Tag Archives: Arts

One picture is worth a thousand drafts

You’ll see that these notes for a short story aren’t notes at all. Not in the usual sense:

As a first draft, recently I started making schematics of stories instead of writing pages of words that might or might not be changed later.

Using a schematic lets me think about the story without falling in love with or worrying about how it’s going to be written. It frees me from the words, structures, cadences the story will be communicated by, and lets me concentrate on the story itself.

You see a beginning at the left top, the story progression along the middle and the end at the top right. The piece of paper torn from a small spiral notebook shows the first ideas about the story captured in a sketch.

Those sixteen cartoons along the bottom represent possible endings, of which fifteen have been rejected. The ending I’m still considering is represented by the little car, which isn’t crossed out yet. There’s still room in the middle to add other possible endings or sketch some significant details.

The theme of the story is shown by that sequence starting with the word, “why.”

Doesn’t look like much to you, does it? But it doesn’t have to. Preverbal, I guess it’s called? This isn’t communication yet because it doesn’t have to be. This picture shows the state of the story in my mind. The communication–the writing–will come after the story has a form.

Once I get used to this new method for short stories, I’ll probably try it at novel length. Already that sounds like a great relief to me–not to be bogged down in all those words just to plan a story. And the words will be fresh since they’ll come later.

Do you think this technique might be useful to you?

Maybe we could start NaNoSkeMo–National Novel Sketching Month!

By S.J. Driscoll

Two sides to my head

I was elated when Daily Science Fiction accepted “In Vivo,” one of my speculative fiction stories.

That’s my third pro level spec fiction publication since I had a story in Asimov’s and one in Interzone under my previous name.

For the last few years, I’ve been learning to write novel-length contemporary romance. I’ve garnered helpful editorial rejections that taught me to focus on strengthening my plots. Selling this little story in my old genre came as a delightful surprise.

I was uneasy to return to the quicker pace of short story writing after the long, slow haul of writing at novel length, but my mind’s boiling over with spec fiction ideas and there’s now a sheaf of drafts/ideas on my writing desk.

Which to concentrate on is the question, isn’t it? All I can do is write both spec fiction and romance, and see where it all leads.

So these days I’m getting up earlier. If the birds have started twittering, I’ve stayed in bed too long. (And sometimes I do.)

My third desk

The photo at the beginning of this blog shows my work desk and my writing desk in my office. Now I now have a first draft desk, too, in our converted garage, where I can turn my notes into a first draft in longhand. While writing early in the morning, I can look out into the woods to see the deer crossing the yard and the squirrel raiding the fig tree.

And then what happened?

I just reread Guy de Maupassant’s story, The Necklace.

Since I was eight years old, I’ve read that story many times, but only today did I question my original childhood reaction of open-mouthed delight. What a terrible ending! How ironic! How delicious!

Today, I saw that the story as written ends at the beginning of the real story.

Here’s how the story goes:

Mathilde Loisel and her husband destroy their youth and health in their effort to pay for the diamond necklace they bought to replace one that was loaned to her, but which she lost. After the debt is paid, Mathilde meets the friend she borrowed it from, only to find out the borrowed necklace had been fake, not diamond at all.

The end.

Umm… ‘scuse me? Then what happens?

Does Mathilde punch her friend in the nose? Is she arrested while screaming that she wasted her life?

Does the friend say, “Thanks, Mattie! I gave the necklace to my daughter. She can sell it and buy that little house on the lake”?

Does the friend offer to repay them? This is the most poignant possibility.

Mathilde and her husband got into this fix because she was poor and beautiful, and wanted to experience one night of luxury at a ball. The gratification of this innocent desire cost them both ten years of drudgery and extreme poverty as they expended every effort to pay off the loans they needed to buy the diamonds.

If the friend repaid them, Mathilde could live an easier life with a few of the luxuries she’d once longed for. But the last ten years turned her into a coarse, rough woman used to a coarse, rough life. All her youthful elegance was destroyed by their struggle.

The most vital story would be this:

How do Mathilde and her husband face the kind of life they could live, now that they’re no longer the kind of people who could live that life?

I understand that the reader is supposed to realize this dilemma, and the realization is supposed to effectively substitute for the writer’s exploration of the dilemma. But why shouldn’t the writer explore it?

It’s pretty much taken for granted that stories should have a conventional ending, like marriage or death. The girl/guy gets the guy/girl. The criminals are caught. The adventurers return home. The youth reaches the epiphany that indicates the beginning of maturity. But are these the best endings?

Aren’t most stories really just the setup for the more complex, difficult, fascinating story that starts after The End?

By S.J. Driscoll