Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Story as Habeas Corpus: Help, Help, I'm Being Held Prisoner in a Story

Momentum is everything in the early drafts, and yet momentum is the the indecisive cat, not sure if it wants to leave the room or come back in once it has gone out.  Momentum fights a difficult battle with detail and both momentum and detail fight you.  So many verbs, wanting to be the cat and be let outside, only to return for some whim.

Detail begins to want to stop you in your tracks, bore you with detail, where the number of paces a character takes seem of moment only to be overshadowed by a particular shade of hair or a description of a face.

Vocabulary wishes to get in the way, wondering of you why you spent so much time as a youngster, pouring through dictionaries.  Why. indeed?  So that you could feel more comfortable with a full tool chest, confident it was the range of words and the way you threw them off that made the story.  You were well ahead of the game because you knew umbra, penumbra, and antumbra; you did not have to be stuck with mere shadow.

Although you know, going in, that the place where you began the draft will not remain as the place where the final draft begins, you nevertheless need some sense of a boulder, chugging down the face of a hill, that necessary first line that pulls the cork out of the bottle, releases the pent-up genie.

And with whom do you start?  Do you in fact have the right person?  Is there no better person to be the narrative filter?  If the work at hand is not fiction, rather an essay, are you in the proper frame of mind to deliver the voice you feel appropriate for freighting the narrative information?  Are you to be ironic, serious, inflated with gravitas?

Difficult as it is to proceed in such a quandary of thought, you need to make some decisions, you need to do some thinking, some primary arranging to get a forceful narrative start that will urge the genie out of the bottle, ready at least to nod his head to you in thanks for allowing him out of the bottle.

You are in fact supposed not to think, rather to listen to your senses begin to articulate the narrative path.  You try to keep your eyes open for any wanderers, youngsters who might wander off, then become lost.

Over years of practice, you've developed some first draft process, making it rare when you pause to seek a vision of what is to come next.  Pausing, seeking visions, those are the equivalent of shamanism, aren't they?  They're thinking, which should not come until the first draft is largely completed, a mass of lined note pad pages or unspellchecked computer pages, dashed off at great and inaccurate speed.

Of course this is all sophistry; the first draft should be given more than thought; it should be given your living presence so that it can be heard, like a prisoner in a remote jailhouse, writing a crude, pleading writ of hebeas corpus on the back of a paper bag.  Help, help, the writ says, I'm being held against my will.  You have my body in the hoosegow,  Let me fucking go.

When you began to consider stories as writs of habeas corpus, you began to think more of the characters as prisoners, including your tolerance for the cliche that ninety-five percent of inmates argue they've been wrongly detained.  You wouldn't be in here, you want to rail at them, if you hadn't been doing something that appeared illegal.

They may agree that they were doing something suspicious, but whatever it was, "they" had no right to arrest you or subject you to such additional humiliation.

First drafts are in their way anarchists, shouting, yowling for social justice, wanting to be heard now, demanding your attention--or else.  How difficult it is to make adequate sense of them at times.  You often approach yours with a sense of foreboding, wondering what you will discoverer beyond the fact of you having tried to get the writing done as quickly and completely as possible, confident that the discipline of speed with overcome the consequences and awkward style of too much extra detail.

First drafts are a relief to have done.  However much more difficult it is to begin thinking about where the story begins, where it ends, and what its tone is, who's in charge, such considerations seem to make the ultimate, necessary thoughts worthwhile.

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