January 08, 2004

half a story

So yesterday I finished the first draft of my latest story. I was proud of the format. Iíd broken the story into four beats, each one precipitated by and built around a difficult phone call. I was happy with the way it came out. I cut the 4675 words down to around 3925, printed it out and handed it to Dan to read.

His comment? Start with the last beat. The first three read like set-up. Plot, not emotion. The meat of the story is that last long section.

Heís right, damnit. I hate him.

I think I had to write it that way even though it doesnít work for the reader. Iím writing about a difficult night, a night I remember all too well. Some people think itís easier to write from real life; you donít have to make things up. Itís actually much harder. You have to give yourself the freedom to reform the narrative, pulling away from the ďBut it really happened that way!Ē trap and creating something thatís an involving, evocative read even to people who have never met you.

This piece in particular has a lot of back story. Things that happened leading into the events of the night. Iíve tried writing this before, but ended up bogged down in details. But getting the exposition out of the way early (those previous three phone calls) helped me avoid all that in this iteration. It made the main action cleaner, I think. I didnít have to wonder, ďDo they know enough?Ē, I knew they did so I could just write.

Today I deleted all that lovely what-came-before action. And I don't miss it. Funny thing, I think itís going to be easy now to set up everything you actually need to know within the single sequence. Just a few sentences here and there and youíve got the whole picture. I just couldnít see how until Iíd written it the other way first. Ten pages gone, ten Ė or maybe two Ė sentences to add and my work is done.

Well, that part of it is done. Thereís still a matter of building the character more so sheís distinctly not me and so you the reader can see and feel like you know her, if only just a bite-sized taste of personality. And subtly underlining the themes I unearthed through the writing process. Now I can make them resonate, if I do it right. A word here, a fragment of a thought there, and the story becomes that much stronger. Thatís the tricky part with short stories. You donít have a novelís luxury of words and tangents. You have to be succinct but let your reader inside the storyís walls, give them enough to invest in. Itís like writing a haiku instead of a ballad. A flavor, not a meal.

Something else interesting I noticed today. When I deleted the first half of the story, the cuts I made yesterday no longer worked. I had to restore the passages Iíd thought of as writerly flourishes. Now theyíre necessary. Now they set the mood and allow us inside the narratorís head. When the story shrank, the flourishes took on meaning. I see that as a good sign.

Iím done hating Dan. Now Iím happy to have him. My own personal editor, insightful and analytical. And Iím excited to get back to the story, whip that puppy into shape.

Posted by Tamar at January 8, 2004 08:49 PM

Will we get to see it when you're done? Please? ;-)


Posted by: Tiny Coconut at January 9, 2004 04:54 PM

I don't think I'll post it here, but there's such a thing as email attachments. ;)

Posted by: Tamar at January 9, 2004 11:34 PM