On A Recent Story About Very Little

The last few weeks, and it has felt a lot longer than that, have been devoted to a short story about a woman reminiscing. It began as an intentionally stream of consciousness kind of exercise, where the sentences would ramble, on purpose, and a paragraph may end up being about something quite different from what it started being about, as it seemed to make sense that this is the way a person thinks. One has a thought and that thought triggers another thought and so on. In fact the first consideration was whether the story should be in first and third person, and after a period of vacillation third person seemed best, as it preserved a bit of authorial latitude, and the idea would be that the protagonist wouldn’t actually be doing very much, just sitting around and thinking, and so any action might be important and, perhaps it would be difficult to write things like, “… and now I will walk over to the window and look down at the street with a melancholy expression on my face”. Perhaps not – I didn’t try it this time, but may have a go at a later date.

So it was third person, where the author knows the thoughts and history of the character, and the character thinks and remembers and does more thinking. And the more rambling style than I usually use was adopted – although you could be forgiven for thinking I never get to the point by reading some of the stuff I write here, I can be direct, concise, economical even.

Also, it was a bit of an experiment with not reading over what had already been written (or not too carefully) before starting again at the next sitting. There was an idea of what the story should be, and once I familiarised myself with where it was up to I was preparted to do the next bit. (Incidentally I haven’t written a full story of over a thousand words in one sitting in some time – perhaps ever.) Anyway, the rambling and the not being too careful about detail and being intentional about letting go of certain disciplines in a bid to make the thing represent the way the mind works meant that there were some nice sentences but the whole thing was repetitious and overly wordy and seemed to be really pretty flabby. It was only when editing started and I gave it to Laetitia to read and she said that it seemed a bit like a long series of notes for a story rather than the story itself in some ways (which was the way I had described it to her) that I realised that there was so much more editing to do.

And the process of editing was also the process of changing it from something in a slightly unfamiliar voice to making it a story by me, rather than an experiment in another style, and even when I realised that it was still so time consuming to get the thing into any kind of condition that I was happy with.

There were so many situations where a good sentence was made better, and sometimes really very good, and there were so many duds that I was able to salvage something from. It seemed for a while that this could be a story which didn’t have any part that didn’t quite work at all. It seemed as if all the flat or inferior parts could not just be eliminated but made into good parts. But it was taking so long. It was taking weeks. The thought that I might be able to work on it for a couple of hours on the weekend kept me going, as I was only spending an hour each week night on it, but even that didn’t seem to imply that it would soon be finished, and our weekends became unaccountably busy, as can happen when you’ve been married fairly recently. And there was the kill your darlings idea, which also crept in and influenced my bright, positive thinking about making al the sentences sing – some of your gold sentences are actually too much, some of your $10 words should be changed for $2 words. And it wasn’t getting finished either. Or it was just so bloody slow.

But finally, eventually, it got to a point where the quibbling was over smaller things, like punctuation, and there were a couple of places where something wasn’t quite right but I left those, and the story was declared finished. And I submitted it to a couple of places, but I’m still not sure if it’s any good. It has a lot of telling and not much showing, but that is intentional. In any case, several lessons have been learned, or I hope they have anyway.

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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