All Our Adventures

Although I usually sleep well, from time to time I unaccountably wake up in the small hours of the morning.  Sleep has fled like a disturbed bear into the underbrush.

I don’t rest at the boundary of sleep and waking — I am wide awake.  I’m sure something is busy in my unconscious, indeterminate, but making itself known with a feeling of muted dread, or heartfelt remembrance, or realizations about actions I really need to take.

On this recent occasion, my thoughts drifted to news of the day, to a dentist’s appointment, to a chess game, and finally towards the novel I’m working on.  I tried to review the shape of it.  That’s how I tend to think of it, as a felt shape, with its characters and plot and the ups and downs of its planned crises tunneling through its duration.  (The hard work is getting to the specifics of that.)

I have a kind of rough confidence about writing the novel now, perhaps quite unjustified, after completing one already — as yet unpublished.

The characters are taking on more and more cohesiveness.  As I lay there unmoving in the dark, I started to muse about the nature of these novel characters.  I felt as though my aim should be to dip into the flow of their lives already in progress, cooperate/direct with the currents found there to paint a semblance of their fictional being. 

It may be helpful for me as a writer to consider the characters of the novel, even the most minor ones, as having full lives mostly unknown to me.  I may barely glimpse them, like whales from the depths just touching the ocean’s surface, but I like to think of them as there to discover, as much as I need to.

It occurred to me that each character is on a kind of adventure for me to understand, as far as that understanding is important for the novel. Say, that waitress in the tight dress taking coffee to the main character. Skeins of adventure weaving in and around each other, contradicting and reinforcing….

Then I thought, maybe our lives are like that too in certain ways. Our “adventures,” though, are fraught with real disappointments, failures and the occasional disaster. Most of all there is the inconclusiveness of much of life, unlike a novel. But our “adventures” also have patience, bravery, resilience, and caring embedded in them, and maybe that’s what they’re about.

I’m reading a book called Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, by the poet Rebecca McClanahan, from 1999. She makes it clear that description is a lot more than tossing a salad of adjectives and adverbs together with a sprinkle of nouns and verbs.

At one point in there, she advises the writer to become aware of his or her particular “constellation of images.” These are “recurring images, descriptions, or isolated words, …the ruling passions that fuel your most original work.”

She goes on: “Paying attention to recurring motifs in our work can help us discover the sources of our originality.”

For me that ties into author Ray Bradbury’s writing prompt: to make lists of nouns as triggers for ideas. He wrote: “I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds.” His list might have The Lake, The Night, The Dwarf, The Ravine…. That specificity of the definite article is important.

Mine might be, in part: The Creek, The Cabin, The Mountain, The Trout, The Fire, The Clearing, and so on.

And now I can add a new one — The Adventure.

As I lay awake with my wife beside me asleep, dawn arrived marked by the distant ululation of seagulls and the honking of Canada geese.


Explore posts in the same categories: Art, Awareness, Culture, Novel, psychology, Writing

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2 Comments on “All Our Adventures”

  1. MDW Says:

    Ululation! Hokey Smokes! That’s a word you don’t hear everyday,

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I’ve been waiting to use that word for so long! One of those (have to look up how to spell it) onomatopoeic words….

    Thanks for coming by, good to hear from you.


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