Friday, December 14, 2007

The Vicious Circle of Story

There are times when a notion for a new story arrives like a car load of distant relatives or friends who arrive one day early for a party. After much standing about in the living room, asking questions about the fates of even more distant relatives or expressing some platitude about how good it is to see you all, the question of what to do with them arises, just as it arises with the first impulse for a story.

What to do with "them" after the greetings have run down and the inventories of freezer compartments and cupboards are mentally riffled through? And of the signal event for the story, after it has been captured as though some exotic lepidoptera?

We must remind ourselves of a few basics. Although we are at heart herd animals, there are times when we want the sheer luxury of solitude if only to inventory our own inner larders. Although we have no choice in the matter of being writers, there are times when we fear a future with no new ideas or concepts come a knocking.

First things first. So nice of you to visit, we tell the relatives. How long did you say your stay was? Wouldn't want you to have to worry about the place being tented for termite extinction in a couple of days. And for the early friends, Gee, hope this doesn't mean you have to miss tomorrow night's party. And for the story, well, just get it down as it comes out, but them start asking questions such as How do you know you're a story? Whose story are you? Are you big enough to know the difference between a story and a concept?

Second things second, which is to say, the next draft around, you begin looking for the right place, the perfect place to begin. And where would that be? Why of course that would be in a scene or encounter that was so filled with tension and conflict and interaction that you have no time for weather reports or poetic descriptions or genealogical surveys of characters. There is a likelihood of several such places because stories are orbital, they revolve about their characters as earth orbits the sun, sometimes even tilting a degree or two on its axis as the earth did during the Ice Age.

Where we begin informs the tone and texture of the story
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."

Ah, what better description of story!

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

"the difference between a story and a concept" - ah yes. The concept is like trying to follow a recipe in an internal cookbook while the story INSISTS on changing the proportions and removing this spice for more of that other one, and ...(yes, everything is food related in my mind today)