Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Fictional Process

Earlier this evening I found myself looking over a short story I wrote for one of my fiction workshops during my undergraduate days at BGSU. I was shocked and dismayed at how mediocre (or worse) it was in so many ways. The plot was nearly nonexistent, even for a character-driven piece, and the interior monologue just went on and on and on. It was nearly halfway through the story when the central issue was finally revealed, and then nothing really happened until the shocking conclusion, which came with no real character motivation. I remembered the story having some issues, but it was a real eye-opener to look after a long period of time had passed to see exactly how inherent those problems were.

The reason I dug this story out again after so long (besides the fact that I was eating dinner by myself with nothing else handy to read) is because I'm kicking around some ideas for a longer piece which I thought the story in question might tie into quite nicely. After looking it over, I'm convinced that using it as part of something else is the only thing it might be good for. There are definitely some good elements; I just need to strip it down to its very core and then build around it. It's certainly not going anywhere as a stand-alone piece.

Admittedly, it's been a while since I've started work on a wholly new piece of fiction--longer by far than it should be--and I have some concerns. Actually, sometimes I wonder if I should even cease to consider the writing of fiction to be a viable option for the occupation of my time. My biggest headache is totally outside the writing process, and revolves around the people closest to me being often convinced that my fiction is actually something more like creative non-fiction, in which I am simply writing about things that have actually happened to me. I suppose this stems from my general style and subject--I write mostly realistic fiction, centered mainly on strange, troubled, and/or labored interpersonal relationships. Sometimes the seed of an idea will bloom from a personal experience (and sometimes not), but that's as far as it goes. I don't write "creative non-fiction," because I don't find it personally challenging, inspiring, or gratifying. I can see where someone might mistake it as such, but it quickly gets old to have it questioned over and over again, especially by people who should know better. I try not to let it deter me, but that's probably the top reason why I don't write more than I do.

More specific to the story I'm considering, I'm still trying to come to terms with what I mean when I say it will be a "longer piece." I have plenty of ideas to go into it already, and I haven't even started yet. Once I start, I'm sure even more will occur to me. I'll want everything in there and done full justice in terms of exploration, without leaving loose ends. I have a tendency to try to introduce too many elements into a short story rather than just exploring one or two central themes. With this, the idea is so big that I don't know if a short story will be able to contain it. Will it be a novella? Perhaps the novel that's been slumbering in the very back of my mind since I was very young? I don't know. I do know that my writing tendencies lend themselves more to longer works than to short stories--probably because my reading experience has been so heavily weighted toward the novel, my pacing, if nothing else, tends to run in that direction. I just don't know whether this particular story is the right one for something that long. It'll be character-driven, and I just wonder whether enough will "happen" to hold a reader's interest if it runs long.

As I think more about it and get closer to the actual writing of the story, I know that I just need to get it out and let it be whatever it will. It'll be nice to actually be writing again, involved in the creative process from more than just an editing standpoint, which is where I've been focusing my energies lately. I have a feeling that this story won't let me rest until I write it. The length and reaction will take care of themselves.

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