The Mindless Loops, Part 2

This post continues from the last one, on how to better capture in writing the thought loops that run through the mind every day. Picking up from where it left off, I would suggest that you look at your two versions of the same loop. One failure in characterization is presenting only one way of thinking. It’s like the protagonist is a wind-up toy and marches in only one direction. Yet most people go back and forth on any decision, depending on their mood.

You can mix it up. You can take a sentence from one version and place it in the other. How does that affect the loop? If you have to make adjustments to make it fit, do the changes more accurately match the way you felt? In other words, either the dark or sunny version may feel just right. But if they feel insufficient, maybe you need most of one but the other would provide a nice counterbalance. 

You can also insert the dark version in the full manuscript and then put the light version a few pages later. At eight a.m. Maggie was so sure she had screwed up, but as the day passes without alarm, she concocts a second version of the events. You would, though, want to cut down the second passage, since you don’t want too much repetition. 

Now think of a topic in the novel and use the same technique. Same blend of facts and opinions. What has changed is the more exaggerated (hopefully) crisis and/or your more extreme (hopefully) character giving the opinions. If you keep in mind what you know about the character’s point of view and personality, those substitute for the way you reacted to your crisis. For example, the fictional Maggie is nervous about going to the party and sneaks a couple of shots of Absolut before going. Then she enthusiastically downs the host’s “killer” punch and ends up spilling the third glass all down the front of Sharon’s ruffled silk blouse. How is Maggie going to explain that to herself in retrospect?

You write both a negative and positive version, as before. The positives might be harder to find in this instance, but because Maggie is a more extreme “person,” you can use the crisis to delineate why she has gone so far off the rails. In trying to do so, you may well discover along the way what the character should think about such a topic. You are always engaged in a project of discovery about what makes a character tick. So when you evaluate both versions, which one do you like better? Or, you can mix them to produce those qualities that feel right.

Exercise: You don’t have to compose a thought loop all at once. Rising out of bed on all those nights, I found that I retained only a few sentences clearly. Yet if I read it early the next morning, more of it would come back. Past a certain point I wasn’t sure if I even did have that thought skein. But it didn’t matter, because I had written out one that rang true.

“If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell.” —Sylvia Plath

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved


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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.