Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the ineffable zing and the soul of a story

My story won't work!

Fuck. Fuck. Fucky fuckity fuck.

Something's not right, there's grit in the mechanism somewhere. Right now i'm staring at a collection of words, sentences, characters and dialogue. But there's something missing. I've rewritten to the point where my grandfather's axe has become a shovel, and no matter how deep I dig the whole it's still in parts.

There are writers who hold a very pragmatic idea of a story: Write well; know the rules and when to break them; edit to death; keep on plugging.

It's all good advice. But I can't help but feel a lot of the process is mysterious. I'm missing that ineffable zing - that certain fulcrum that swings the story round into the right rhythm. When a story's all over the place like this one is, I can't even get the simple grammar right - I know there's something bigger wrong with it.

Which means I shall have to tie the characters to a chair and quiz them about their deeper motivations. Perhaps slap them until they scream out one-word answers. Or spit in my face. Which would also be a tell. Right now, they're just puppet actors and I need to be able to smell them.


Janine Ashbless said...

What's the story for, Nikki?

Nikki Magennis said...

Well, if I can make it work it'll be the first in a proposal for a book of short stories. Right now, it's for burning!

Craig Sorensen said...

Here is another possibility.

Maybe you should step away from the story. It might be better if you move to another project. Some poetry, another story.

Sometimes the stew needs to simmer.

Kirsten Monroe said...

Another mountain :)

Alana said...

Jesus Christ, Nx. I've been here before. Just remember. Characters do whatever you tell them.

Just tell them what to do.



Nikki Magennis said...

Hey all,

Yes, Craig, I tried stepping away! I think it's something as simple as not being honest. Trying to squeeze a story into a square hole, when it wants to be round. I s'pose it comes down to that balancing act between thinking of the reader adn forgetting about the world entirely.

- another mountain, Kirsten, absolutely! In the dark, with icy patches ...

And Alana, it's that point that I'm not sure about. Maybe my ideas about writing are a bit woolly - a suspicion that I have to approach the motivation squarely but the writing obliquely, if that makes sense? Polish the seed, the first impulse, the underlying foundations, [and stop mixing so many effing metaphors!] - and let the words grow, spill and spiral from that first kernel.

I may not be making any sense here! What I mean to say is, I think I need to listen to the characters more than tell them what to do.

Even if that idea of characters having a 'life of their own' is a fallacy, I think it can be useful, for me at least. Like how we use rituals or archetypes to dig for something real? Even if a character is just an aspect of the writer, it might be easier to relate to/explore that aspect by turning it into a distinct entity. 'Art is a lie that helps us see the truth', for example.

Bloody hell, that was a lot of thought for this time of the morning! Now I need a cup of tea!

; )

Craig Sorensen said...

I understand what you are saying, Nikki. Set a course and let characters play out. Sometimes they don't play nice. It can be frustrating, but when it comes together, what a feeling!

My favorite stories are often those when I get in a zone writing, and the characters surprise me. Characters live and breathe.

I'm currently working on a "forcing into a round hole" story, so I relate completely to your struggle. Matter of fact, it was a story I set aside a couple of years ago because it didn't feel right. I had an idea what was wrong, but I couldn't seem to solve it.

I hold up my cup of coffee (carefully, so not to spill) and touch it to the screen in a toast.

Janine Ashbless said...

Even if a character is just an aspect of the writer, it might be easier to relate to/explore that aspect by turning it into a distinct entity.
Having had some years experience working with shamanic methods, I'm in agreement with this one. The "people" in our heads may not be seperate but they are to some extent autonomous. They can surprise us, frighten us and teach us things we didn't know - at least consciously.

You might want to try catching your subconscious at work in an in-between state. Take a nap for example, and when you wake up don't get up, just lie there and think. That's a fallback technique I often use to help me work out difficult stories.

Nikki Magennis said...

So, Janine, basically by having a lovely nap and just lying there, I can become a shaman?! Fantastic! I'm off to practise!

Janine Ashbless said...

You've got to shake a rattle and wear ribbons too. Not good for street-cred.

Shanna Germain said...

Oh, baby. I'm right there with you. My people aren't peopling. My steeples aren't steepling. And no one's tied up and getting fucked. Why not? Why not? I don't know.

I plow forward, regardless. I plan to send it to my poor first reader. I hope she will send me hers.

Love and ginger nuts, s.

Isabel Kerr said...

I usually leave the bdsm to you much better writers but jesus my characters and writing process are tortured. So it is with great empathy that I hear your process Nikki.

We all have to be a little schizoid don't we. The processes that go on in all of your minds is astounding. And so much of the process is distillation.

Time and hard walking are my solutions. Something about torturing myself in a way, or getting the blood flowing somehow, helps me see things clearer. Naps are good too.

Whatever this story, or collection of stories, will be Nikki, it's going to be killer.


Nikki Magennis said...

Hey, S, lucky first reader! Woot! (Also, I'm sorry, I ate the ginger nuts. Want some shortbread?)

Isabel - yah, I think the time is one of the problems. If only it was unlimited!

But that's the second vote for a nap. I can dig that. : )