Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Twelve: Ocean waves

(I swear, this is not random trivia, I'm going somewhere with this)

The majority of larger breaking waves best known to surfers and beach-goers are born from winds blown far off the coast. Waves crash, or break, when they encounter anything that disrupts the water's ability to maintain its cyclical course of movement affected by the speed and duration of the wind and the volume of water that is churning. As the wind blows at open sea, there is generally plenty of depth to allow the water to cycle, or loop, without interference, so you don't see many waves forming and breaking too far out from shore unless the wind gets violent, but they're still quite active. As the looping currents travel to shallower areas, eventually the space needed for the water to loop evenly becomes compromised by the rising ocean floor, and while the loop continues it becomes skewed, more of an elliptical orbit than a circular one. Due to the disruption of the balance, you can then see a bit of a rise of an oncoming wave at this point. The water that would be cycling unseen below is being forced up and over the (relatively) static level of the sea.

Eventually, as the ocean floor continues to rise and the water gets shallower (and this is affected by the water receding from the shore as well), the wave rises higher and higher until it is unstable--that is, the cyclical orbit cannot sustain the weight or shape of the visible wave, and like a building without a sufficient foundation, the wave becomes top heavy--crests--and dissipates, sometimes gently, often quickly and violently. ("Violently" relative to its size, of course. A twelve-inch waves crashing "violently" is perfect for playing with nieces or nephews in at the beach)

This, I've found, is generally how I write. When an idea forms, I don't generally take a ton of visible activity on it--I don't really do outlines or brainstorming sessions or anything on that nature. However, the story is always moving forward, churning through different possibilities in my mind, taking form in my spare thoughts. Cycling. I'll go over the same sequence again and again with different what if's each time. I know there's great value to outlining and making extensive notes, but every time I try to do one of those things, for some reason or other it just doesn't work. So instead, the idea cycles, silently, invisibly, for who knows how long, until it finally encounters something that causes it to crest. Seemingly within an instant, it has shape, form, identity, and it's coming quickly. The last four plays I wrote took a combined total of seven days of actual writing, once the writing began, and very few rewrites. The first draft of my novel also came obscenely quickly, for my first time, anyway. Admittedly, I had a deadline imposed on me for that one. Nevertheless, the constant in my writing the past two years has been that I don't have much of a traceable system or followable process; the story just cycles until it encounters some trigger, some shallow water that makes the cycling impossible to continue, and it crashes definitively to the shore, terrorizing any and all sand crabs in its way.

The next play is approaching shallow water. I don't know when it'll hit. Hopefully tomorrow or Thursday, before I start touring rehearsals, but I'd say almost certainly before the end of the month. A couple of stories--one another book, the others I'm not sure about--have picked up some wind and are cycling past the initial "churning in the ocean" stage and into the "headed toward the shore, forming the orbit that will become the wave" stage.

I'm not that great a writer. I'm fully aware of that. I think I'm developing into a pretty darn good storyteller, though. I like my stories, but more importantly, a LOT of people like my stories. One thing my recent reading project has reinforced in me is how much I LOVE a good story. I would rather read a great story than a great book. If a book can be both, then even better! Maybe one day I'll get to that point. Maybe I'll have to pick a medium if I ever want to get to that point.

As a latecomer to this particular beach, I don't pretend to have this shore figured out. Not in the least. In a lot of ways, I'm basically still wading. But one thing I've always loved about the ocean has been its endlessness. Characterized by unknowns and possibilities, almost intimidating in its sheer awesomeness. You could stare at it forever and never really take it in. Sometimes, I find it helpful to stare and try to get a feel for what's out there. Makes it a little less frightening to know which way the wind's blowing, you know?

The winds are good right now, my friends. Very good. Should make for some most excellent waves.