The important thing, as HAL --- err, my inner voice --- said, is to get it down AND realize you don’t need to write the damned story linearly, or even necessarily chronologically. I used to tell my students this; you don’t have to sweat through introduction, first, second, third body paragraphs, then conclusion in that order. If you know your third body paragraph will knock ‘em dead, why not write that first, while it’s still incandescent in your mind? In fact, you may want to hold off on that intro for the last thing you do.
Second: the conversation I was given isn’t critical to that sacred cow, AKA Moving The Plot Along. It falls in the category of something I referred to in class as Texture. (Which is, frankly, every bit as important as MTPA. Maybe more so, at times.) So I will include the conversation, once I find a suitable place in the narrative for it. You see, I happen to think there’s too many writing coaches/teachers out there waaay too obsessed with MTPA. If it doesn’t advance the plot, they say, kill it. And they do. They ruthlessly excise anything and everything in an insanely relentless obsession to Pare It Down.
I have no idea where or when this lunacy was conceived. My own private theory is it’s a result of our modern society’s manic infatuation with Having It All, Right Now. Ever noticed that? Nobody has any patience anymore. Nobody wants to leisurely sip the heady elixir of details; they just vulgarly chug the whole thing down at once, then move on at warp speed to the next fixation, with all the finesse of a bulldozer.
Texture is material that doesn’t necessarily advance the plot --- at least, not immediately or in a crucial manner. But it’s vitally interesting stuff.
Now, it so happens that the Master, AKA Stephen King, agrees with me on this. He calls it chrome, not texture, and in the forward to the second edition of The Stand, he uses the story of Hansel and Gretel as an example. He says you could strip from the story all extraneous details that don’t immediately relate to or advance the plot, but the story becomes flat and uninteresting --- just bare, dull metal, no chrome. It’s the details, like Hansel’s trail of breadcrumbs; the woodcutter showing his wife two rabbits’ hearts to convince her he’s killed Hansel and Gretel, and so on --- none of which are, strictly speaking, necessary to the plot --- which actually make the story more than the sum of its parts.
So thanks, HAL --- err, me. That early morning wake-up call wasn’t as irritating as I originally thought.
But it was just as weird, though.