Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Stag Party

There are times when composing fiction is like going to some social gathering in which you know only one other person, more often the host. You begin the story with a tug at that social part of yourself, where you enjoy gatherings while at the same time feel a tug of reserve as you approach the threshold of the gathering venue.

You take a few breaths, remind yourself you'll no doubt enjoy yourself, then step inside, your senses already sending you messages of the dynamic before you. You'll notice groups separated in some preferential pattern you can't quite read. You do scan the atmosphere for clues to the amount of drinking of alcohol that's gone before your arrival, even locating the locus of the bottles of whiskey, gin, vodka, and the likelihood you'll find a wine or ale to your taste.

Before long, the host sees you, welcomes you, and through coded exchanges of small talk and gestures, causes you to be aware of why you accepted this invitation in the first place. You allow yourself to be fitted with a drink, then led on some path of introduction, whether it is a complete circuit of the venue and the tsunami of new names and faces to memorize, or being led to a particular group, artfully introduced, then left to adapt on your own time line.

A dramatic nudge into some set of dramatic circumstances that you reckon to have potential for becoming a story can feel quite a bit like being the outlier at a social gathering. You know there is purpose, curiosity, some effect or result to be had. You may even have a primary sense of whose story the story belongs to, and what provocative, combustive moment may emerge, at which point you'll understand you are hopelessly attached to the material, doomed to revisit it over the days, even months to come, in order to see what the combustive moment produces.

Because you have habits related to carrying about such uncompleted narratives, revisiting and revising in hopes of producing an outcome, you have reached the point of accepting this limbo-like aspect of your process. But because you read a good deal and find satisfactions in the process, you tend to skip over your awareness of how many drafts a successful work must have required.

If you happen to read something you find to have a deep personal resonance, and do so at a time when you have two or three projects hanging resolution, you can't help noticing a squirt of envy at the writer's outcome--marveling from your own distant feelings toward  your unresolved works at the writer's output.

This comes from earlier times, when you were considered prolific. You've been some years in an arm wrestle with the notion or being prolific, which, for one thing, means to you having an enormous output as opposed to spending time most days in an act you think of as puttering. You were puttering this morning at coffee, revising two or three sentences and adding several more, which had the aggregate feeling of being a snail, producing some slime along which to travel toward a goal. Although this puttering was helpful, it was by no means work, much less a day's work.

You have no idea what a day's work of composition will be until you have completed it. You do have a better sense of what, in retrospect, being prolific meant in actual terms; it meant a certain amount of puttering every day.

Similar to you taking some kind of initiative when you are at a social gathering where you know few persons, you need to spend more time with your characters, watch for useful clues or quirks, decide which among them you trust or suspect. You need to consider their secret wishes, their affinities, their doubts; you need to know which boundaries they believe they will not trespass.

How else can you become the instrument of pushing them over their boundaries in order to see how they will now respond? And of course doing so gives you a greater grip on what the story is truly about and why it has taken you so long to get inside.

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