Sunday, April 24, 2016

Destinations and Outcomes

At various times in your life, either in trains, buses, or in your own car, you've gone past your intended destination or gotten off too soon. At various times in your writing life, you've gone past your destination point or disembarked too soon. The former instances had to do with various forms of distraction or confusion. 

The latter instances were indulged for the same reasons. Destinations and outcomes are not always that apparent, even though you may have been anticipating them for some time or, worse yet, even though you've been visiting them a number of times in the past.

 Much of what you compose, and perhaps why you compose, has the effect on you of the cookie crumbs left by the witch to lure Hansel and Gretel. You by no means wish to arrive at the same fate of those two,whom, by the way, you'd got to thinking of as brats. You wished to arrive at an outcome, which has for you a similar sense of having an itch scratched, a thirst slaked, a curiosity abated for the moment.

Perhaps, if you're fortunate, the curiosity leads you on, past a momentary satisfaction, into a deeper, increasingly expanding curiosity. You're all for it, eager for any information or clues an outcome may provide. 

Scanning through your notes, you find frequent mention of the negotiated settlement as one of the most tangible sorts of outcome you can expect, either from life and, thus, Reality, or from fiction, which, within the avenues and dead-ends of your mind, is an enhanced, exaggerated, sometimes steroidal, other times lugubrious simulacrum of Reality.

One way to end a story is to simply stop writing. You've done that, but the approach does not in the long run give you the satisfaction or sense of finality you'd hoped. The best thing to do is something you first discovered while still a student at UCLA, working the night shift for Associated Press from 3:30 p.m. until 12:10 a.m. 

You'd learned long before that to cut journalism from the bottom upward, which necessitated always the worst case scenario of the entire story except the lead paragraph being deleted, not so much because of the quality of the story as the space left on a given page.

When you began writing your essay-type essays that way, your grades began a dramatic rise to the point where you were experiencing a happiness difficult to define. This inchoate happiness was also a part of your gradual coming to terms--your outcome, as it were--with the form of story you'd been seeking.

Thus now, the way to end a story is to write everything you can about the narrative until you realize you're explaining, repeating, and losing the sense of immediate connection with the characters and theme. This produces an effect where it is almost as though the characters in the story and the narrative itself are sending you notes of increasing urgency, Stop. Please stop. Stop right now.

At this point, you begin cutting from the bottom upward, seeing with increasing clarity how you'd begun explaining the kinds of things that do not need to be explained within a story. The sight of your words, turning leaden as you read through and delete upward help you build a muscle memory that sinks in. 

As the cutting continues, you begin to experience an enhanced sense of awareness, not of the world about you but of the Reality within the story. All the while, you're thinking, They don't need this, they don't need to see this, I hope they don't see this.  The "they," are, of course, the readers. You are deliberately overwriting for you, the equivalent of piling too much food on your plate from a cafeteria line. But you are removing text for the reader, to, in fact, spare the reader from unnecessary details and explanations, superfluous philosophy, and exaggerated justification.

There arrives a point where you have trust, an equals sign, and readers; in effect you are saying the more you trust the story, the more you trust the reader. The more you like and believe the story, the more you trust the reader. The more you listen to the characters, the more you begin that necessary sense of losing awareness of the reader, but this time in a blissful sweep of trust wherein you believe you've created a powerful evocation of the original idea, traced it through to the point where it tells you it has arrived at a destination.

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