Wild cactus, dangerous to touch
I finished a short story yesterday. Each time this happens I get a tremendous sense of self completion. That sense usually dissipates on a re-reading. I think I edit more than I write. However, this was a third sitting and a long one. (I can always edit again.)
I submitted it for StoryFriday, a superb event that happens one Friday evening on alternate months. It’s held in Burdalls Yard, Bath, an atmospheric and quite historic building with a mediterreanean courtyard and a cave-like theatre. It’s owned by the Performing Arts department of Bath Spa University but used by others in the evenings. A Word in Your Ear, of which StoryFriday is a section, gains from this availability.
There is a theme set, authors submit stories and the best are selected, either performed by the authors themselves or by one of the two talented actors. There is interesting live music as the evening starts, with candle lit tables and a bar. At the appointed hour we all take our seats in the small theatre, and the story performances begin. The standard is very high so I don’t count on my story being accepted. However, I thought beginner writers might be interested in the process of writing this story.
I think that once an idea comes for a story the writer can become too involved in one aspect to pay due attention to other important elements that go towards making a good story. In my case, I was totally immersed in developing the voice of a not too reliable narrator. (Readers of my previous post of this title will realise that this appeals to me.)
StoryFriday for March has the theme, FERAL. When set a theme, I like to stick to it closely. So I have a feral narrator. He’s not like this wonderful creature, but the illustration demonstrates that a theme can be interpreted in unusual and unexpected ways.
panzi – deviantart.com
The writing process
Deep into my narrator’s account, at about 2,000 words I realised that I had too many characters appearing. Even without assigning them names, they would crowd my story. I doubt if a story of under 3000 words can work with more than three characters, and I was working to a maximum word count of 2,200. Even that is too long for a spoken performance.
I sat back and re-thought the story. Where was my character at the beginning? How many places and situations could he refer to? Like characters, not too many, otherwise the reader/listener would become confused. How could I best lead up to the climax? Had I laid down a hint near the beginning so that the end had validity? Had I described sufficient of the scenes for them to be visualised?
After thinking this all out, I reworked rather than rewrote the story, but all the time the above considerations had to be written as seen through the eyes of the narrator.
I hope I’ve succeeded, but if I haven’t, I’ll come back and edit again. I think this feral narrator is refusing to let me go.
In a previous post (Reproducing macro events in micro terms) I wrote about my novel, A Relative Invasion. I wanted to convey that, although a child is the protagonist and the problem (rivalry) occurs in childhood, there is a parallel between the emotions here and those on a huge scale. This post is about another aspect of the novel – a technical problem for which I may now have a way forward
Writers will know how you can come back and back to a novel until finally the problem becomes clear. Sometimes a solution to a problem unexpectedly clicks into place. In this particular case, I didn’t even know I was looking for a solution. I only knew I was seeking further improvement to the structure. After several rewritings and countless reworking, I am still dissatisfied. It’s no bad thing to recognise that something is not quite right and to persevere.
A few agents have rejected this book because it is written in the child’s voice. I could change this, but after thinking of alternatives, I have remained committed to it. It is very difficult to capture the thinking of a child as he grows from the age of five years to adulthood, getting the internal language and the mental focus right through middle childhood, teenage to young adulthood, especially when the third person is chosen as the means of telling the story. You are in the child’s mindset with the child’s focus. I do recognise that some readers wonder who the target reader is. Is it a child’s book? The pace suggests otherwise and there are constant implications about adult behaviour seen through the child’s eyes. Can it be for adults when chapter after chapter shows the experience of a child? (Does his world matter enough? Does his viewpoint count?)
In carrying out research involving human behaviour, it seemed to me healthy to make the initial approach with a child’s mind, open to possible questions, let alone answers. Therefore, I am sticking with a novel that has a child as a protagonist and a child who shows the reader a world from his perspective. The reader is adult, s/he can form different opinions/further understanding to the child’s fragmentary view.
However, something in the novel isn’t quite right. There is some basic lever or pin-hole missing. I need a device for letting the reader look down (from adulthood) at least briefly but in a systematic form, as well as up (from childhood) throughout the plotline.
Have any of you experienced that lightbulb moment? Do comment below.
I ‘finished’ the novel three years ago. It has been undergoing rewritings ever since. But last week, in walking from one room to another, a propos of nothing it seemed, the device came to me. I could head each chapter with the news heading for that date. This will put the ‘adult concerns’ in the mind of the reader as s/he reads about the child’s. Now I have to get down to another rewrite that utilises this. When I have finished, I will report back. I may be gone some time . . .
Meantime, the marketing of a very different book, my collection of ironic short stories, is dominating time that should be spent in writing and reviewing. When I feel frustrated I remind myself that each activity refreshes the writing process in different ways. More of these in a later post.