My short story “The Manuscript” is now online at Mirror Dance. You can read it here if you care to. And if you are so moved, you can leave a comment at the end. I hope you like it.
Posted tagged ‘fiction’
My thoughts about my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason, are in a tumult right now. I’ve stumbled upon a new revelation at the very end that will reveal a much larger story behind the literal one in the narrative, and so the creative part of my brain is busy offering me insights on how this could be done and how it would need to be prepared for. (I say I “stumbled upon” this revelation — and I really do think it would be the very last words of the story to be most effective — but I think the story was inevitably going to require this, so I think it’s more the case that I stumbled toward it rather than upon it. I’ve been a little slow in seeing where my story was taking me.)
Anyway, because of the nature of the ending, plotwise, I must have access to the protagonist’s thoughts in order to deliver the full impact of these new final words that give such added meaning to the story. For the last 90,000 words I’ve written, this has not been a problem since my protagonist is the first-person narrator of the story. I have had complete access to his deluded thoughts. But, again, given the nature of the plot at the very end, my protagonist is not going to suddenly be very clever and discerning, and while he could have some intimation of this bigger story, his understanding of it would necessarily be incomplete: thus the reader’s understanding might be as well.
And so, dancing at the dark edge of my consciousness, has been this insistent little idea that I need to change the narration of the story from an unreliable first person to a limited omniscience third person. As the days have passed, the rightness of this change has become more clear (and more insistent), and now I am all but resigned to it. The problem is that I have written 90,000 words in first person narration. Yikes! I have never made a wholesale change in the narrator in any of my writing at such a late stage.
I knew that the rewrite was going to involve some significant reworking to address plot and tone issues, but I never thought it would be a fundamental restructuring such as this.
Nonetheless, this would solve some other issues in the story. I have several instances where the coincidences needed by the plot have seemed too convenient. By having the third person narrator relate them, this unlikely serendipity would be fixed (though I can’t say more without giving away too much). I gave a cursory read to Chapter 13 yesterday, just to see how well it would lend itself to being recast it in third person, and it didn’t seem that difficult. So now my question is should I finish writing the novel in the first person? (I’m inclined that way.) Or should I embark from this point in third person? Given the frame of mind I’ve sustained for the last year of writing, I think I will finish the first draft in the first person. I want to stay consistent with the manifold influences in the story telling so I don’t drop a thread or plot device because I’m in unfamiliar narrative territory. I think it will be easier to redo the whole (rather than parts) later.
This postponement also gives me time to ponder the nature of my new narrator. I’ve long thought that a narrator must have as much substance (at least in the writer’s mind) as any character in the story. My new narrator won’t be a character in the story given that he or she must have access to another character’s thoughts, but I want to know what kind of voice this new person uses, where the story would be told (around a campfire? over drinks at the club? in the witness box?), how intelligent the narrator is, and all of that kind of thing.
In my novel The Sleep of Reason, my character will have a similar outcome to his adventures as a certain historical (and probably mythical) figure. I had known this from the start and even gave a hint of it in about the third paragraph of the opening page of the story. It’s the kind of historical reference that most people will not get, at least not until it is all laid out, and it was a reference I knew about only in the most general way.
Recently I began doing a bit more research on the historical counterpart of my protagonist so that I could bring their stories into finer alignment as the end of the story approaches. This is where it began to get weird.
I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice that I sometimes feel as though I am not the creator of this story but merely the typist. It is as though the story exists “out there” and I’ve been given the challenge of hearing it in my head and getting it all written down. This sense was reinforced a bit when I started looking in the historical figure’s own story.
I don’t want to give away too much, but the parallels abound. The characters in my story’s household have counterparts in the mythological story. I can see a sort of resolution for one of my characters who was giving me a bit of trouble not fitting in. I’ve even decided to change the name of of of my characters to match that one a similar character in the mythology. It’s not my intent to rewrite a bit of obscure mythology. I feel as though I have my own story to tell. And it’s only in the ending that the stories are similar, but the similarities are striking.
I don’t ascribe to any supernatural explanations to my situation. It may be that I’m drawing too many inferences from the few similarities I’ve discovered. Or it may be that there are certain archetypical stories in the Western mind and I’ve merely come up with my own variation on one. Whatever the reason, I’m charged up with the serendipity of it all.
I’ve begun a writing experiment, though I don’t know why. I’ve started working on a short story that will be written exclusively on Google Documents. I noted in an earlier post that I had looked at Google Documents as an offsite storage device for my writing, the need of this springing from my hard drive crash of last summer and the loss of two chapters I had written.
I still haven’t done any serious uploading of my stories to Google Documents. It’s a manual process, and despite assurances from the site, I don’t feel confident about the privacy there (or even the longevity). I’ve moved a few things there to see how it works. If I know I’m going to have some computer time when I’m away from my laptop, I have put a story there so that I can access it (from anywhere in the world actually) and maybe do a little work on it. (I haven’t followed through though.)
My experiment is different. I want to try writing an entire short story in unfamiliar locations. I am curious to learn how important the familiar setting (in time and place) of my writing spot at home influences (or even allows) my creativity. If I am at the office, in a hotel, at the library, at a friend’s house, will I be able to call up my creative side and make coherent progress on something that demands concentration and unearthly focus?
I’m not making the experiment easy. I don’t even have a plot for my short story. I hardly have a character. I do have 23 words though. It’s a start. The opening sentence is one that more or less just popped into my head when I was driving one day. It deals with tone and circumstance, and I think it could prove fruitful, but without knowing where it might go, I don’t see how sitting down in some unfamiliar, noisy, interruptive spot is going to allow development. But it’s an experiment, and that’s how these things work.
I mentioned in an earlier post that this was based on an actual train trip I took in Kenya several years ago. The characters are changed a little bit, but the facts of the narrative are pretty close to my experience.
I’ve always liked this story, liked it enough to keep shopping it around while most of my other short stories just languish. I probably shouldn’t do that, but there are very few that I think are actually ready to go. And then comes the problem of finding a magazine that’s likely to be interested.
I’ve had some luck using Duotrope’s Digest. I’ve placed a couple of stories through here, and it looks as though they get fresh markets regularly.
I received an email from the editor of Wanderings Magazine thanking me for the submission of my short story “Night Train to Kisumu.” He said he would like to publish my story in his magazine, and after reading the terms he included, I agreed.
You may remember that I posted about making this submission here. As I said in that post, I made the submission almost spontaneously, thinking I ought to have something in circulation, but also thinking I wouldn’t give it another thought once it was on its way.
Then I began checking my email several times a day to see if I’d received a response. The submission page noted that it was unrealistic to expect a response before thirty days had passed, and here it is, one month and one day later and I have a response. A positive response.
The story is what I consider some of my “literary” fiction. The last two stories I’ve had published are probably best defined as “fantasy” though one of them is really social commentary and the other is a sweet love story.
Moments like these are the payoff for all of the early hours at the keyboard, trying to squeeze from my uncooperative brain some semblance of fiction.
Update on March 18, 2009: I received the proof copy of my story today by email and read through it carefully. The editor made no changes to it, but I did suggest one word change (the word “safe” appeared twice in about five words) and I corrected a glaring spelling error: “and” should have been “a.” I understand the story will appear in the magazine soon now.
I’ve had this short story I’ve been fooling with off and on for several years. It’s set in a hospital, though that is only tangential to the plot, and I have one scene where the hospital security guard comes into a sort of waiting room for coffee and donuts. My intent is portray the guard as a benign, grandfatherly sort of cop on the beat.
To do that I wrote the sentence fragment below (part of a lot of other words I wrote, in case you’re wondering), and I’ve been turning the words around a few times to decide which carries my meaning better.
- “and the man bore his menace solely in the can of pepper spray on his belt.”
- “and the man bore is sole menace in the can of pepper spray on his belt.”
Each sentence carries a subtle difference in meaning. The former placement of “solely” modifies the verb “bore”; the latter placement modifies the noun “menace.” The former seems to imply that the man might have more menace, but that it is displayed in only one way. The latter suggests the man is really without menace at all, except for the can of spray that has been issued to him.
For my purposes, I think the latter version is the better choice.
Do you obsess over words like this?
The story is still unsatisfying in undefinable ways. The overall point, or goal, or theme, or thesis of the story is supposed to be about the giving of charity and how people are motivated in very different ways to do that, not all of the ways admirable. I’m not sure I’m getting that across, even to myself, which is why the story has been in progress for years.