Monday, January 24, 2011

About Yesterday's Story - Showing and Telling

You've all heard the rule of writing "Show, don't tell," I'm sure. It's a very basic and standard bit of advice. The point is that you dramatize a story. Don't just summarize or explain. Explanations are boring.

However you don't always write that way. Yesterday's story, "The Bandit Knew" (read it if you want to avoid spoilers -- it's short) started out as a very specific kind of story that is often used in flash fiction and literary fiction. It's the pure irony story. Such story may have no action or drama at all. It's like a tableaux - a still three-dimentional picture that the narrator studies and finally reveals something that changes your image of it.

Nothing happens, nothing changes, except your perceptions.

So the original story was structured on a long description of what the bandit knew, and then a short twist of what he didn't know. (I.e. that she had a fight with her boyfriend and had exchanged the ring for a gun.) We never met the woman, we never saw the confrontation, there was no dialog.

In some ways, I think that was a stronger story. However, it was too short for the market I was trying to break into. Plus that market wanted more conventional story-telling and women characters.

So I decided to try turning it into a scene. I considered going darker, with the woman out to kill the boyfriend and thus raising the threat level on the bandit all the more. Flash stories are suited for that dark, Hitchcockian twist -- but the market wasn't. The market was into good and clever, like kids stories for adults.

And in thinking about how to make it kinder and gentler, I realized I had the opportunity for a double-twist. Which was good because a longer story needs a little more movement.

Now, the thing about twists is that they work best when they are psychological, and ironic. I had good irony in the first twist -- the bandit knew everything he needed to know except the one most critical fact that could get him killed. That is ironic, but also psychological in that he is over-confident and then is shown to have a blind spot.

The second twist, though takes the irony out of the first. He's not wrong. He didn't overlook anything. That's part of why it makes the story weaker. But it still has a strong resonance because both twists are now psychological. He's a bully who preys on the weak, she turns out to be not so weak, but really she is weak, but strong in a different way.

I could make this story stronger by choosing between irony and psychology and writing for one or the other, but it's hard to do both at the same time. The one strength of doing both is that the irony of the first part misleads the readers so they don't expect the last twist. (The market I changed this for, btw, rejected the story without comment.)

I still haven't decided what to do with it, but for some reason I really like this hobbled little story. I'll probably keep thinking on it.

In the meantime:

On Day 6 of the current dare, I wrote 1458 words. Part new, part old. I have notes on multiple versions of things that go on in this chapter, but I'm just going to make it flow and polish in new stuff or write from scratch as necessary.

The other thing I did today, and perhaps the more important thing, is that I finally have a really great idea of the first story for The Serial. It's got...oomph! And fun. And an uncooperative hero - the very best kind.

I'm calling the story "The Case of the Misplaced Hero." I've decided to go with "Case of" as the title patterns, even though a lot of them will be adventures and not exactly mysteries. I want it to feel like a casebook.

Anyway, this week I will be continuing to post on judging fiction. Tomorrow I'll post about how to be a good book reviewer -- whether you know anything about writing reviews or not.

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