Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So... You need to jot down a scene...

I'm one of those people who needs to have the materials handy to write things down.  I'll get an idea for a scene, or for an edit, and I'll turn it over in my mind, fiddle with it, refine it - and if I don't write it down quickly it will vanish like a summer morning fog as the sun climbs higher.

Chapter 33 in Mourningtide


I had a wonderful system originally.  I rode the train in to the big city where I worked.  Forty-five minutes each way in relative comfort (this was a train, not a subway).  I always carried a notebook and jotted down my thoughts.  As I transcribed the jottings, I'd mark them off with a strike across the page.  I'd know something hadn't been transcribed if it was missing the strike through.  I transcribed this page:

     "Get to your post. We're having a drill."
     Khatef's jaw dropped. "You dare speak to me like that!"
     "I do." Sa-Ramses brought two fingers to his mouth.
     "Wait-!"
     Sa-Ramses lifted his eyebrow.. Three piercing whistles split the air a moment later. "Drill," he said, lowering his hand. "Get to your post."
     Khatef stared. "Just a minute here -"
     Three more whistles.
     "Drill," said Sa-Ramses. "You're away from your post. Get there now!"
     "You ragged, disgraceful vagabond!!" Khatef choked.
     Motion halted, the sounds faded. The commotion around them dimmed for a moment. Eyes widened. Henetre folded her arms. Djedi stared.
     Did he really say that?
     Who's he talking to?
     Sa-Ramses?
     He's an ass!
     Sa-Ramses' smile deepened as he raised his fingers once again and sounded the signal. "Your charges are being butchered," he said. "You'd better go do something about it and stop beating your gums."

It appears in my manuscript, tentatively numbered as Chapter 33.  I may change the expression 'beating your gums', since it seems a trifle anachronistic.

Paper Towels - the new Papyrus
There have been times, especially recently, where I haven't had a notebook handy, usually when I'm involved in an activity that doesn't give me a place to store my notebook.  We've heard of people writing notes on napkins, matchbooks and the like.  Anything resembling paper works, but carrying sheets of paper around is a little troublesome.  I've been using paper towels lately. 

It took a while before I got a system going.  You see, I sometimes oversee a fitting room (long story; interesting part time job, but gel insoles are crucial...).  And if someone is in the fitting room, an employee must be there, even if the customer appears to be taking a nap in her dressing room.  So, if you get an idea for a tweak to a scene, what do you do?  There is no paper available (there seldom is, when inspiration strikes you) and you must improvise.  What to do?

Well, the fitting room has a roll of paper towels.  Not the super-absorbent kind that you can tear off at perforations, but the hard, crackly kind similar to the fiber of toilet paper in Europe but lacking the splinters I encountered at the marche' aux puces in Paris.  I tore off a length, trimmed it, grabbed a pen, and started jotting...

It worked fairly well although, being one of those who has trouble throwing things away, the presence in my home of various lengths of paper towel posed a bit of a problem for various family members: had I transcribed it yet?  Should it be preserved? 

I like to hold on to things that show the progression of a scene.  That's why I held on to all my old notebooks, but the paper towels are a little different.  Also, the material on them hasn't all been transcribed.  We have this, for example:

The main part deals with the scene I cited above.  The women of the town are annoyed that Sa-Ramses (the pseudonym taken by the king while he recovers from his son's death in anonymity) has been so insulted, and they pool their resources and present him with some garments that he can wear to augment the clothes he brought with him in one satchel.  They do this by descending upon him en masse armed with the garments and insisting that he try them on.  As an experienced husband and father, he is not as non-plussed as he might be, but still taken aback.

     A fist upon his door interrupted his thoughts.  He went to the door and opened it.
     "Aha!" said Lady Henetre. "I thought you'd be in, Master Sa-Ramses! You haven't eaten yet? Excellent! You'll dine with my family!"
     "I have a supper set out for me," he began.
     "Pooh! Probably cold fruit and some tough squab!" Henetre said with more accuracy than she could have guessed. "I know how those servitors are! You'll dine with my family. Change your clothing and come to my house. Others will be there, as well..."
     She frowned at the door. "...which reminds me. Nebet! Tetisheri!"
     He looked over his shoulder in time to see two more ladies enter, their arms full of garments.
     Henetre put her hands on her hips and looked him up and down. "You're taller than most here, but unless you're trying to wear an old man's long tunic, that doesn't matter. You've got a good pair of legs. The shoulders, now, might be a problem, but these sleeves are generously cut. Put them on!" And she handed four garments to Seti.
     He looked at them and then at her. "Excuse me," he said.
     "We're all married women!" Henetre said.
     "But, ladies, you aren't married to me," he said, and left the room, reflecting that while it was a retreat rather than a rout, it wasn't in as good order as he would like. He took the top tunic - a plain one bordered with blue stripes - and pulled it over his head. A sash was in the pile; he cinched it about his waist and hoped this determined group weren't going to inquire after the state of his shentis.
     They were waiting, seated on his stools, as he came back.
     "Well, then!" Henetre said. "That looks fine! Turn around!"
     He obeyed, suppressing a smile until he saw Tetisheri's round eyes begin to dance. He covered his grin with a cough.
     "That's perfect!" Nebet said. "You will take them won't you Master Sa-Ramses?"
     "This is too generous," Seti said. "I do have clothing-"
     Henetre snorted and fixed him with her bright eyes. "Somewhere up north with the rest of your family, no doubt! Aha! I'm right! Take these." She eyed him. "Does your wife know you're here kitted out like a beggar?"

In this case, the writing in the square is something I thought of while sketching out the scene.  There's fighting later and Seti is slightly injured and ends up bleeding on one of the garments.  He says "Henetre is going to kill me!"  I haven't transcribed it yet (I will as soon as I'm through with this post) so I have it with me, now crumpled.

Literary inspiration meets cabernet sauvignon...
Sometimes emergencies happen - in the form of a spilled glass of red wine most recently.  In that case I sacrificed one piece of writing.  Then I remembered that I hadn't transcribed the part below the line.  I dried it out and will be typing it this evening.  Unless I spill, say, a bowl of chili.

I should think of a better way to work things, but notebooks little larger than matchbooks are a waste of my time because I don't write in three point font.  I also tend to lose such small things. 

I'm sure I'll figure out a way to do things right.

In the mean time I'll just meditate on P. G. Wodehouse who taped his manuscript pages to the wall.  The ones that were not quite to his satisfaction were pasted slightly lower than the ones he liked.  Once he fixed a page, he would put it on the level with the others.  When all were level, he would know he had a finished story.

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