Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fiction Departures

Yesterday, I met my friend for our Friday fiction meet-up.  I had been working on a story that was a very different approach for me, and frankly, I wasn't sure it really worked.

I was trained in the traditional ways of fiction:  rising action, climax, a bit of denouement.  I was told that you can have no story without some sort of conflict.  When writing a story, my standard approach is to zero in on one protagonist and to put some obstacles in the path of the protagonist.  Make the stakes high!

For yesterday's story, I had no traditional narrative arc.  I had three characters, but in some ways, the desert setting was the main character.  I had poetic interludes where the landscape spoke in first person.  In the last interlude the speaker changes from the desert to the city.

As I was writing, I needed to save the document, so I titled it "Desert or Apocalypse Story."  I tried to make the apocalyptic elements subtle:  is it the end of the world or just hard times come around again?  I like to think the story can be read either way.

I put three characters between the poetic interludes and showed a day in a harsh landscape.  Is there a narrative arc?  Not in a traditional way.  Do these characters change?  Is that important?

My friend finished reading the story and told me I'd made a great leap in my storytelling/fiction making skills.  I'd been thinking I had a failed experiment on my hands, and my friend told me that my story will make me a million dollars.

From her lips to God's ears!

She told me, "You can never go back."  She meant I could never go back to my old ways of writing a story.  But I remain unsure.

I do have an idea for our next fiction meet-up.  I'll take one of my poems, "Life in the Holocene Extinction," and I'll make it into a similar story.  The poetic interludes will be lists of species gone extinct in the Holocene extinction that is going on right now.  That poem takes my breath away, although I've been sending it out and getting rejections, so my response is not universal.  Let me see how it works as a fiction piece.

I've still got some time before the close of submissions to the Glimmer Train new writers contest.  Maybe I'll revise this story and send it in.  I tend to write a piece for our fiction meet-ups and never get back to revising.  Maybe I should trust the reaction of my friend.

I looked up the guidelines:  "Open only to writers whose fiction has not appeared, nor is scheduled to appear, in any print publication with a circulation over 5,000."  I pulled up my CV.  I've had 3 short stories published, each in an academic journal, each of which I'm fairly sure had a low circulation.

What a delight to have a variety of writing projects tugging at me:  my memoir, my next short story, revising this short story.

And what a delight to have a good friend who continues to meet me regularly for fiction workshops.  As our time came to an end because I had to go to a meeting, I said, "I often make pros and cons lists, reasons to stay and reasons to go.  And you, and these meetings, are high on the list of reasons to stay."

I never would have written this story (or it would have been a long time) if I hadn't had this deadline.  I would have decided this experiment was a failure without the response of my friend.  I am rich in friends, and I have a wealth of ideas, and I'm feeling gratitude this morning.

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