Tag Archives: fiction

A note to a character in my story, 2008

I came across this in the small notebook in which I started planning a 2008 NaNoWriMo story. It reveals more about its author than the character, but it was a good start. It let my creative mind know I was serious about finding a way to connect with it.

I’m not sure how to coax you out. I feel quite ridiculous for even attempting it. I don’t know how to contact you and whether you want to be contacted at all. I’m sure you’ll be offended by all my attempts because they will prove, as everything has always proven, that you’re not being heard or understood. No matter what I write it will in some way be a misunderstanding, as that previous sentence was – just for making any assumption at all.

Maybe you’ll think I’m trying to use you – and you’ll be right, because I want access to your story – but maybe you can look at it this way: we can save each other’s lives. Without me, you’re a ghost, half-formed, incomplete, and fleeting, but still existing and wanting to exist, solidly. I know, I’m not very inspiring, like some writers – I haven’t committed at all, have very little to show, my list of “clips” is pretty small and too, I’ve hardly written any stories – so I’m obviously a novice. And too, there’s the fact of my inconsistency.

I tend to lack faith and lacking faith is deadly. So I get enthusiastic about something and then when the enthusiasm cools I go off and do something else. That’s partly a result of feeling lost and unheard – you know what that’s like. We’re kind of alike.

Though I see a lot of ways we’re different.

And you, you’re going to help me out by the very fact that you exist, by giving permission to tell your story I think a rock will be lifted from my chest.

There’s this weight, you see, and its incredibly large and dark and it smothers and strangles me. It rises up into my throat and I can’t breathe easily and sure as hell can’t gather enough air to actually infuse the meaning that needs to be given life. You know about this.

I’m going to try not to worry about the fact that I don’t know your name, don’t have a plot, don’t have much of anything. I’m going to wait for the story to unfold.

I’d be angry too. Here I am trying to insist one of two things, both of which are probably wrong. The first being that you are me, that everything about you is a metaphor for my life. That makes you too convenient, takes away the validity of your being. The second is that you’re just a character, that you’re my imagination, not real. That denies the actual realness of everything you’ve experience through me and every other sentience which has birthed you.

I keep having flashes of you, images. The first, I think you’re about eight. You’re skinny and slightly snub-nosed and your straight dark brown hair is light at the tips from a lot of sun. There’s a village scene. You’re standing outside. Patiently standing there.

What if, after all these years, you found somebody able to hear you? What if it meant finding your way home? What if you could trust in somebody and be assured that all those meanings were understood? What if I tried to write it all, make it coherent?

Would you feel betrayed by my admission that I’m hoping you’ll cure me? That you will solve my problems? That’s what I’m hoping, to be honest, that after that I’ll be unburdened, that I’ll be unrepressed, that I’ll stop stopping myself with that internal critic, the one who says I have nothing to say. That I’ll be able to write.

Can we come to an agreement?

On the inside front cover, I wrote this:

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Into the Light – a short story

Göttingen, Germany

Standing on the sidewalk, Hannah loosened the ring on one tripod leg and lengthened it slightly until the level-bubble was centered, then she re-tightened it. She sighted through the viewfinder again and verified that the doorway was within the frame. She focused on one of the double door’s pair of brass doorknobs. The shutter clicked.

Gabe watched, amused by Hannah’s careful advance of the film. He pretended impatience, tapping the body of the digital camera slung around his neck.

“Patience for the sake of art,” said Hannah.

“Patience for the sake of you, my dear,” he said. She didn’t reply.

“Come on, Hannah, no grudges, alright? Don’t I earn extra points for spending hours on the sidewalks of San Francisco fielding questioning looks about why we’re photographing doors?”

“At least they’re just looks.”

“Yeah, but everyone’s really wondering if we’re stalkers or paparazzi or, I don’t know, casing a joint.”

“Whatever,” she waved it off, sliding the tripod’s legs together and setting off down the street, almost without him.

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing,” he said, skipping to catch up.

She laughed, softening a little, “I thought you’d noticed, I’m photographing old doors.”

“Duh! But why?”

“Because they’re beautiful maybe? Because I like them. Why do I need another reason?”

“I don’t know. I guess you don’t. You just seem so adamant about it, I thought there must be something behind it. Going into business, catching the coattails of the calendars-of-common-objects fad?”

Her faint smile assured him.

“Nope…just… I don’t know, G., maybe we fixate on the things that block us the most. I think it’s good to face that, shine a little light on what’s shadowed and secret, you know? To not let it have too much power.”

Gabe looked at an ugly grey stucco townhouse last renovated in the mid ’80s. As they as passed it he nodded grimly, recognizing something of his childhood in the hollow core door with its peeling varnish and three deadbolts and said, “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

Later that afternoon Hannah would be in her darkened bathroom with a red-lit Hello Kitty desk lamp balanced on the sink, and her alarm clock on the only available surface area in the open medicine cabinet as she counted off the minutes until she could squeegee the water droplets and hang the negatives from clothespins strung on the shower curtain rod.

When they dried, the black and white transparencies of newly painted or not-touched-in years or peeling or postered-over doors would offer to lead into something, into somewhere. Hannah loved the doors into people’s lives, loved the things that, charmed or locked, kept the rest of everything out, admitted something or nothing, blocked the view or peeped out slyly. So many options gave her hope even if they were so many ways of being all just out of reach, their plane of existence flattened yet again on each reverse-shaded negative.

With darks turned to lights and light cast in shadow, she’d hang them in strips, a gallery of doors, in front of her aluminum-framed balcony slider — and the sunlight, when it finally crested the neighboring building would shine through and drop soft shadows. The shadows would land on her and Gabe, lying on the beige shag carpet. Maybe she’d be lost in her thoughts and he in his, locked in their own minds in a way, but each also slowly moving out of their private corridors, through the doors and into the light.

***

This story brought into the light of day by

perpetualbloghop

which also brings you these fine stories:

Emily Plesner Time Stops When I’m With You
Barbara Lund Separate Space
Shana Blueming A Melting Heart
Juneta Key Don’t Drink the Water 
Angela Wooldridge Midwinter
Lee Lowery All Aboard
Elizabeth McCleary OverWhelmed
Viola Fury The Day the Cat Got Out
Karen Lynn Dragon Smoke and Wind
Katharina Gerlach Lobster One
S.R. Olson Malakai’s Gift

***

I hope you enjoyed my story and have a chance to read the others. Let me know what you think in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you.

This story got me to wondering about what else doors symbolize and how they represent something besides just a barrier. For more nifty door pictures and thoughts on the worlds revealed by different doors, see this blog post. Thanks for visiting!

*image credit: Wendy Smyer Yu, Göttingen, Germany

Shifted Visions, chugging along

freighttrain

Hear that creak and the bang of train cars moving out?

After a long hiatus, the wheels are turning once again!

2015 was a doozy of a year. Well, I take it back, it wasn’t as much of a doozy as it could have been (I mean in the scheme of things it was pretty decent, though I lost a human friend and a cat friend, adjusted to my dad’s moving in with us and began to weather the vagaries of dementia & aging, and our family continued its globalized multi-continental hijinks (if not convulsions)), we at least had a roof over our heads, good food to eat, and the general trappings of what passes for otherwise-normal in this society. Nevertheless, I hit the writing doldrums and didn’t put down hardly a word except for the basic, functional and utilitarian type.

That’s ok, though, because you know what? Previously written words don’t just dissipate. They sit on your hard-drive or in a manila folder or spiral-notebook and wait. Patiently.

When the levers got pulled and the tracks slid together and the train engineer got the all-clear to stop idling the 6,000 horsepower engine and start ‘er up slow — well, lo and behold the boxcars were still there, ready to come along behind at a slow chug.

I ran a poll with a bunch of other writerly types and confirmed that my title choice for a short story collection isn’t half bad. Shifted Visions wasn’t the top pick, but it was close enough to the leader that I could keep it – it was my favorite of the 20 or so I tested.

In case you’re interested, other contenders were:

  • Peripheral Visions
  • Light Dances at the Edge of Hope
  • In the Small Dark Hours

A few that didn’t make it into the finalists’ category are going to be used to title individual stories and one of them required a story to go with it. That’s the one I’m working on now (with varying degrees of success, I’m out of practice and -not surprisingly- kind of flighty, though I’m persevering!).

In two days I’ll also have the results of my cover poll. Maybe I’ll post my first attempts to create a book cover here and see what you guys think (assuming there is a “you guys” reading this 😀 ).

Anyway, I had to stop anguishing over the fact that I hadn’t posted here in a year and stop beating myself with the “need” to start again with something really wonderful. Just start.

Here it is, in all its work-train glory, a kind of beat-up and homely, slow-to-get-rollin’, mode of transport: a long-time-coming blog post about a long-time-coming short story collection!

Woo-hoo! (make that sound like a train-whistle, now!)

image credit: Samuel Zeller from unsplash

Part of the occasional series, Fiction Going Nowhere.

 

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Quiet Folk

smyeryu.com/wendy/

I’ve always felt that the dead are pretty quiet folk. They sound mostly like dry leaves, or like the skitterings of mice.

Having survived the deaths of four family members, two friends, and a stranger, plus living next to the cemetery are bound to make a person inclined to be listening for what past-folk might be saying.

I was out there yesterday, sweeping off the granite markers hidden in the thick, end-of-summer grass.  The long stems hung heavily, pulled down in all directions by waving seed heads.  Mice had gotten to a lot of the seeds.  I won’t trap them in the house, the mice. They have their own business and I’d just as soon send them on their way, out the door to do it, than make them suffer at my hands. Kind of like the dead.

“I’ll let ’em be.” I shook my head at my last living brother, Jacob, who’s 12 years older than me and who was trying to convince me I needed another, younger, cat.

“Posey’s good as deaf,” he said, as though that indicated a defect, but he wouldn’t have understood if I’d told him that she and I were in perfect agreement about the mouse situation and that she and I both tended to listen to things Jacob couldn’t have been capable of hearing anyway.

When I say the dead are pretty quiet I’m talking about the ones who die as they’re supposed to.  I mean we’re all supposed to, and it’s not the being dead that can cause problems. It’s how you get there that’s important.  Take my mama for example.  She was the kind of person who lived with a flourish, everything she did seemed to have her signature on it because she put her heart into her life.  So even though she died early and we missed her terribly, she didn’t leave anything incomplete.  She was the kind of person you always feel around you, but not because she’d left people with old hurts or unmended rips, but because she’d been the first one to show you the wisteria bush over at the McClure’s abandoned homestead or she’d brought over fresh doughnuts when your first grandchild was born, or she’d singed an old petticoat for trying to make a miniature hot air balloon for one of our science projects.  And so, every time you smelled wisteria, ate a doughnut, or put on a petticoat you felt like smiling.  That’s why I say she’s quiet. It’s not that she’s disappeared, but being quiet, she’s not hollering for attention, raising a ruckus, or needing figuring out like some dead people.

***

as usual, Fiction Going Nowhere is draft-status – it’s not story-ready and is probably unlikely to be developed further. Sorry about typos or errors or the fact that it currently is Going Nowhere. I hope it’s entertaining, nonetheless.

image – mine, taken in Germany

steps to a goal – How to Think Sideways

* I know most of my Wander-Bird visitors are here because we know each other on the How To Think Sideways Forums. On the off chance that you arrived without coming across Holly Lisle’s many writing classes, may I introduce them to you by way of the story of how I took her How to Think Sideways class and am hard at work creating stories I’m proud of?

It’s a little meandering (I am a Wander-Bird, after all), and when you get to the bottom there’ll be a link to one of the big classes that won’t be offered again for some time. So, while this isn’t exactly an advertisement, it does recommend a product. If you’d like to skip this post, no worries. But if you want to join a group of writers working hard to tell good stories or at least hear how I figured out my hidden skill of taking persistent small steps (every journey, right?) and building something from the ground up (like the Great Wall?), then keep reading!

the obligatory, "I'm at the Great Wall" selfie

 

Speaking of the Great Wall, in 2008 I was living in Beijing, with my nerves a little frayed from the big city, my poor command of Mandarin (the northern accent also threw me after being used to more fluid southern accents), and life in a small apartment with kids. I really wanted a project. A writing project, to be specific. I wanted to move my desire to write out from the realm of journalling where it was slightly furtive and without purpose. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo but didn’t know how to either fit it in or to go about coming up with something worth writing a ‘novel’ about.

One of those “DUH!” moments occurred – I was homeschooling our kids, why not incorporate it into what we were already doing? This was a stroke of brilliance – both kids jumped in, happily (especially since I gave them all of November off from other subjects if they’d commit). Oldest Kid learned to type because of it (and dang, she’s fast now!) while Youngest Kid (who was in first grade) wrote hers by hand and they both ended up completely unafraid of writing and pleased to indulge their Youngest Kid, writing her storyimaginations. They’ve gone on and done NaNo several more times.

So, I had figured out how to fit writing into real life. Now I needed to know how to make what I wrote into a novel.

I searched around for instruction and even in 2008 there were a lot of online resources, so I bopped around for the first week or so trying different options but continuing writing without a solid sense of where I was going. It worked, sort of, in that I got a lot of words down. But there were serious structural flaws – from the plot itself to what was going on in scenes (or not going on, as my characters listened to crickets). It didn’t help that I wrote it out of order as well.

That ‘novel,’ Call the Rain Home, is a poster child for The Many Ways Novels Fail.

I won NaNo that year (as did Oldest and Youngest Kids), and though the story wasn’t finished and it was a mess, I was bitten.

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This fiction writing thing! It could be awesome!

I still had no clue how to write a real story (remember, I’d been mostly just writing observations and brain-dumps in journals, with some poetry now and again) and I felt the pain of novice-hood by the end of November. I loved the story I’d come up with and it made me sad that it was a broken and unfinished thing.

That’s why even as November was wrapping up, I was still shopping for a method to make a story work.

And that’s when I came across mention of Holly Lisle on the NaNo forums. To my delight (and that of my bank account) she had tons of free information on novel writing. With her help I was able to fill in critical but missing parts of my story, tie pieces together, patch It up a bit so that it could walk over the finish line feeling like a story.

When I returned to the US in 2009 I was ready to go in deeper, though.

file0001906291170After years of worrying my “lack of calling” to death I made a commitment to writing that, to be honest, I’m not sure I understood at the time. Or, if I understood it, I was probably too fearful to dig deeply into it. It wasn’t just a financial commitment, though of course paying for a course like How to Think Sideways WAS a financial commitment. More importantly, It was a commitment to learning and to labor –  motivated by knowing that my deepest self was in search of something.

Part of me wanted something desperately

– a creative life
– certainty that I hadn’t just let something keep its Dream Status without ever paying attention to what was at its heart
– to learn how to do something well
– to write

I wanted to stop praising myself in my head for having done nothing beyond fostering the idea that I “could do something if…”

That wasn’t praiseworthy, it was delusional.

Does it seem crazy that a novel writing course could help even at the deep levels of self-perception?

It’s not.

I am, absolutely, NOT Holly’s best, brightest, quick-outta-the-gate and off-the-presses, student. At least not if you look at my publication (non) record. But if you could see the total revolution that’s occurred in my head, you’d be astounded. I went from being a goal-less dreamer to someone with an enthusiasm for projects and the plans and skills for accomplishing them. I went from never admitting to anyone I was writing to being willing (and nearly ready) to put my work into the world where it can be read (and judged, let’s be honest) by anyone who comes across it. I’m braver, more focused, less prone to fearing my life will amount to nothing.

At the beginning, like a lot of people, I had a history of being my own worst enemy and from its first lesson, How to Think Sideways starts students on a path that gets the enemy out of the way.

Always of two minds: that I *could* write something good (maybe, someday, if given a chance) – and that I would never write something good and who was I fooling. I benefitted from the How to Think Sideways curriculum that helped me look self-sabotage right in the face and decide to stop indulging.

It also gave me tools to change those habits.

Here’s how Holly describes it:

In Section One: Sideways Thinking on Ideas, you’ll learn to clear out the four thinking obstacles that have stood in the way of your success in the past, you’ll learn how to discover your own “genre” that you can take with you wherever you go in the publishing world, you’ll learn how to work with your Muse, you’ll create ideas on a time limit—but without pressure—and not just figure out which ideas are worth writing, but learn how to improve your keepers, and you’ll discover how to find—or create—the market or markets in which you’ll start your career.

For me, Holly’s methods for making friends with your creativity are keystone practices that carry into the entirety of the course and beyond. From the beginning there are systematic methods as well as tips, tricks and exercises related to fiction writing and “creative life in general.”  A lot of it is transferable to short fiction and that’s what I’ve been focusing on lately. But it doesn’t stop there – and it’s not a recipe book – it’s customizable and can be tweaked to fit your own style (or genre).

Full disclosure – I’ve not written a novel with it. Yet. When I do, though, it will have been possible only because I took this course that covers everything from learning to hone in on consistently good ideas that matter to you, how to pace a story by planning scenes, how to keep your creative side happy without sacrificing the logic of your story, and working with agents and publishers as well as producing and publishing your work independently.

Here’s how it stands for me at this point. I’m still a novice and still learning to write a good story – but I’m so much closer than I was before. Now, instead of hiding my passion for writing, I start with the assumption that I can improve and I actively go about learning how to do that. Then I practice, then I test myself. In the coming months I’ll be putting my fiction to the test in a collection of short stories.

Five years ago that would have seemed impossible.

I’m one of Holly’s serial students – so some of what I’ve learned has been from her other courses and workshops, but the key that unlocked the door to freedom from the Fake Dream Perfection Someday trap was How to Think Sideways.

It’s been empowering and educational to work through the lessons, often in conjunction with other writers.

If you’re interested, I recommend you look into it and make a decision in the next two weeks. Holly’s moving her courses to a new website and the migration will make it impossible to support new sign-ups until the move is done. So, if you get in this month, you get to join with a  group of fellow writers (there are benefits to that, especially in the forums) who all start this month too.

There won’t be new openings until after the site move (at which point every existing student will be rolled into the new site, still maintaining access to all the course materials, etc.).

I started HTTS as part of a group and it was great to have classmates working on the same problems and sharing solutions and support. In the last few years Holly kept the course perma-open, something that probably has benefits, but by reverting to once or twice a year open enrollment periods, she’s giving you the best of both options: you can engage with others as you wish – or not, maybe just going through it at your own pace without active involvement with other students.

And that’s key – at your own pace – I think the thing that makes Holly’s teaching method applicable to so many people is that the emphasis is on always keeping close to your creative mind, to finding ways to keep to your own purpose (after honing in on what it is) and breaking everything down into manageable steps.

So, while I’m not currently novel-focused, I’ve still learned a lot from the course.  If this sounds like something you could benefit from, here’s where to find the course: How to Think Sideways 

Be forewarned, it’s not an inexpensive class – but to me it’s been worth every penny I spent on it. Do take your time, if it interests you, to read through the description to get an idea of just how comprehensive the class is.

It’s available to new students starting February 27th until  March 5th, 2015 and then after that enrollment will be closed for at least nine months, maybe even a year.

If you do end up joining in, let me know. I’d love to cheer you on!

***

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an affiliate of Holly’s, meaning that I make a commission if you decide to purchase through one of the links I provide. This doesn’t change the price you pay at all.  If you’re interested in her many free resources, try here: http://hollylisle.com/my-articles/writing-how-tos/

I hope any of these products help you in your creative journey.

***

image credits

– yes, it’s one of those obligatory “I’m at the Great Wall” selfies

– that’s Youngest Kid, writing her story

– compass photo by irkengirdib on morguefile

Fiction Going Nowhere, Part 2

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Sometimes, when weeks aren’t like this last one where I was so busy with multiple, sometimes pressing tasks, that fiction was farthest from my mind, I practice just letting what wants to be written get written. Sometimes those things shadow me all day (I can hear the whine: “When’re ya gonna sit down somewhere and write me, already?!”) but sometimes they just show up the moment I pick up a pen. And yes, I like to write by hand now and again – it taps a spring just off from the main one – because it brings up what is unplanned and swimming just under the surface. Sometimes what is revealed surprises me. Actually, often it does.

I like that.

Surprise and novelty and the unexpected make my muse-mind happy and a happy muse-mind is a good thing.

Now, generally and with only a few exceptions, these pieces of writing aren’t complete in any way. Even though I might write through to the end of what they demand in that moment, they’re not finished and never will be. I look at them as practice runs – like finger exercises for pianists, made of notes, but not the kinds of things that make for fully satisfying wholes. They sound neat, but aren’t complete.

Some months ago…Oh. Heavens. it was almost a year ago (yikes!)… I posted what was supposed to be first in an occasional series  of fiction “things.” This is Not a Story, the first piece in Fiction Going Nowhere, the category under which I’m filing them, turned out to be one of those few exceptions to the “going nowhere” bit because I actually DID finish the story and I’m prepping it for inclusion in an upcoming collection of short stories. In general, though, most of my fragmentary things, the small pieces that are practice, really aren’t going anywhere. But I still kind of like what they promise and the possibilities they embody.

I thought, rather than coddle them in my mind (or my hard drive, as the case may be) and cultivate some sort of strange attachment to them, I should just set them free here, off into the ether. As far as I can tell, the random snippets really have no plans or goals of their own other than that they’d actually kind of like to see the light of day reflected off their brief little surfaces. Who knows, maybe they will spark something that calls for further development. If they don’t that’s fine, they’ll just serve as signposts pointing toward places my writing mind has stopped briefly.

So, without further verbosity, here’s a second installment of Fiction Going Nowhere:

Stuart didn’t think she would’ve agreed with the label scatterbrained but on any given day it would not have been surprising to see Lucy walking to the market with one pant leg tucked into a boot and the other loose on the outside. There were other signs, too. Like the way she’d forget the task she was in the middle of and start in on something new. No, not forget, exactly — just be done at that moment and move on to the next. Like a honeybee moving from flower to flower, sometimes stopping to burrow in deeply and sometimes just pausing long enough to paw at the bloom with the barest amount of interest, moving on if no indication of morning nectar remained. What was more difficult about accepting that analogy, though, was the obvious and apparent absence of any results of her attention’s foraging.

What was the honey of her gathering, he wondered, the sweet gold of her interest’s wanderings. Weren’t her distractions, her distractedness, flights of fancy that bore no sustenance? That thought, and others like it, crossed Stuart’s mind several times a day and in spite of Lucy’s blasé attitude about unevenly buttoned blouses, unopened official-looking envelopes, and the stack of to-be-read- and half-started-books teetering at the bedside with said envelopes used as bookmarks, she thought it too….

-end-

… and if you think Lucy might bear any resemblance to me, well…uh, hmm… I’d have to deny it vociferously. But only after I get back from, ummm… something else. 😀

image credit: Geoff Llerena (from flickr)

Story Character Development

A running list of methods to discover or develop characters in stories, compiled from my experience and that of my fellow-writers all over the place:

  • Ask questions of your character, directly – and get a direct answer! (Want to know who’s great at this? Visit Kirsten’s blog – she talks to her characters and her Muse and shares the conversations. I love it! Here’s a recent conversation: Infinity Edge)
  • Mind map (cluster) with the character and his problem or situation at the center
  • Free-write – see what bubbles up
  • Daydream, but focused
  • Collect “scrapbook” stuff (physical or online) – pictures of people who look like your character, collections of things he likes, scenes that evoke the character’s “feel”
  • Move character to a new location, time, genre and see what happens
  • Believe he is real. Treat him as such. Attend to him. What’s there?
  • Start small, non-intrusively – would you ask a stranger to reveal secrets at first meeting?
  • Start writing the story – let the story draw your character out – no pressure to KEEP the writing.
  • Take the character out of his comfort zone (Shy? make him sing in front of others. Used to center stage? put him in a long line policed by pacing, barely contained armed guards)

 

I know! How about finding a magic lantern and asking a genii to help? Who knows what details will float in if you try that method!

arabiannights

Heaven knows I need this list. Characterization is my weakness (or at least ONE of my weaknesses). I have snippets of stories (categorized as “Fiction Going Nowhere) with characters called nothing more than “he” or “she.” Seriously they’re almost non-people, just carriers of Story. Sheesh!

I think that kind of thing won’t fly far in the long term, so… here I am, working at making better characters.

If you’re a writer, too, and interested in a much more detailed and informative take on characterization, I recommend Holly Lisle’s How to Create a Character Clinic. It’s to the point, filled with helpful exercises and… and it’s been far too long since I read it! I think that’s now on the top of my list! [scurries off to read it]

*** How about you? Do you have any tried and true tricks? Any character-revealing practices you rely on? Share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!***

***

Official Stuff

 

This is not a Story

The following piece of writing qualifies as fiction because I made it up, but it doesn’t meet all the criteria for a story. After I wrote it, I was inordinately proud of it (I don’t know, maybe fancy wording makes me proud) but I wisely let it sit. Admittedly, I tend to let all my writing sit, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve now taken this narrative back “out” and am looking at it critically with the aim of uncovering what it needs to become a successful story. Notice the important nouns in that previous sentence and you’ll find the first clue to what’s holding the piece’s success back: narrative, story.

Floundering about, as I have, with the notion of story* as it relates to fiction writing and the human need for evaluating life experiences under that rubric, I’ve tended to conflate narrative and story, to the detriment of the “stories” I write. This piece, “The 2:37 from Hannover,” is pure narrative – there’s a character (protagonist, if you will) and an event – and not much else.

After taking my sweet, foot-dragging, time to adopt a working definition of story, I’m going to go with one offered by Holly Lisle. Since I own several books in her “How to Write…” series (such as “How to Write Page Turning Scenes” ) and am a How to Think Sideways** student, I can’t tell you where, exactly, to find this definition (It’s around here somewhere, I swear), but my cobbled-together-from-memory version looks like this: a story must have: 1)a character 2) in a setting with 3) a desire and 4) a problem (or several) standing in the way of his obtaining it. Additionally, the 5) character’s actions must have 6) logical consequences (though not necessarily the expected ones) and lead either to overcoming the problem, thus obtaining the desired end, or, to not overcoming it and having the desire thwarted – all in a 7) meaningful way.

I know, that’s not a very elegant definition, but blame that on my cobbling skills. It’ll do for now, and as you’ll soon find out, the draft below is missing a number of those qualities. It remains to be seen if it can be fixed; whether or not it makes it to story status will be revealed in posts to come.

In all it’s narrative (and mostly descriptive) glory, I give you the inaugural work in an occasional “Fiction Going Nowhere” series:

Go By Streetcar Part III

The 2:37 from Hannover

Traveling southbound from Hannover, Hazel would be in Frankfurt well before six. A bit too early, but not something a cup of black coffee wouldn’t help her wait out. She’d tried other trains but none were right – either by their timing or the route they took or by the clatter and volume of other passengers picked up along the way.
      No, it had to be the express that only stopped in Kassel at about half-past three to pick up a few airport-bound passengers heading into early jet lag. Even at the height of summer, the required darkness lasted until the approach into Frankfurt.
     She would doze. It was inevitable and, honestly, necessary. The few times she’d fueled her flagging alertness with early coffee and had sat upright among the sprawled out passengers whose claim over two or three seats made the train feel far more occupied than it was, she’d only added a tight buzzing headache to the hum and rock of the speeding train. She’d seen nothing.
     She figured she’d missed it, if it had ever come at all, on her second coffee-inspired trip to the bathroom. It had seemed too soon out of Kassel, far too early and yet she’d missed the moment she’d come to anticipate… no, that she’d actually come to need on her weekly trip south.
     The touch of the ineffable and the sense of privately-offered mystery didn’t fade just for occurring among barely asleep businessmen and conked out college students, wasn’t diminished by the electric lights, blue upholstery or the periodic rattle of a window shade.
     What mattered most was the entirety, the stepping off the cold platform and away from the diesel and trash smell, the attendant’s whistle signaling the start, and the snick of the doors cutting off the station announcement. What mattered was that no matter how many times she did this, she still marveled at the feeling, was still amazed at the smooth arrival of the sleek white cars, the train’s sometimes squealing stop, its welcome-by-open-doors and the distinction that now she was entering a vehicle to the unknown.

Anything could happen.

And something usually did.

Somewhere past the halfway mark, just when she feared it was too late or that they’d gone too far, just when her stomach gave a kind of flop at the thought that she’d somehow missed it again, had gotten too engrossed in her book or dozed a little too deeply, she’d glance up at a flash of color, a change in pitch. Her fear that maybe she’d wanted too much and the certainty that this would be an un-meaningful, tally-marked, trip between occurrences would drop away as the train left the last tunnel and a motion in the window and a shift in the light would catch her attention.
     Always in the window across from her, no matter which side she sat on, she’d see the other train speeding next to hers, reflected into her car: red to the white of the ICE, on a parallel track that couldn’t exist in the narrow stretch near the hillside or between her train and the riverbed thick with plane trees below. The red train mattered all the more because it couldn’t be there, because no matter which side of her car she crossed to or which window she peered from, she could not pinpoint the source of its reflection and its faintly lit passengers. It just shot on alongside.
     Cupping her hands around her face and looking out into the night revealed nothing but blurred vegetation lit momentarily by her car’s interior lights. Only if she stepped back was she granted the view of the red local train somehow keeping pace with the express. She could see its interior, lit from within and flickering with speed — as though seen between branches or in movie frames. If she stepped further from the window so that it was hard to make out details, she could see the forms of the other train’s passengers, eyes closed as though in introspection: a man with his mouth open, not snoring but singing, a woman, like her, with her elbows on the small table and her head resting on her folded hands as though in prayer, and somewhere across the aisle of the non-existent train, a child, bolt-upright next to a quiet parent, looking back at Hazel in astonished delight and complete understanding with shh-it’s-a-secret fingers laid across her lips like a kiss.

-end-

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image Creative Commons License Ian Sane via Compfight

* in this post I alluded to eventually putting a story up here – this isn’t it! I thought I’d start with something more flawed first, because … why not?

** I am also an affiliate of Holly’s – that means that if you decide to purchase anything from her site through the links I provide I get a commission at no extra charge to you.