09.10.08

Writing from the bottom up

Posted in On writing at 11:42 am by Marion

It’s funny how writing works … and maybe why so many people dislike it. I’ve been working on an article, a very matter of fact thing. There was some movement, but mostly the story was just going through the motions. After all, a friend once said, every story isn’t “The Great Gatsby.”

I moved some paragraphs and it seemed better. That’s as good as it gets, I imagined. It’s good enough. All was finished except a final interview.

At last, I conducted the interview and “plugged in” the remarks into their appointed spot. ZZZZ!! The story was a snooze!!

Then, I realized the heart of the story was suffocated by all those … well … words. We spend so much time explaining every darn thing, we never say anything of real value. When Hemingway wrote, he would review and revise, deleting everything possible as long as it didn’t change the meaning of the story or prevent it’s being understood. He would marvel at how much could be removed and the story still stand.

It’s in those places between words that a story lives … the same way our lungs fill with air, our stories must fill up with the reader’s heart and imagination. When we must SAY everything, we have stamped the thing to death.

At the same time, if we just skip from point to point to point, our story is erratic, unreadable and mechanical. Maybe not snooze-inducing, but heartless.

So I ripped the story apart from the inside out … bottom side up … took the interview quotes from the end and opened the story with them … and suddenly … it’s alive!!

Daily, hourly, I struggle to know if what I’m writing will be enjoyable … or enlightening … for others. I read through my stories, looking for smoothness and signs of life. I am grateful for stories that, like this one, tell me what they need, and like the ugly ducking, become swans.

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