Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Of Headless Boys and Writing

One of the hobbies I cling fiercely to is painting. I drive 60 miles into the nearest "big city" (if Amarillo, Texas qualifies--and given where I live, it does) every Tuesday to run errands (we don't have a dry cleaners in town) and go to my oil painting class. I've been signing up for this continuing education class at Amarillo College every semester for several years, because if I tried to paint at home, I never would. I figure I'm paying for studio space, as much as advice from the teacher. I love to paint, and I like to think I've gotten better at it over the years I've been working at it again. (I have some of my paintings on my website, here.) (I painted with my middle sister when we were children--and she was better than me even then, when she was 10 and I was 14. She's still better than me.)

This past Tuesday, I was in my art class, working on my current "opus"--a picture of three anonymous boys playing in the sand at the beach--and could not get two of their heads to look right. Absolutely could NOT. One of them had a head 3 times too big for his body and no matter how much I tried to shrink it, it looked wrong--that shadow head I was trying to paint partly out always showed through and there was supposed to be sand under the water, not giant head flop-overs.

The other one's head was at the wrong angle and had too much chin. And I don't care how much I adjusted that chin, or the top of his head, it looked Horrible. Awful. First he was "head-on-crooked boy" and then he became "chinless-pinhead boy." Ugh.

Thank goodness boy #3's baseball cap worked. Right size. Right angle. No face. (Hey, the baseball cap hid it!) Perfect.

I got more and more frustrated, more and more annoyed, and finally, I mixed up a big batch of dirty blue water color and just painted their heads right out. I now have two headless boys in my painting. I won't leave them that way--next week, when the water's dry, I'll go back and give them heads again (with any luck, they'll look better than the first set of heads), but sometimes you just have to go back to the beginning and start over. Tweaking just isn't going to cut it. Now, I didn't paint over the whole canvas (though I have done that on occasion)--the surf and sand and little boy bodies all look pretty good. The heads just didn't match the bodies.

And it occurred to me that writing is sometimes like that. Probably more often than we'd like. Sometimes you just have to dump a scene and start over. It's only when you have to dump the whole book that things get worrisome. Hmm. Now I think about it, life in general is kinda like that too--sometimes you just have to go back to where things went wrong and start over.
I just hope we don't have to do it too often, or have to go back too far...


Sandra K. Moore said...

I can so totally relate to this. I had a book that started out too big for its britches, then hacked it down to a reasonable size, then realized it needed to be rewritten to fit its word count properly, then...and so on.

I'm not sure I learned anything from the experience, though I'm trying to keep an open mind. :sigh:

Nancy Herkness said...

Gail, maybe your painting problem explains the headless male torsos we're seeing so many of on the covers of our books. LOL!

JoAnn Ross said...

Gail -- Great analogy! About writing and life. I also hugely admire your determination to stick with something you so enjoy and think you're ever so clever to trick yourself into painting by paying for that space!

Also, what Nancy said was the first thing that popped into my mind. I have a headless hero on Bad Boys Southern Style. Then, after I'd flat out begged for a running girl suspense cover for No Safe Place, Pocket
gave me what I think is a great one, but she, too, is headless! (Terrific shoes and bag, though -- which, alas, don't show up on this tiny pic -- which are important to have when you're running for your life! LOL)

Nancy Herkness said...

OMG, JoAnn, your heroine is running for her life with a handbag?!?!? That's amazing!

JoAnn Ross said...

It's not my cop heroine, Nancy. (She, sadly, wears much more sensible shoes, but at least she has great underwear.) The first thing both my editor and I thought when we saw the cover was, "Oh, look! It's the heroine's hooker sister!" LOL