Sunday, December 12, 2010


The more you revise a story, the more you iron out the bumps of chance, smoothing the fabric into something other than you'd seen at first glimpse.  The events grow before you into a complex web of causality that suggests but does not deliver with specificity a sense of inevitability.  Some readers and writers alike speak of this condition as Fate or "meant to be."  You don't think of it as destiny or even such other plateaus as karma; the mere fact for you is that in story, the cobwebs suggesting something related to the way the events play out are cobwebs to be kept, other cobwebs, mere decorative cobwebs, or cobwebs no one character fears or perhaps loathes, need to be brushed aside.

Characters behave as they do beyond a complex plot, which sometimes appears as a menu for a scavenger hunt:  Character A gets there first, sees the clue, gets the item, then moves along hopeful of returning first with all his assigned "things."  No, thank you, no.

Such tropes as "Just then" "Suddenly," and  "On a whim" have long been erased even from your most rapid composition, you are pleased to report, but there are other stragglers that continue to speak to some greater sense of ominous design.  These must be shown the back door, sent off with a sandwich, then told to head somewhere else.

 Characters do what they do not because you have constructed a complex pattern for them but because they are drawn toward behavior by their own needs and quirkiness.  The moment they appear to be doing things because they need to check such activities off their personal list, the writer has betrayed them and his/her own commitment to reach deeply within to pull forth the most emotion-charged activity as opposed to wondering how he'd allowed himself to get caught up in this situation in the first place.

You have no argument with persons doing things they do not always understand; you are a prime example of a person who likes to think (note the verb) he knows.  In story, however, such grace notes are not allowed; they slow the sense of inevitability which is so important to the success or failure of a particular narrative.

When two characters believe their meeting was inevitable, there must be information somewhere that takes us as readers beyond the point where they are willing to let the meeting go as having been ordained by the cosmos.  The cosmos is already over programmed and does not need such burdens.  They met because of similar interests or having been similarly educated or abused or some other plausible landing site of connective tissue.  It is alright for us to see them believing their meeting was destined, but the information needs to be there for us to know better.

Revision of this sort is a significant step, one beyond mere changing words here and there or shipping a particularly orotund sentence off to the assisted living community; this is the step that puts the sense of time and place into the cracks and interstices of activity, an editorial thumb flicking the lip of a crystal goblet.  Oh, my, what a lovely ring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On occasion our language lets us down. You end this fascinating journey with the ring of crystal, which refers us back to your title. Perfect, except that the word 'clink' somehow has an ironic sound to it. But - as I'll bet you know already - there's simply no other word to put in its place! I'd like the word CLING but alas it's already taken... Karen