Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pretty Good Story in Three Acts

Act One: Writer Hits Bottom

NaNo passed this year without me winning by writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I had (enough) time, I had a fun novel to write, but I didn't have the wherewithal to fill out the outlines of my plot.
I've never been an all or nothing girl. 12030 words in 30 days is respectable output for a  person otherwise employed, and I feel good to have written them. But still, I am disappointed, and I find myself doubting my motivation, ability, and even my right to write novels. Maybe I'm just not good enough, maybe I just don't have what it takes, maybe I should just be happy with my life as it is, and not try to be something more than just a hack.
Since the end of November, I haven't even wanted to write. I feel rudderless, even downright boatless, and I don't know what I'm good for.

Act Two: Writer Explores the Bottom

I read an article today on Salon (the website where NaNo was slammed in an elitist rant) about the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction, and while I thought that much of what it said was true, I decided that what the fellow was really talking about was the difference between "good enough" and "good."
Action - Event - Image
He referred to books by a dead Scandinavian writer who details the pointless activities of his characters with diar
rheal obsessiveness. Reading a few excerpts from the writer's work, I thought, "Action ain't plot, fella. Description isn't story."
Later, I heard someone on NPR talking about a movie that apparently entailed watching the protagonists fall out of love over small things without seeing underneath to understand WHY they no longer loved one another. It made me think, "Event doesn't make a scene. Image doesn't make art."

Act Three: Writer Finds Fertile Ground

Now this is what I think:
A good enough story is one that pulls a reader all the way through and entertains her, makes her laugh or cry or scream in pleasure or fear, even makes her think about something she's never thought of before. A good enough story uses the language with competency if not with grace, and breaks the rules in relatively small quantities. Lots of good journalism falls into this category, which is fine--it's not trying to be art.

A good story, on the other hand, does everything a good enough story does, and more. But you notice, I say it does everything the good enough story does. It needs a plot, it needs to move the reader, it needs to be a story (art) and not just a slice of life (image). It should use language gracefully, interestingly, but not self-consciously. The characters should be three-dimensional, the plot should be fresh or a least freshly woven, and the description should be both evocative and relevant.

Finally, I thought about where my writing falls: good, or just good enough? I say, somewhere in the middle. Which is good enough for me, and better than most of the fiction I see published, literary or otherwise.

Maybe I need to get back to writing.