Sunday, April 6, 2008

Anatomy of a Story

While waiting to hear the fate of my YA proposal, I wrote the first draft of a short story. Writers typically have two kinds of reactions to first drafts. One: Fueled by enthusiasm and accomplishment, they think the story wonderful and brilliant and destined for some Best of the Year. Or, two: They hate it.

I'm the second kind of writer. But I think this story has a problem that goes beyond my usual post-partum literary depression. This one, tentatively titled "Unintended Behavior," is an idea story. I still like the idea, but the characters strike me as stereotypical. I usually do my best work when I start with an idea embodied in a character ("Fountain of Age," "Beggars in Spain"), and lesser work when I start with a naked idea ("The Rules"). "Unintended Behavior" features a pair of over-used characters: controlling and verbally abusive husband and long-suffering, victimized wife. Not good.

But there's much in the story I like. So I could 1) give the plot to a different pair of deeply enmeshed characters: two sisters, perhaps. The problem is that no relationship is as deeply enmeshing as marriage except for parent-child, and that will not work for this story. Or I could 2) try to modulate both characters, making the husband less villainous and the wife less victimized. Or, 3) I could keep the characters I have but reverse the gender roles, which might be interesting. It has to be done well, though, or it will just look like a lame attempt to reverse gender roles.

I don't know yet which I will do. But that's this week's assignment: wrestle with my story's Unintended Behavior.


Caine said...

I think if you're looking to challenge your self you should go with modulization. You might re-consider the sisters angle because there may be enough of a parent-child relationship between them to create drama but not so much that it won't work for "the idea". I'm looking forward to seeing how you go with it...

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I'm debating today whether a verse in a new lyric should be the first or the last in MIDDLE NAME BLUES. Not a life-changing deal, but Jeez, don't we all want whatever we lay down to be the =very best= we can do?

Otherwise...what's the point?