I think I’d better think it out again
May 24, 2006
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Some of the stories I’m proudest of have come from a single idea so strong that I have no trouble keeping it in my head for the duration of the writing process. Those kinds of stories are typically pretty short, because although I might have a beautiful, strong idea for a novel, it’s difficult to sit down and write for the solid 250 hours necessary to get the physical typing done.
Then there are the other kind of stories, by which I mean most of them. There are stories that start not with an idea but with an image, or a character, where the story arc isn’t fully developed when you start writing. There are stories for which the original story arc proves insufficient to sustain the story. I’m in the middle of revising one such story now, the one I did for the Fabulist Fiction workshop, which started out being about friendship and is now more about morality and peer pressure. And ambition. Maybe.
The difficulty in writing a story like this is that the structure was built to accommodate a specific story arc, and then revised with something else in mind, and now resembles a messy hodgepodge of both. The original themes are not gone, just reduced to a secondary role, and so while certain elements of the story still belong, they do not need to be as prominent or as accented. How prominent do they need to be? When you’re in the middle of editing, head down in your forest of words, you can’t make those decisions, and it can be daunting and frustrating to have the niggling feeling that the story Isn’t Working, but the solution doesn’t seem to be apparent.
You need to step back and review: what is NOW the main character arc? What is the starting point, what is the ending point? What steps need to come in between? Write an outline (I find outlines are often more useful after I’ve written a draft than before). You’ll suddenly see scenes that aren’t necessary, and scenes that are missing and yet to be written. Go back. Don’t give up.
At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.