Friday, January 23, 2009

Not So Terrible


This week, I took my recent Your Story entry to my weekly writing workshop. Since it didn’t make the cut with WD, I thought I’d work the piece over a bit to turn it into a saleable story. I explained the prompt and guidelines: Write 750 words max on Three boys go to a local swimming hole. Shortly after they arrive, something terrible happens.

Some of the responses I received got me thinking.

From one critic:

“…I don’t really think this meets the requirement of ‘something terrible’.”

From another:

“Not a ‘terrible’ event as the prompt had maybe wanted…”

On reexamination, I think they were right, to a certain extent. When I approached the prompt, I decided to take a creative approach to it, rather than falling into the trap of the predictable. I elected to rely on point of view. The events of the story—a young boy is thwarted when he attempts to kiss a girl he has a crush on – aren’t technically terrible. No one dies. No one is maimed. No flesh-eating zombies burst from the woods to eat the amorous young pair. But this thwarting of his blossoming youthful love feels terrible to Danny, the protagonist. He’s admired Beth from afar for a long time. He finally has a chance to overcome his social inadequacies and seize the moment and the girl. But he’s interrupted before he can clinch the deal. In my eyes, a teenager would see that as terrible.

It made me think of melancholy Prince Hamlet:

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (Act II, Scene 2)

Shakespeare knew it and all self-respecting writers know it: good and terrible are entirely relative. It’s called point of view.

Still, the critics got me thinking. In the end, here’s what I conclude:

My critics failure to see the terribleness of this event was not a failure of imagination on their part. But instead I think it marks a failure on my part as the author to paint the event in all its emotional drama.

So back to the drawing board to paint Danny’s heartbreak more darkly. I have a good idea how to do it. And now that the manacles of word count are off, I have no excuse for not getting it right.


Stephen said...

Well, I hope I didn't fail you as a first reader. I understood what you were trying to do: avoid the cliché. It's too easy to spin out a soap opera event, and how does that really stretch our thinking about ourselves, about the world around us.

If I failed you, then I apologize.

Greta said...

Stephen, you have NEVER failed me as a reader. You read this as what it was--a contest entry governed by rules.

Now that the restrictions are gone, I see my options as being way more open. I can explore the story more deeply.

One big change: I can get rid of some of the word-hogging junk that was needed for the contest. I wasted a lot of words on two unnnecessary characters--Chris and Frannie. They were needed for the prompt, but not the story.

I'll run this past you again when I get the next draft done. I think this one's gonna be a humdinger. Hmmm...maybe I'll work on it today!