As I worked through this story, tentatively titled, “Ms. America”, I found myself asking what makes a story. I am in the fourth rewrite of this particular story, none of which have been satisfactory. Most end up as trite love stories, which is not my intention. I’ve tried different point of views, settings, perspectives. None of them have worked. It’s a story that I feel passionate about and was so close to giving up on..
I read a lot of short stories on different literary magazines trying to learn what makes a short story. It’s different from novels, which is my prefered format. Novels have time to build secondary plots and characters. You can describe an incredible setting. You can delve into internal thoughts. All without having to worry about word count. The thing about short stories is, well, they’re short. Every word has to count and make an impact. There is no space to flex your writing muscles and leave the reader in awe. You have to get to the point of the story and make it matter. I was ready to chalk this story up to another novel that I will work on…down the road.
But it’s not a novel story. It’s meant to be a short piece. To strike like a sword and leave a wound in the readers.
I think I figured it out. Maybe. I’ve never written in second person POV before. I don’t think many people would if you read opinions on it. “A jarring effect on fiction”, “destroys the illusions”, “feels weird.” And those comments were on one sight. I’ve been reading those opinions for years and they cemented in my mind that second person is the death of a story. Yet, it is the only way I’ve been able to write “Ms. America” in a way that feels genuine.
Perhaps I’m going for jarring. I’m certainly not going to fight it. Words have flowed with natural progression of story since I started. What does that leave me with? A belief that all the rules of fiction compiled in blogs and literary advice columns should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife, broke the rule of don’t write in first person present tense. Virginia Woolfe started “To the Lighthouse” with dialogue, another taboo. Alice Sebold started her novel, The Lovely Bones, with “My name is Alice…”
In the end, story always trumps the rules and taboos in the writing world. They key is to a genuine story. If the story is genuine, the rules will go unnoticed.