Acting Out

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As I was knee-deep in edits today, my flow came to a screeching halt when I was faced with a particularly difficult passage. It was difficult on two accounts. First, it recounted a very emotional day in my life during a time when I was beginning to realize that something was different about Jake.  And secondly, a beta-reader made a note that said the writing didn’t necessarily convey what I had hoped it did.

After reading the passage again, I realized what she meant. The behaviors that I highlighted weren’t strictly those of a child who was exhibiting signs of a deeper issue other than being frustrated. She asked me to consider rewriting so that the reader gets a clear picture that something more is going on.

Determined to write a stronger passage, I settled in and readied my hands at the keyboard. And I sat. And I revisited that day in my head. And I sat some more. That’s when it dawned on me that it was time to bust out my jazz hands – that is, to act out the passage as if it was a scene from a movie with me being Jake.

So I stood up and imagined a wall of choices in front of me. I am five years old. I have to make a decision. There are too many choices. I have to pick one. But what if I pick the wrong one? What if there’s a better one? Out of character, I noticed that I was pacing the floor. Okay, that’s a visual to add. I knew I was onto something.

I just needed to act it out – to feel physically what Jake was feeling emotionally so that I could help the reader visualize Jake’s mental state.

I went back under. So many kits to choose from. So many choices. What if I choose the wrong one? I let that phrase loop in my head until I felt my body tighten and my arms pull close to my sides. I imagined my eyes darting nervously from one kit to another. I feel pressure. I feel an internal tension that causes me to start breathing heavily. It’s too much. I feel like I might explode. I have to decide. My mom is waiting. I have to pick. She tells me to just pick a fun one. But which one is the most fun? Is it that one? Or this one?

It’s just a science kit she says thinking that will make it easier. But what she doesn’t understand is that my mind is stuck. And I am stuck in my mind.

I feel tears start to come and I know that I have it. By allowing myself to act it out, feel the emotions and notice how my body reacted, I am closer to knowing how Jake must have felt at that time. By moving and paying attention to how I’m moving, I can now write it down.

I want my book to read like a movie. I want the visual cues to be so spot-on that the reader can create the scenes in her mind. So I sit down and paint the scene word by word. And cut. Act 2, Scene 1 done.

Tomorrow I will tackle another scene and just like Mr. Sondheim wrote bit by bit I will complete my book.

Art isn’t easy
Even when you’re hot
Advancing art is easy
Financing it is not
A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head
If no one gets to hear it, it’s as good as dead
It has to come to life
Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art
Every moment makes a contribution
Every little detail plays a part
Having just a vision’s no solution
Everything depends on execution
Putting it together, that’s what counts

-From Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George