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Working on a story for class.

It's taken a year, but I sort of have a process for writing literary fiction now. Unfortunately, it requires digging around in my personal experiences for vivid places and moments. Just what I never wanted to write about.

Still, for this kind of work, it's the only way to go. The problem now is--how to be sure that I let go of what might have happened in real life and let it take on a life of it's own.  That's actually a real challenge, because in the early stages I can feel myself fighting it. I want to say--but I didn't like that person or that place or that moment.

This is why I change the names of everything. I write about real places but I don't use the real names. I try not to write about real people.

How different is this from fantasy? Pretty different actually. I think fantasy takes longer to get into that zone, since I'm building it from the ground up. It takes time for it to become as real as any other place I've been. That 's part of how I know fantasy short stories aren't for me.

The big unanswered question here is what part of literary fiction can I take with me when I leave the program I am in? I keep getting asked the question--Kim, you do this so well. Why are you still thinking about fantasy as your true home? And how are you going to learn what you need to know about it?

I don't know why I think of myself as a fantasy writer first. I keep thinking, well, maybe it's because that's what I was raised as a reader on. Maybe it's because everything on TV is fantasy--ironic, since I don't watch it, but you get what I am saying here--when given the reigns, this seems to be what people of my generation do.

My ideas, my stories based on ideas I should say, tend to lean this way. Is it really so different than my painting? I can do realism, but my natural inclination is for flat cute and fuzzies. It just is.

All that being said, literary fiction has changed something about how I want to approach fantasy when I get back to it. I have a deeper understanding of what kind of story I want to tell. And I have a clearer path to get there--in literary fiction, anyway. Will those same tools and skills work in fantasy?

Maybe, but I've come to understand that as fun and exciting new worlds and new ideas are, there is so much abstraction found in the making of them that it makes it hard to get the same level of feeling out of it. You aren't going to be able to get the same depth of immediate understanding and connection with a character who comes from a world and a land that you aren't familiar with. Intellectually you might, but I doubt the emotional connection. And I've decided that's something very important to my own purposes for writing.

I'm still a good deal away from having to come up with a thesis project, and this is the first literary fiction I've done in a year's time. We'll see how workshop goes. I've got a lot to think about.

 

Is it really easier?

Do fantastical and genre elements in story craft make for easier writing?

I suppose on the surface it seems so. After all, here is instant hook factor. Instant drama. Fabricated problem. And it can be as big as one likes. No tiny, angsty conflicts need apply. The fate of worlds hang in the balance. So yeah, it seems easier.

 Say that a fellow writer at the University had to strip out all the genre elements from one of her stories and the more interesting points of view. What's left? Without lesbian roommates and zombie cats--where's the drama?

Oh, it's still in there. It was there all along, but without the fantastical, you have to get at it through old-fashioned subtext. Not as fun as zombie cats.

But it pays to remember that in fantasy, as well as everything else--what ever you introduce, you have to deal with--and that is absolutely not easy as it sounds.

So I don't know. In my own out-of-class writing, I have a great big fabricated problem that takes a lot of my thinking time when it comes to deciding how to make all those moving pieces work together. It's not easy. My favorite critique partner's book. There at the end he had to take that meandering journey through hell and give it context--a monumental task.

I guess the answer to this question is, we'll see.

 

Progress

I am starting to see some little glimmers of life in this story. Some small indications that it might be growing on its own. This one is a revision--as in, to see it again in a new way, I hope. And that is harder than you might suppose.

I always find it very difficult not to prewrite--not to jump to plot, not to panic and say there is nothing worth writing about when I can't see the whole piece. This is even harder, in that it is complete. This is technically a second draft, but one where everything has to be on the cutting block and I desperately want to keep some pieces of it--probably all the wrong ones.

Then there is the language. Nothing pleases me more and makes me just giddy than to pull out all the stops and write pretty. But now, I will admit, there is a small inner voice of restraint. It takes a harder look at all those words and deftly trims out the ones that don't add anything to the actual picture. And--in voice too, it makes me pause, makes me think--is this too obscure somehow, too stilted for the time and place and type of character I'm listening to speak--is it my writerly voice or her true one?

These small things may actually be the only thing that I can come away with from my time spent in Literary Fiction. A slightly more refined sensitivity--and a quiet one--I must say. It's not much more than a hestitation or an uncomfortable uncertainty with my words that heretofore did not exist.

I have not yet thought that it is possible for me to make the transition between genre Fantasy and Literary Ficiton. It's a dangerous proposition. But here, at last, as I try to apply what very little I have learned--I see that I actually have learned something, when I was sure it was to be all for naught and that I would have to abandon Fantasy if I wanted to write well. It may not be true.

Oh, but this is me being overly optimistic. I see lots of trouble ahead. A weak setting, made weaker still by improbabilty issues. Contrived going-ons. Watch and see if I don't get slapped with a purple prose warning--no matter how much restraint I try and show. Let's not even talk about sentimentality--I doubt I can get around it, though I did an admirable job on the fantasy end. And then the killer--all those things that I am using to ground the story in reality have a dear price--they have to reconsile at the end. No magical happily ever afters--what started the thing must end it as well.

Still, I'd like to try and see if I can't revise my way to success this time--instead of dropping everything and just writing from reality, telling myself I need the practice There isn't any doubt--I really do. I am so young and so new at this. But I'd like to dig deeper in that pile of decomposing emotion, really deep. I haven't had the right tools, the right knowledge to make decent sense of it--but I have some small ones now that I didn't before.

Once I did a tutorial painting where the entire thing was rendered with a 1 pixel brush.How many brush strokes do you think it took to render it, without blending? I kind think that's where I am at. I can do it--but it's going to be pretty hard. Mistakes are going to happen and I am going to be convinced that I've done nothing but make a nasty ugly mess of something that was flawed but at least had a little beauty to it.

I want to try and stay committed though. This time, I am hoping when I hear the inevitable--this is unclear, the image is cluttered and cliche--I won't go running. When the plot starts going where I want it to and not where it needs to--I hope I can be brave enough to wreck what I thought was good and suffer with not knowing for a while. And--I hope , if I really think it needs a little bit of a plot, I won't be afraid to say so.

 

Finishing up a first draft

So, of course. Here I am at the climax of the thing, and I feel like balking.

Why? Two reasons.

The first one being--do people really say these types of things to one another? Oh. I know I have dreamt of it, wished for it. But usually things degrade into heated silences in real life, I think.

Then there is this--I am not precisely sure what is going on in this scene with both my characters. One, I get. The other one--I feel like either he's tongue-tied or afraid to really look deeply at what the issue is. It's bad enough that people skirt the real issues in fights and argue over petty things--a hundred times worse when they want to do that in fiction.

I read it all the time. Fiction however, is about being bolder than that. I picked this concept over some really good ones that just ring with something to say. This story is subtle and more difficult to write and maybe in the end I should have went with something else--something that doesn't fool around with fantasy elements.

But here we are. I've got to turn it in. And it may evolve past its fantasy beginnings. But--one thing is for sure--even in this draft, I have to really try and get the heart of it on the page. We've painted a lovely picture all around it, time now to try and be truthful.

The Fantasy Short Story

This is what I am mentally struggling with this week.

How to combine the fantastical in such a way that it doesn't take over the short story and gut it. In other words, can I really achieve the delicate balance that is Magical Realism.

I feel like, in longer works, I have time to do both well-- the fantastical and complex characters that share an equal measure in driving the narrative. What about the short story though? How can I keep those shocking elements from rolling into a plot that is silly and funny and pulls everything around those intriguing images like a ripple in a pond? I want the stone, the heavy lifter, to be the emotional core--which needs to be instantly understandable. Not the fantastical, which is instantly not--and demands an explanation.

Interesting, isn't it? I'm not sure I am going to hit it on the first try--I feel a tremendous sense of narrative distance in this piece, but it kind of makes sense in a very strange thematic way. I just wonder if it will come across to the reader, who has no idea what I'm seeing when I look at the construction of it.

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Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter.
Oscar Wilde