Who's Afraid of a Little Short Story?

I have not written fiction for days and days. Instead I've busied myself with gossip sites and swine flu. When it comes to The Piggy Flu, I've learned that fear and apocalyptic thinking are deeply ingrained in many of us including me.

I learned that Maxwell has an album coming out for the first time in 7 years. I searched the web for information on the release, listened to Maxwell interviews, listened to Maxwell's first single, watched You Tube videos of classic Maxwell songs. I gorged on all things Maxwell for two hours. Then I was done.

I woke up at 1 a.m. to watch Prince's interview on the Tavis Smiley Show. I learned that Prince is really really little. I mean his shoulders are--zip--one inch across, with a grown man's head on top. I still love him, rickety though he may be.

I drove to a movie theater to see the Tyson documentary (telling myself that the documentary is a good character study which justified me spending two hours in a theater instead of writing) but the movie wasn't playing at my neighborhood theater so I came home and took a nap.

What I haven't done is work on my latest story.

This story, this story, what can I say? It is stubborn. I wanted it to be about a gay teenage boy but it insisted that the main character be a straight teenage girl. I wanted the mother to have a specific illness and the story talked back, hand on its narrow hip, saying, "What's her illness got to do with anything?"

The introduction to the story is up for revision as well. I've polished and re-polished the intro, making each word sparkle, but I've realized that it gives up too much information too fast. In fact, the problem with the introduction is also the bigger problem with the story which is this: I've been messy with the structure and exposition.

I remember hearing or reading that basic facts of a story (who, what, when, where) should be released early on but that the secondary exposition, facts which help to unfold the narrative, should come more slowly through the text. That sounds so simple, right? But I've been fooled into exposing too much too soon in earlier drafts because I'm writing a first person reminiscent narrator. The narrator is fully grown and she's talking about one year in her teenage life. I believed my narrator was wise and so I offered a lot of what she knew right away. What I didn't think about is how, initially, she would present herself to the reader. Nobody confesses or hints to deep secrets when they first meet you. People let you know what they want you to know and the rest of it is held close to the chest. Having a first person reminiscent narrator is like meeting someone at a party and then getting to know them better over time. You're not going to learn everything at first, only what she wants you to know.

One story that handles secondary exposition really well is "Lawns" by Mona Simpson. There's another story, whose author and title escape me now, that does it even better than "Lawns". When I got to the end of that story and the narrator confessed that he'd found his Vietnam Vet father in the car, I cried. All of a sudden, the emotional distance of the narrator made sense. Before that point I thought the narrator was a stoic New Englander.

I would like to pull off a revelatory moment like that in my story.

I am afraid that I won't pull it off even though technically I know what to do. Knowing and doing are not the same. And it's spring. I'd rather be outside wearing my flowing turquoise and brown skirt (shown above) that I got for $8.95 during a shopping excursion to my favorite resale shop, My Sister's Closet, which is yet another way that I put off writing...

1 comment:

  1. Renee,

    I always want to write more than anything when I have something else (like a 30-paged Postmodernism paper) or job applications to do. But when I do have the time to write, I want to do everything~ anything~ else. But it's sooo good to read your blog and feel connected to that struggle again. I wonder when even the first complete draft of my damn novel will get done. I read about different artist residencies and think of you. Honestly, I would have loved to be able to afford little weekend retreats to Flagstaff every other week the three years I was here.

    Ha ha: no such luck in Chicago.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is: I feel you, playa.