Saturday, February 22, 2014

Forcing the story

I've been working on a short story for weeks, rewriting, restructuring, and rephrasing  to get it "right."  Nothing seemed to work. I kept having a problem with resolution and the characters' motivations. Or maybe  it's the dialogue, or the setting, or the asides, or the ....  Too much, too much! It seems that everything's a mess and when I smack one problem down another rises to confound me.

I keep asking myself at what point do I stop trying to force a frustrating story to behave and toss it in the trash. It's never been a yes/no decision: nothing ever is.  Instead there are always shades of gray, stages through which a story must pass before it reaches its final (and probably unfinished) form.

I frequently abandon the first draft resulting from my enormous enthusiasm for an idea. Seized by the concept I write like a fiend until... I can't think of what might come next.  Usually, I put the draft aside and move on to something else for diversion, promising myself to return later, after my mind clears.  For days I toy with the idea of just hitting the delete key to send the draft to oblivion and give me headroom to write something else.  Except there's already too many "something else's" on the desktop.

A few days ago, I realized that  this particular story was NEVER going to go as planned!  No matter how long I would try to pound it into shape it would never, ever end. I could write a weak,  facile ending, but then the story wouldn't be worth the time already invested.  What to do, what to do?  Should I cut my losses and dump it or do something else?

In a sudden fit of self-examination I realized that I'd been trying to force the story to a predefined conclusion instead of letting it tell itself.  I was letting let my desire for structural control to overcome whatever natural story telling inclinations I might have. Did the story want to be a tragedy or a comedy?  Was I allowing my characters to act honestly or was I making them march lockstep to a predetermined destiny?

I decided at that point to let the story grow naturally from its beginning and let the characters' actions and conversations take me where they wanted to go.  In doing so, in releasing the tight controls, each character became their own creation and together, they led me to a place, a time, and an emotional resolution that I never envisioned at the outset.

Last night the story became itself.


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