whence good ideas?

In a past life I wrote a lot of copy for a woman who was publishing a magazine that focused on a lucrative but hitherto underserved market* of big spenders in my town. Her magazine was slick and successful, but her pockets were not deep enuf, and she had to walk away from the venture after two issues. (It was subsequently taken up by other publishers in town, including the local fish wrapper, and continues in various forms to this day.)

I had sustained my writing relationship with her for a while after when she took a job with a propane company, producing newsletters. (This was back in the days of print.) She and I developed a professional friendship that included a few business lunches and chatty phone calls. And one bit of wisdom I gleaned from this was her offhand comment once that the good ideas always come back. Her point was that if an idea keeps presenting itself to you, then it must be good in some way you don’t yet recognize and it is probably worth your pursuit.

And thus is the case with the latest story I’m working on: “Icarus.” A little sleuthing showed me that I had begun this story nearly four years ago, and while I continued to keep notes in the ensuing years and even made an ill-fortuned attempt at writing it (making it a running story, which didn’t have legs), I never achieved the critical mass to really get it underway. (Yeah, I just split an infinitive! Fight me!)

I guess for me, critical mass can be achieved in different ways. Sometimes just the accumulation of notes can be enuf to get me going. In the case of one story, “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us,” I had the story in mind but didn’t have some controlling feature I needed. It turned out that what I needed was the correct tone, and once I settled on that (playful innocence), the story flowed. More recently I spoke of my story “MTWTF” (still not found a home, alas) and how once I found the structure for telling the story — the passage of a work week — the story came forth easily.

So it seems with “Icarus.” It’s based on a colleague I knew back in my (dark, dismal) teaching days and a misstep he made. The story is as old as time, or at least as old as men and women have been pursuing relationships, and I saw early enuf how the tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun was apt as a metaphor for the man’s foible. But there was something missing that was keeping me from telling the tale.

Once again, tone to the rescue. I am now trying to tell this man’s (fictionalized, Greek-tragic) story from the point of view of a bemused best friend who tries to help his buddy understand the doom he is pursuing. I’ve made them teachers in an English department so I can toss in some clever words. I think it’s going to work this time.

Of course, half the tale is in the telling.** I know the plot; I can see the end (flames). But getting there is what I have to do. I am lucky to know that kind of tone I’m reaching for, and I think that will guide my word choices, my syntax, the birth of the metaphors, the flow of sentences, the congealing of paragraphs, and all of that.

So, I’m flying forward on what I hope are reliable wings with this story. (And I’m boasting perhaps too confidently, having only amassed a few hundred words so far.)

 

*Weddings

**A saying that I think I came up with on my own (though I am willing to concede that I read it somewhere and don’t recall)

Explore posts in the same categories: Process, short stories

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One Comment on “whence good ideas?”


  1. **The tale is in the telling sounds familiar, but what do I know. It’s a good phrase. (Maybe it’s like the proof is in the pudding?)


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