Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writerly isn't even a word

A friend shared with me some humility yesterday: a story I had (allegedly) written in an attempt to get him to collaborate with me (a dream of mine). He had apparently found said file, dusted it off, and (finally) did his due diligence. He shared it with me, but waited until I was halfway through the first paragraph and thoroughly confused before he told me which parts were mine and which were his. I thought to myself "I really thought his writing was better than this." But no. No, the thick, swampy sections of untrimmed prose were mine. After wretching, I thought "if those guys at the writer's group thought the prologue to my book was mired in a bog, they should read this." My friend, of course, enlightened me as to how happy I should be at how far I've come. One of the greatest compliments he's given me to date is "When you write a story, I can feel confident that no matter what it is, you won't butcher it."

I finished the epilogues to those stories yesterday, and felt good about them. That same friend finished not long after, a veteran reader, and described to me what he liked, and what he didn't like. I was confronted with an interesting dilemma, one which I think all writers are, or at least most. Because a story is not exactly what happens on the paper; a story is what gets written down. One such might sound something like this thing I'm plagiarizing from facebook "A man and a woman, both driving in different cars with their windows down, pass one another while driving in different directions. She yells to him, 'Pig!' so he shouts back, 'Bitch!' and another block or so later, he careens into a mammoth swine sitting in the road." Now, a writer, I think, ought to know where the man was going, where the woman was going, the era in which the story takes place, what kinds of cars they're driving, and their marital histories. Or rather, a writer ought to know the pertinent details of the situation, even though they may never tell the reader. Then, and this part is more difficult, a writer chooses which parts need to be told to create understanding, and tells them.

One of my epilogues, thus far, fails at this. In my mind, certain things had become necessary. The reader, whom I do not know and haven't talked to, was anticipated to have certain desires to know certain things which I had purposely kept from them, and now was choosing to reveal. Except not quite. The addition to the book fell flat because other things did not come across as I intended. The cylinder fired, but not at the right time. The belt was connected, but turned so the grooves were facing out and not in. So this morning, I retooled. It was a bit amazing to me that I could simply "tell a different part of the story" which, hopefully, fit in that space. Maybe the reader needs to know this instead of that. Or maybe that would become necessary if these items were tweaked. The phase of which I speak, when a writer tries to figure out why the plane exploded instead of flew, is re-writing.

The something I failed to acknowledge I don't even have a word for. It is described as the reader inserting information based on inferences made in the book and knowledges they themselves bring to the book from the outside. This is something I tried to take advantage of in a novella I wrote. I called it caging, because the story is roughly 30,000 words long, but at least another amount of chapters of the lengths written is "missing." My attempt was to give the reader enough to fill in those blanks if they were paying attention, but at the same time not suffocating the imagination with a box. I used a cage to give it room to breath. It worked for some people, but not so for others. In the epilogue (thus the book) of which I speak, it worked against me. Honestly, I didn't understand the blow back, but I guess if people knew their eyebrows were going to be blown off, they'd duck, or wear some sort of eyebrow-protecting guards or something.

But don't you dare call it science.

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