Trying to Make a Story “Literary”

The material that was the first chapter I submitted for the workshop was actually the first half of the last chapter of a previous draft of the book. The chapter was very dark: my main character had been wounded and was taken to the hospital. His supersitious side had taken over (if you’re one of the people who wants to read a realistic story) and he though he’d seen a supernatural being.

I’d used an old commercial ploy to start the book, give a little bit of the ending to make the reader wonder how it had happened. I thought the main problem with this technique was that the tone varied too much between the “frame” and the rest of the text.  By the time I was in Florence, I wasn’t sure that my choice had been a good one. It would be much easier to pull the reader into the darkness of the story over time, rather than expecting the reader to switch from a very dark tone to a much lighter, raucous tone in the second chapter. Alice’s candid comment allowed me to move on to another approach more quickly and saved me time because I didn’t spend months trying to figure out how to move from the dark to the lighter tone in those draft chapters.

Jean had some comments about construction and language that was very helpful with the second chapter too. She didn’t come right out and state her main objection to chapter, though. But I received the message. I’d been reading John Barth’s  Chimera and made some open references to the mythical beast in the second chapter.

In later chapters that weren’t part of my submissions to the workshop, my character discussed how he’d been reading Barth’s book, so an acknowledgement was made of where the material originated. However, I realized that I should have referenced his book the first time I talked about Chimera.  In the end, it didn’t matter because I decided that the literary allusion to Barth’s book was too self-conscious and didn’t add to the quality of my writing.

The strength of my manuscript was in the story and the original ideas, not any add-ons to make sure the book would be considered “literary.” I’d been using Shakespeare’s lines for years, being an aficianado. Using other authors’ work in a similar way could be construed as plagiarism instead of a comment on how other author’s construct their stories or even a nod to their influence on my writing. So maybe it was better, I decided, to not reference Barth’s work in this story.


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
This entry was posted in Johns Hopkins University, workshops, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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