Sunday, January 3, 2010

Finished?

What does it mean in technical terms to be finished with a narrative?


In the primary sense of having read something, it means having read it as far as you can, either to the point where there is no more information from the author or, even more important, from the characters, or to the point where you simply cannot endure another word of the story. In the case of having read the work through to its physical conclusion, the next step is to blank out mind and feelings to the point of having reached a sort of Zen or meditation sense. Then you wait for the flow, the return of sensation and thought. If you are fortunate and truly enjoyed the story, some senses of satisfaction come wafting in, like the scents of a special meal, emerging from a nearby kitchen. If the first response is thought, you have the equivalent of the canary in the mine shaft having succumbed. Such first thoughts are critical as in, why would character A behave thus? of the even more personal one of I'm not buying that, not for a minute.

The next step is the one of having finished writing a narrative, a point at which you often arrive at with the same sense as having ridden past your stop on a subway. Especially in short stories, you tend to keep tacking final scenes onto a narrative, somewhat in the manner of trying to replace lost screws in drug store reading glasses. From time to time, the story may actually end where you had wanted it to end or where you thought it ought to end. Sometimes you try to fit as many as five or six different ending scenes onto a story before you are able to arrive at that aha moment that tells you none of these "endings" work because the story is already over. Almost without fail, your first response in such cases is the emotional one of bewilderment, which is your own proof that your observation was correct--the story did indeed end here. You are bewildered at not having been able to see this sooner, a feeling often followed by a glow of satisfaction because this was the only way the story could have ended for you and at least some small portion of you recognized this cosmic truth.

Finishing a longer work does not seem so fraught. Something has happened and someone--perhaps you--has changed.

Nevertheless, you hold onto the conviction that endings are removed from punch lines of jokes or anecdotes. Jokes and anecdotes are surely narrative in quality, but you feel yourself to have evolved somewhat beyond that to a degree it may be difficult to quantify but which nevertheless is confident enough to nudge you, let you know if its presence when you are winding down on a project.

The ultimate step is when you have enough stimuli in your mulling over a situation to see within it the potential for story. When you sense that there is a sufficient amount of water falling from the sky, you put on a cap. When you sense enough whirling, mischievous energy to begin investigating, out comes a sheet of paper or blank goes the computer screen in preparation for having at the early draft. Time to stop thinking. Time to start collecting the words before they become alarmed at your presence and take to the sky in a loud, fluttering rush.

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