Friday, February 25, 2011

The Story Machine: Part II

After I've written my 500-word or so autobiographical snippet, it's time to begin the work of fictionalizing.

Which can be tough. The danger with starting this way--with a true story--is that we tend to resist veering from the way it really happened.

Yet, our number one priority from here on out has to be the story. The story. We no longer care what really happened.

Changes for draft number two: point of view and setting.

Again, let's defer to Antonya Nelson who talks about the "default modes" in fiction. In terms of time and pov, Antonya says we should set our stories in present-day time and use close third pov unless we have reason to do otherwise. At this point--and it may change--I'll use Antonya's default modes. So, I'm going to move the story from early 1980's to today, and I'll replace my first person pov with close third.

Big changes, in a way, but easy enough. And, the story hasn't yet changed substantially.

I want it to. I want to create something.

So, here's my substantial change: I want to make the pov character the store clerk.

I have my reasons for this. First, I think little-girl-gets-lost-in-Kmart is enough meat--just enough meat, actually--to be the secondary story, but my gut is telling me it can't stand by itself. Also, I like the idea of the lost little girl providing a time-frame for the story. Ann Hood calls this the story's container. The story has a natural beginning: little girl lost. Then movement: looking for parents, comforting lost girl. Then ending: the resolution of the little girl lost, i.e., she is reunited with her family.

Your story needs this, your reader needs this: some implied or stated structure. A container. We feel safe now, knowing the story will end. Now, we can focus on our sales clerk.

Another reason I chose the store clerk: I have to make her up. All I remember about the real cashier was her leaning in to hear me and then her making the loud-speaker call, her spitting out some barely recognizable version of my last name.

Now, before I draft again, I have some work to do: Who is this woman? I need to give her an age and a situation in life. I need to give her a reason to have this story written about her. I need to investigate. The age-old character question: What's at stake for her, right now? What does she stand to lose? To gain?

Why should we care about her at all?

Charles Baxter says: create an interesting character and give said character an interesting problem.
Some questions to ask your character:
Why are you in this story?
What are you afraid of?
What are you hoping for? Waiting for?
What are you tired of trying to make happen?
What might you do or think or feel in this story that will surprise even you?


sherylmonks said...

This is a wonderful series, Susan. More than just a blog post, it's a generous peek into your process. Love it. said...

OMG I want to be in your class.

"Your story needs this, your reader needs this: some implied or stated structure. A container. We feel safe now, knowing the story will end. Now, we can focus on our sales clerk." This completely explains why I wrote a new first chapter. Thank you!!!

doggybloggy said...

glad to be here - I will read more and formulate a better opinion....

Stephanie said...

I've been trying to get back here since I saw your post on Facebook about The Story Machine Part II. This is a wonderful tool. I just completed my 500 words,changed it to third person present time, and slightly altered the location. I now have a few possibilities for the new narrator-one unusual POV I first dismissed, is now very intriguing to me. It all came together like a good recipe.
Thank you Susan.

Susan Woodring said...

Sheryl, thank you so much! I do think it's useful, to learn of others' process. I remember, back when I was teaching middle school, I read Nancie Atwell's books on creating writing workshops. She always talked about "writing with the top of her head off," meaning, she would compose at the overhead, and talk to her students about the choices she was making. So valuable.

Susan Woodring said...

Cathy, I think you and I should co-teach a writing class. That would be fun!! Come on down. :)

Susan Woodring said...

Doggybloggy, welcome!! Make yourself at home.

Susan Woodring said...

Stephanie, thank you! thank you! thank you!

So glad this is working for you, and just so encouraged by your words. Really truly. You've given me reason to blog another day. :)

Please do drop by as you keep working on your story and let us know how it's going. I'm intested in hearing more about your unusual narrator choice and why you changed location. Like I mentioned in my comment to Sheryl, I think it's just so valuable to talk process.

Yahoo!! I love this stuff, you know? I just really do.