Monday, March 11, 2013

The Long and The Short Of It

I like writing short stories because I am impatient, and because once I know how something works, I’m anxious to use it and move on. Once I know plot and story arc, I’m ready to lay it out and see it finished.

But the novel! Time to build a set, set a scene, decode a character, deconstruct, if you will, a setting or location or a character’s mannerisms! There lies the true joy of writing for me.

Lately I have been focused on shorter pieces; ten- to twenty-thousand words. I think that is because I have stories to tell, but maybe not as much time as I need to tell them in full novel form. That means that some of the joy of writing is lost. On the other hand, getting to “the end” is so satisfying, until I read the story from end-to-end. Then I see places where I feel I can give more depth or perhaps clarity to a character or a plot. Then I want to go back and fill it all in, describe more fully the setting of a scene or the physical expressions of a character. Sometimes I do that, leading me to expand in even more places.

My writing process follows a long-held principle of mine that the first step is to get the story down without paying too much attention to the words. Then I have a skeleton to build on. The shape and structure may change but if I don’t have something to start with, there is no way I can get to the end.

It is in that period between first draft and the final “The End,” that I make a decision about length and form. Writing scenes that create an environment, that give greater form to the story and shape to the characters is where the “feel good” part of writing lies, at least for me. It goes back to my years writing filmscripts, I suppose, and before that, writing for radio. It is possible to use narrative and dialog to tell a whole story, but to truly involve a reader or listener or viewer, it is necessary to set the scene, to give substance to time and place, as well as people.

My first (and so far only) published novel began as a short sketch that was going to explore only a man who let the world around him direct his life. The title, Accidents of Time and Place, expressed the concept I was describing through my central character. As the story developed I felt it was as important to focus on “place” as it was on “time,” and whatever accidental events motivated Hector Collin. By the time I had fully developed all three of those aspects, the short piece became the novel, and the little idea consumed more than a year of my writing. During the process I learned more about my craft than I ever had, and I enjoyed the process almost as much as writing the first script I ever sold.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best: You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say. Having something to say is the very first and most important part of writing.

How you say it is what makes it worth doing.

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