Getting off Track

At first, I couldn’t quite understand why some stories didn’t “feel” right.  Slowly, I started to understand what was missing and I knew that I wanted my drafts to include all of the things I’d learned so far, not just my first reaction to a story.  Of course, this involved a lot more time, so I started writing at a slower speed. 

I missed being able to jot down a story in a day or a weekend.  My old way of writing fast has come back to me now that I’m more comfortable doing everything at once but I would never want to go back to doing so much editing. I think it’s much easier to deal with many of these issues before I become too attached to the story I’ve written.

For the issues that came up on my Kareem story, I’m not sure that I could have addressed all of them when I was writing the draft.  When a story’s complete, it’s easier to see how techniques like transitions work.  However from the beginning, I’d been concerned about how to name the different Kareems.  After my workshop, I did make a mental note that when I encountered problems in my future writings, I would consider POV changes for more reasons than I had in the past.

My other workshop submissions in this class were the chapters that I’d created by “unpacking” my first chapter of the novel that I’d workshopped in Fiction Techniques.  By mid-April, only a few weeks before the end of the term, I’d written about 100 pages just explaining all the different events in my last first chapter.  I knew that there was something fundamentally wrong with how I’d written the chapter because I’d received similar comments at a workshop in Iowa City.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t dealt with the issue before I workshopped the chapter in my Fiction Techniques class.

Two comments that I received in my second workshop stuck in my mind.  I didn’t feel the blow until my last workshop when someone finally said that there wasn’t enough tension. 

The other comment that stuck was about the tone.  One rather inexperienced writer had commented earlier that the story sounded like it was a children’s book when that was not the kind of book that I was writing.  I hadn’t thought that was an important comment at the time.

When I wrote this version of the first chapter (there’ve been quite a few) I’d started the narrative when the main character’s mother deserted him.  A chronological sequence of his life seemed to be the best way to present the book even though I’d been writing each chapter as I had an idea and had even written the ending.  I’d been thinking about the book for so long that I knew everything that had happened in my character’s past. 

Each time I revised the chapter, I’d included more details from his past until the chapter had become “dense” as my teacher had said.  I’d also expanded some of the ideas because people had said they would want to hear more about certain events such as the Weinermobile visiting Peoria. Looking over my chapters again, I realized I’d been writing too much about his youth.  That didn’t mean that I would have to classify the book as a children’s novel, but it also wasn’t the book that I wanted to write. Somewhere, I’d gotten off track once again.


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
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