“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” ~Anais Nin
This week, I worked on two short stories, each for a contest in different magazines. The first, titled “Blue”, came easily as I started with a setting and some characters. There was a theme of “The Four Elements”. I picked one, imagined it, and went from there with no clear plan where the story would lead me or even what it was about. It ended with a thinly veiled plot but strong on characterization and imagery.
The other also has a theme and I hang my head to say that it isn’t finished. No worries, I have a few months yet, but the theme is challenging me. The “Four Elements” is a visual theme and my imagination ran with it. This theme is “Something that concerns the modern woman”. Not a very visual theme and I’m struggling to find an image. Instead, I began the story with…well…a story. In fact, I wrote two drafts of two different stories that tackled the theme. And then, I deleted them.
They were perfectly good stories well told with clear thoughts. But they were missing something. Soul. That underlying current of feelings that remain unspoken but the reader walks away with clinging to their skin.
I love finding an unspoken soul in fiction as I read. On Twitter the other day, I asked what makes a short story great. The answers I received were the same you can find in any writing advice article online. “Precise word choice”. “The Ending”. “Clear Plot”. While all valid points, I find that the most important trace of a great short story is the lasting impression. Something that clings days after you put it down.
Annnnnnd…..Fitzgerald. If you follow this blog, you knew I had to go there. Especially considering Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming release of his interpretation of “The Great Gatsby”. (Warning: I will have an entire blog post dedicated to this as the release nears.) The other day, I plunged into his short story “The Cut-Glass Bowl”. Now, you might not believe this, but I was slightly disappointed. His style, description, and overall storytelling was not up to par. GASP! Did I write that out loud?
I’ll cut him some slack since it was written fairly early in his career. I was particularly let down when the cut-glass bowl begins speaking. Writers are allowed the luxury of speaking inanimate objects. For that, I do not begrudge him. Instead, in taking that luxury, my dear F. Scott spoke aloud the underlying soul of the story. After reading, I found myself rewriting it in my head.
Deep breath. I still love him. Despite this one lapse of judgement, the story still haunted me. It clings because of this.
‘Evylyn, I’m going to give a present that’s as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through.’He frightened me a little–his eyes were so black. I thought he was going to deed me a haunted house or something that would explode when you opened it. That bowl came, and of course it’s beautiful.”
There’s the theme. The underlying current. For that haunting image, the story is definitely worth a read.
How does one do that? It’s simple and terribly difficult all at the same time. It’s not just about spinning the words just right. The perfect descriptions. The right setting. Intense characters. It is, in fact, all of the above with one more ingredient.
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” Thank you, Virginia Woolfe, who I owe for my particular style of writing. I studied her works in High School with obsession and fell in love with Stream of Consciousness writing. While I find her work rather dull and do prefer a more pointed story, it is through a stream of consciousness technique that I am able to pull from the depths of my secrets and experiences.
So, I turn back to writing my way. I am unsatisfied when I write pre-planned stories to fill a theme with Plots that go from A to B to C. I will return to starting with an image and let the story grow from there. If all goes right…Magic.