Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Story preoccupies you as you enter your evening class, it trails behind you as you leave it to seek out dinner and conversation, but follows you into the restaurant via your iPhone and a grumble of conversation from a multi-published author who plays the conspiracy theory card on account of not getting reviews.

Story is, you maintain, a chunk of reality made dramatic by the injection of abnormal stress between two or more forces.  Story may well be a tale told by an idiot or Benjy Compson, who then emerges the most admirable in The Sound and the Fury.  Story may also be a recounting by a minor character such as Nick in The Great Gatsby, but in any case, story comes down to some attempt at a resolution and the consequences of that resolution in, say, Dennis Lehane’s remarkable Gone, Baby, Gone, which left a sour enough aftertaste that it temporarily ended a relationship and caused a return of stolen property that triggered not only a fire storm of reaction but, nearly fifteen years later, a sequel in which the consequences were played out even more so and to even more excruciating results.

Story begins when someone wants something, takes steps to acquire it, only to become aware of an opposing factor blocking the way.

Story is not a series of lists or traits.

Nor is story a slew of details.

Descriptions are not story.

Themes are not story; they are adjuncts or residue of story.

Story is not weather reports.

Story is not endless self-flagellation about past sins of commission or omission.  Under no circumstances can you consider as story one or more individuals relating each to the other information the other already knows.  “As you know, Fred—“

Story is not the quickest, most direct route toward payoff.

Story is not about agreement, only the mistaken belief that an agreement has been reached, and even then, the parties involved are not absolute in their certainty that they were agreeing to the same thing.

You did tell the grumbling author in as many words that his stories are frequent hostages to his narrative style, the former often becoming indistinguishable from the latter.  That did not seem to help either him or you.
Directing critical commentary to an author or a student carries the risk that you are talking about your own work, whether in specificity or the breach.

You believe each story is a direct kin of a mystery.

You believe each story is a direct kin of an alternate universe story.

In either or both cases, finding fault with or holes in a story becomes the equivalent of challenging the creator of the Bible or Upanishads of having made narrative errors.

Editing your own work is no less fraught with the mischief of risk.

Writing story is reputed to be a lonely business.

You find it more risky than lonely.

A significant risk is the potential you will discover something about the work in progress, whether that work is you, yourself, a short story, or a novel, and the further potential that this discovery will be enough to upset your view of Reality.

Writing must remain risky and of course to sit at the table, you must take risks.

1 comment:

Storm Dweller said...

And here I am the one, when asking others to read my work, saying, "Please punch holes in it. I need to know what's sinking my vessel on these turbulent waters."