Friday, May 23, 2014

The Open Door Policy

Among the first things you remove from your own writing when you are revising, and from the work of another, when you are editing, is information--incessant, descriptive information.

When you have done the describing in your own work, you are more often getting a sense of where you are, why things behave as they do, and motivating factors for the characters as they set off in motion.  You have long passed the sense of using facts as argumentative tools, in a sense trying to badger the reader into accepting the entire story because the facts are all worked out and, to the best of your ability, are correct.

Correctness is not high up in the importance pyramid, not in story.  Characters come into story, either convinced they are correct, or seeking information which they wish to believe is correct.  Without trying to suggest facts and information should be anthropomorphized, they should not be allowed to argue or describe their way into story to provide background.  

If you are editing an accomplished writer, you find descriptions and information scattered about the narrative like the unopened boxes scattered about a new dwelling after moving.  You found such a box in your own studio, a relic from the move from Hot Springs Road to here, three and a half years ago.  You were right to be apprehensive when you saw and recognized the box.  The materials inside were all superfluous, overcome by a number of events, their usefulness compromised.

If you are editing a beginning writer, there is a great likelihood you will find paragraphs, sometimes even entire pages of background or description or argumentative evidence that X is a troubled character, Y is an undesirable place, and that Z is relevant psychological or perhaps geographical background to support X's troubles and Y's geological history.

There is some satisfaction in your pursuit of such matters in your own work, because these arguments, descriptions, definitions, and justifications are more often than not in the early pages, thinning quite a bit as the story takes on a dramatic sense of being dimensional.

Information on its own is kindling for the fires of boredom.  Explanation--in particular explanation given in the belief that the reader will not understand--is a fan for those fires, whipping it up to a significant enough whoosh to cause the reader to set the project down, perhaps for all time.  

Close on the heels of mere description and long stretches of events intended to serve as background for the past, present, and forthcoming behavior of characters is argumentation.  Your past experiences with argumentation have come at writers' conferences, once or twice in your private workshops, and in your adult ed fiction classes.  More often than not, they exacerbate because the writer feels backed into a corner, forced to decent the story with what begins as logic, increasing to fustian, and in a few instances to melt down.

Painful as these encounters can be, you are pleased to have them because they once again ratify your own vision of story as an instrument that does not require the dramatic equivalent of a thesis defense.  Such encounters also help you reinforce the patience necessary to tell a story in the most appropriate way.

What is appropriate for you is not a one-size-fits-all venture; your most recent publishing project reaffirmed that for you, leading to differences of opinion with your literary agent, your publisher, and your editor.  Your method of standing your ground involves taking their comments into consideration, doing a draft to see how their suggestions appear, then seeing if there are ways to triangulate so that the emotional tide of the story has not shifted from your original intention but rather has made the tide more graceful and memorable yet.

The biggest thing for you to absorb and accommodate is your belief that ambiguity plays an important role in a story to the point where you do not wish to spell out what you consider major defining moments.  That said, ambiguity, by its intrinsic nature, leaves the door open for interpretations of what was said, what was not said, what was meant, and what was not meant.  

In the long run, revision, improvisation, and open doors seem the most profitable, if ambiguous, approach. 

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