Archives for posts with tag: storytelling

I’ve come hard up against a writerly situation that I can’t quite figure out. This comes from the part of my life that’s as a published author, not the write, submit, rinse, repeat part. When one of my stories was published by a prominent magazine, reactions by reviewers and regular (as opposed to irregular?) readers were split right down the middle. The first review I read was negative, and to me seemed mean spirited. It basically accused the story of using dialogue to info dump, annoy, and offend the delicate sensibilities of discerning consumers of fine science fiction. The half that were positive reactions mean the world to me, as they were lovely and insightful. If only human nature would always skew toward the positive. Instead, while I treasure the wonderful reactions, the negative ones nag at the back of my mind.

The major nag is an almost subconscious stream of consciousness pondering of the process of short story writing and aftermath–ing. The way I see it, there are two ways to project story from the writer’s mind to the readers’. One is exposition. I’m of the less is more school on this one. The idea of subtlety allowing…forcing…a collaboration between the imaginations of writer and reader is so appealing to me. I’ve always loved that experience as a reader, though I enjoy the more wordy authors too. One of my favorites, Virginia Woolf, wrote prose of great beauty, using her particular kind of magic to still leave room for reader imagination participation in among gorgeous foot long sentences. But we can’t all be Virginia Woolf. In fact, none of us can. Which is as it should be. We can only be ourselves. Write our best. Leave the rest to collective imagination. And hope for the moments when one instance of meeting of the minds or a collective experience reaches near zeitgeist status…in a good way.

The other way of expelling story from one brain to another is through dialogue. I’m big on that one. Some readers love it, others apparently really don’t. The beauty of dialogue…is the opportunity to create beautiful dialogue. I’m far from claiming that my characters’ conversations are always like jewels dripping from their papery tongues. Or often. But sometimes…sometimes…. The things characters say to each other can do so much more than move story along. They tell their own stories of personality, hardship, joy, courage, and honor. You can either have characters express themselves as only they can or sometimes clumsily try to force your vision of their lives into a reader’s head. The reader may resist. The character may as well. Then nobody is happy, fictional or flesh and blood.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to just carry on, writing what I want and how I want, and trust that the readers who get it will enjoy what they’ve read so much that they think about it long after the last word has drifted across the bridge from my mind to theirs. The ones who don’t get it aren’t going to suddenly stop looking for things to dislike. They’ll be the way they are whether I try to change my weird, wonderful way of writing by instinct or write the way I love and keep loving it. So I’m who I am, they’re who they are, and that’s fine.

I think that maybe when you write fiction for long enough, you come to care about your characters as much as you care about the real people that pass through your life. You listen to them. You watch them. If you’re lucky they don’t judge too harshly. And if you’re really lucky they build their own bridge between minds. And hearts. Then you know you’ve done your job as a writer, and what critics say fades into the background. If, sometimes, it doesn’t, it makes you more determined to do the best you can. Better than you can. Being better than you think you can is like armor. Armor that creaks and sometimes rusts, but stands strong. Just be prepared to fall while wearing it. Getting back up is a nightmare, but the entire process of the writing life can be the stuff of dreams.

‚ÄčI was minding my own business, channel flipping my way through an afternoon lull in any hope for productivity, when I got captured in the gossamer steel storytelling of a Grey’s Anatomy rerun. Even though I never became a regular viewer, somehow I managed to come across some of the most touching and poignant episodes of this show made up of heat, hate, and heart. Today, it was the one where George died.

So now I’m crying. 

Even coming in partway through. 

I think it’s the way they don’t know for so long. Caring for a brutally devastated dying anonymous John Doe is one thing. That he is a selfless hero is another entirely. Eventually, heartbreakingly discovering he is a colleague, a friend, a beloved essential part of your life, depending on who you are is something different and all but unbearable. And that’s just the characters.

For viewers both casual and devoted, this level of storytelling is devastating too. Even when you aren’t extremely invested in, or even familiar with, the characters involved, it feels like a personal attack on a gamut of emotions. How can we be so torn and shredded by images and words and actions carried out by people we don’t even know? People who aren’t even real? How is it possible for us to find ourselves crying over mere figments of imagination that ride into our hearts and souls and minds on bits of ink and flickering light that glitter along with our tears? It all comes down to talented writers and actors gifted with the ability to elicit emotion in a brief time, often with only a word, a gesture…a tear.

When the weeping viewer is also a writer and/or screenwriter, there’s a part of that person watching and feeling from the sidelines, awed and aspiring. This is the top tier of storytelling. The level where it’s not just the characters being moved and touched and made to cry beyond their own will, but the people who become involved in story. I’m sure this level is produced by the best storytellers. Often and well. I also think lesser beings achieve it sometimes. It is infinitely possible. 

That’s why it’s so important for people who love to write to keep writing. Even when it seems the writing is for a party of one. Every word written is part of the path, the growth, and the wonder that comes from creating something with your mind. If it happens to be that you, the writer, are the only one moved to tears over your stories and novels and scripts, so be it. It’s a beautiful thing that is a gift to be experienced. 

Izzie saying George would give it all, when asked about organ donation, then weeping by his bedside, holding his ruined hand is going to haunt me for the rest of the day. That’s another level of storytelling. Haunting  readers and viewers. It’s something Grey’s Anatomy does almost too well. But only almost.

Izzie says goodbye