July 4th: (Momentary) Freedom from Self-Consciousness

So there’s this new writerly-blogging trend — not really a dangerous one, but it sure feels like one to a cautious soul like Yours Truly. Which is: throw caution to the winds. Post online something you’ve written, and… ask for feedback.

I think I’m going to try that, and I’ll get to that in a moment. [Whoops — too late!] I’ve tried that, briefly, over the last couple days, and depending on how that works out I may post about the experience later.

But first I want to lay the groundwork. I want to tell you about a sort of breakthrough I had last week, in working on Seems to Fit. (That’s the WIP’s new title — coming up with a final (?) title not the breakthrough I speak of now, although it was a huge weight off my mental shoulders then, and still.)

For about a week at the end of June, I drifted in the WIP doldrums. Oh, the early-morning writing sessions were continuing. Continuing unproductively.

The problem? Let’s start with what the problem was not. It wasn’t:

  • “What comes next?”
  • “Do I still believe in my story?” (nor the nasty correlative, “Do I even like it anymore?”)
  • “Can I really write?”
  • “How can you possibly think of writing at a time like this, when [insert calamitous personal, household, or worldwide event] is going on?”
  • “Why bother writing anyhow? You know the odds against writing — against writing professionally, successfully, happily. Are you nuts or something?”

No, the problem was, maybe, one which you’ll not have to face yourself: I knew too much about my story.

Yes, again: at the time, it didn’t even have a freaking title. But other than that, I had waaaay too much information at hand. I’d written one full draft, one near-full, and one partial over the course of 15 years before undertaking this latest and final version of the story. I had research notes up to my eyeballs, many of them now superfluous because I, jeez, I’d been reading and thinking about them all that time. I had a plot, and I had the background information about the characters participating in that plot, and I, I , I— holy crap, I was just overwhelmed.

That was my problem, see? I’d lost sight of the central story, the story-that-counts, the skeleton on which everything else hangs. You know, like… like…

Let’s say you’re building a shed. (It’d have to be you; I sure as hell don’t know anything about shed-building.) You’ve got the 2x4s and the floor and the roof in place. Time for the walls. The fun part!

But instead of proceeding, straightforwardly, with sheetrock or whatever the hell else you use to make walls with (you’re an artist, after all), you grab a big sheet of newspaper you’ve been soaking in glue and you hang it in place. Looks okay there, and once it just sets up a bit it’ll be just fine — especially if you then layer another sheet over it.

…and then another.

…and then another.

Before long, you’re no longer even laying on new sheets of what will become papier-mache walls. You’re just throwing wet gobs of newsprint at the damned thing. Do this long enough, and what you end up with no longer resembles a shed, or even a shed-to-be. It’s just a big… lump. And no matter how much you paint over it, it will never be anything more than a lump — colorful, maybe, and maybe even exquisitely, artfully colorful. But a lump. A big steamin’ heap of dried, drying, and still soggy papier mache.

You stand back and look at it and think: What the hell am I doing?

That was me. And that was Seems to Fit-in-the-making which I regarded, for a week, with my hands on my hips and my mouth full of sawdust (and newsprint, and glue).

So I said to myself: Suppose you were to tell your story to an audience who’s interested only in the story — an audience who doesn’t care about metaphorical or stylistic curlicues or hidden meanings or the details of the characters’ pasts and their inner lives? What would the story look like?

That’s when I thought: It would look like a fairy tale.

So I sat down a week ago today, greatly excited, and typed — yes — Once upon a time… Hit the Enter key a couple times, and then typed: …happily ever after.

And then I spent not quite a week filling in that big gap, from ellipsis to ellipsis. Result? Seems to Fit, in fewer than 5,000 words. (It is, in fact, uncommonly short for any piece of fiction from me; I tend to write at lengths of 7K words and up.) True, I didn’t entirely resist the temptation to throw in some of that curlicue stuff. But it was like painting the studs, not painting the papier mache. See?

But now that I have it, I’m kinda curious. If I put the fairy-tale version of the story before a sampling of random adults, I wonder, what else do they think it’s important to know?

Which brings me to this rather complicated — and for me, completely scarifying — proposal:

  • For about 48 hours, until noon on Monday, July 6th, you can download a PDF of Seems to Fit: The Fairy Tale here [86KB PDF].
  • If you read it — and making allowances for my hiding certain details, since I don’t want to tell you everything that happens — I’d appreciate a note, via email (***NOT IN A PUBLIC COMMENT HERE***). In this note you’d let me know what kind(s) of other information you think the story needs. If you don’t have an email address for me, well, look around. You might start at the About page.
  • There’s no obligation to provide any feedback at all, of course…
  • …but some suitable (?) reward awaits those who do provide it. (Probably not due and payable until publication date, though. Heh.)

One final caveat: If you don’t want to know anything about what happens in the book until the whole thing is available, please don’t read the fairy-tale version!


P.S. Yes, of course I know about plot outlines, plot synopses, all the rest. In a way, that’s all I’ve created with this fairy-tale thing. So, no big deal — except that if I’d said to myself, You need to write a synopsis. You need to outline the whole thing, well, let’s just say I’d still be staring at the screen. (And so would you. Elsewhere, no doubt.)

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  1. This is a good idea. It’s a clever way of beginning the process of telling your story in a new, fresh way which just might open up some things about it you didn’t see before, and I’m all for that.

    I read a blog once where the blogger drove his daughter to school every morning, a trip of exactly ten minutes. She wanted to hear a story in that time, and when he asked what story she wanted to hear, she requested Cinderella.

    So every day he practiced telling all of the Cinderella story in ten minutes, from “Once up a time …” to “… and they lived happily ever after.” He got details jumbled and out of order at first, but eventually, he got the story down to an art and was able to tell it (with shifting details to keep it fresh) in those ten minutes.

    He then had the idea to do this with his fiction. He found he couldn’t do it. He wasn’t able to compress his own story into a ten-minute telling (used a timer for this exercise, the blogger did). He found he kept either going over time or missing important story aspects. So he started writing it down, to see where it led him.

    Eventually, he was able to identify huge gaps in plot and a few story arc problems by getting his story down to a ten-minute storytelling version. After a few fixes, he was able to write the novel and feel very confident in the content.

    SO … LOOOOOOOONNNG story short, I think this is — like the other gent’s idea — a very good exercise in storytelling, story-wrangling and plot strengthening.

    I might just go download that pup and see what it looks like.

  2. Y’know, I’ve had a similar problem with my current WIP in that its origins were over 15 years ago. But I worked past it, so it can be done!

  3. Darc: I love real-life stories about “a lightbulb went on over his head” moments. Think I’ll remember this one about the 10-minute “Cinderalla” for a long time; thanks for sharing it!

    Early reports from the field are that my “fairy tale” version is uneven. One way to describe the reaction would be to say that I didn’t consistently stick to the “this is a fairy tale” style, but sometimes dove down into details, referred to characters’ motivations, and so on. So if you DO download it, bear in mind that it’s not, like, bang-on target.

    Frank: Hey, thanks for stopping by! I think one message of both your and my experiences might be something along the lines of, Write the damn story before it turns 14. ;)

  4. John –

    If you feel like e-mailing it my way, you’ve got my address. :)


  5. I have been illiterate and on Mars. This sounds like an interesting project. I may try it myself, with short-short versions of some of my long-long stories. If you can’t summarize it, it has no trajectory.

  6. Doh. This is what happens when I get behind on blog-reading, though I fall squarely into the don’t-want-to-know-anything-about-what-happens-in-the-book-until-the-whole-thing-is-available camp anyway.

  7. Squirrel: The trajectory, yes, that was the problem all right. Not that there was none, but that there were too many. It felt like trying to define the “trajectory” of a skyrocket, from the instant that it bursts.

    From what I’ve read online, your stories could very well begin “Once upon a time…” The “happily ever afters,” well, maybe not those so much. :)

    Jules: Ambivalence is the cross I hate bearing more than any other. It’s so… so… Well, I can’t really make up my mind how to end that, but suspect you know what I mean.

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