Fiction writing is like your own political convention. Pardon me? Really? Okay, hang with me on this. First, let’s look at what happens when you’re writing a short story. I attempted to analyze this conundrum with a story I just finished.
The idea for the story had been with me for some time. I had a beginning and an ending which could be dark or happy. I had a feel for the scenes and settings the protagonist had to navigate. There was an antagonist and a champion. The hero had an internal and external conflict. Great. The mystery was the middle of the story, not quite so clear. I jotted down a sentence outline, very minimal.
My story writing steps seemed to go something like the list below, the steps sometimes happening solo, sometimes simultaneously. (Writing gurus tell us there are two types of writers: planners and pantsers. I seem to be a combination. Does that make me a plantser?)
- I wrote the story through to the end, doing some editing as I went along. My main thought was to keep the story moving forward from the opening, to the conflict, to the denouement. Some sentences arrived pretty, some arrived ugly. Some were deleted immediately. But I kept going.
- I gave the story a makeshift title, the hero’s name, in this case Stephen.
- With the story written down, I evaluated it to see if the basic storyline and plot hung together, although I knew discoveries would be made in many areas.
- Next came fleshing out the bones of the characters. In my mind, they often talked at once and had to be sorted out. Or else they said something I wasn’t expecting. The protagonist had to have depth. The reader had to care about him and his plight. He had to be human with strong traits, with weak traits. His champion couldn’t be too goody-two-shoes. His antagonist had to flex some unpleasant muscles.
- The settings had to be woven in, enough description to be visualized and understood, but not too much. Transitions had to help the flow from scene to scene.
- Midstream the title changed.
- I looked for any significant object or action I had dropped and then discovered I needed later in the story.
- Next came checking for the use of the senses, beyond what a character could see. Taste, smell, sounds, and textures were blended in.
- The ending could go one of two ways. I struggled here. Did the protagonist deserve to have success or not? Which ending would work better with the tone and mood of the story? I tried it both ways, more than once.
- I played with paragraph and sentence structures, varying the length of each. I moved paragraphs around.
- Next came reading for wordiness and for flow, adding, deleting, and changing words where things were bumpy. I wanted the writing clean, direct.
- Word patrol was next. I checked for the words and, was, as, like. I checked for words I seemed to enjoy overusing. In this story the word was session.
- At last came the final edit.
- For the final title, I created a word cloud around the central character and selected from there.
- A search of literary journal listings in Poets and Writers for places to submit was the last step.
During the story writing process, I allowed the story to sit for a few hours or overnight or for a total day. Whatever the time span, at the next session new ideas flowed, new discoveries were made. I fleshed the story bones. Some days the story felt good, other days I wanted to burn it.
As I wrote, I realized I was in my own political arena, with choices a lot like the recently concluded Republican and Democratic conventions. (I watched them both.) At my convention, the vote for what happened next was my keyboard.
This writing/political convention analogy could go off the deep end with humor or vitriol or prognostications. I’ll just make this two scoops of vanilla. So here goes.
Like my story, the political story had been in process for a period of time. There were a variety of possible titles – The Conventions, The Next President, to name a few. There were characters in conflict against a wider world backdrop and a parade of characters all talking at once: protagonists, antagonists, best buddies, acquaintances, walk-ons, strangers. We had a convention setting rife with architectural detail, moods of light and shadow, high tech running rampant, nooks, crannies, halls, signs, music, and local color. Enough sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds abounded to stimulate the five senses for a lifetime. There were moods from hopeful to dark to funny to serious and a rising action building to a choice between two endings. There was a storyline rife with plot, intrigue, truth, fiction, and subplots trying to appeal to our human dreams and foibles.
As writers, we have to sort out the story, streamline the material, and arrive at a conclusion, all the while revealing man’s universal truths. In the political realm, we do the same, looking at promises, plans, and slogans. All the while making people care about the story. Whew!