Saturday, January 14, 2012

Story - More Thoughts

I just completed a novella that started out as a short story, grew because it needed better definition and detail, compressed because I consolidated some characters to make the relationships less confusing, and then expanded again as I inserted internal and external dialogue, after which I used a editing machete to hack away irrelevant portions, rearrange scenes, and polish to a fine (to me) finish.

Throughout the process I had a single goal in mind, a decent outline to follow, and engaging (to me, anyway) characters. The entire time I was drafting I believed I was explicating the plot in my head. I adhered to my original outline, even thought I was continually chopping portions off, shifting parts of scenes back and forth, and trying to keep things in temporal order (for once, no backstory!)  The story was to be straightforward, simple, and explicit.  No hidden meanings, no agenda, and no social or political viewpoint I wanted to push: My idea was to just write a simple adventure story appropriate to my audience.

But only after I put it aside for a week and re-read it did I understand what the story was really about - not the actions nor the world in which my characters inhabited, but the overriding sensibility, theme, or whatever you call that which permeates the text like a ghostly shroud and influences every phrase and word choice.  I discovered that I had apparently created rather more than intended.

Nancy Kress in her wonderful book Beginnings, Middles, and Ends stated that only when you are finished writing can you really understand what your story is about.  The writer's task, she then advises, is to then imbue the text with appropriate metaphor and symbology to reflect your new understanding.

With this admonition in mind I reviewed the story and discovered that I had not been consistent with my new understanding and, as a result, I might have a better story if I insert or nuanced key parts of the text before submitting this particular piece to the discerning eyes of editorial review.  In the end I was well-satisfied with what I had done and proudly sent it forth to sink or swim in editorial waters.

I think I should include a write-up of this process as Step Twelve of my mistakenly and hasty blog: Ten Stages of Story Development.

1 comment:

  1. I had a similar experience with a story and it taught me to trust that I might not really know what the story is about while I'm writing it, even if I think I do. At worst, you end up with two layers of meaning that way, and if you're lucky readers will think you planned it that way all along!


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