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The Past | The Previous

The World Turns Around a Little

A few weeks or so ago, I mentioned I was writing a new story that I planned to call 'Convicts'. I had a good opening line. I had a good premise. It sounded good.

Shame it was shit. I spent a lot of time trying to make it work, especially the voice of the piece, but it was too much like narrators I had done previously (mostly, it resembled the narration from Beneath the Red Sun (which is the novel Across the Seven Continents of the Underworld, but with a new title)). Worse, it wasn't saying anything new: I could see how I had said the same thing in previous short stories, and the structure was one that I just couldn't get jazzed about. Sometimes a short story will work for me because I'm doing something different, technically, than I have done before, and that makes it interesting. But this thing, this thing was dead in the water, and I spent a few weeks flipping it round, trying to make it work. I gave a voice to the girl, though I initially wanted a single view point from the male narrator, but she turned out to be dull and without purpose. The main narrator wasn't dealing much better. His main characterisation seemed to be that he was detached. Well, he was. Detached from being interesting, from plot, from style, from narrative, from purpose. I was a victim of my own success, it seemed, in creating detached men.

Yesterday, I was staring at the words, rewriting the first thousand words again, and I realised, finally, that the thing had to be trashed, so I did it. It happens, and I moved to another idea, this one more interesting, ambitious, and technically challenging. It involves essays of Octavia Butler's work, in fact, but as to how that will work by the end of the piece, I've yet to decide. Still, it feels better, feels more solid, and more importantly, it takes me away from doing the things that I have been doing for the last year. About time, really.

I have no idea if other writers are conscious of the shape of their body of work. Perhaps it's pretentious even of me to talk about it, or to think it, but there's a kind of arrogance mixed into writing, and my particular arrogance is not to view my work as this piece or that piece, but as something that comes together on extra levels when viewed as a whole. What that means is that I'm always conscious of the work that I've done behind me; whether it was good or bad doesn't hugely concern me, as a lot of it is taste, and I tend just to spot the flaws in my stuff once it's done. But what I do keep in my mind are themes, interests, types of narrators, styles, forms, and the like, and I do this so that I can watch for repetition and sag in my body of work. To keep going, to keep being interesting, you need to change things up, to push the boundaries of your interests, to give different takes, to make, within all of your work, a set of arguments, themes, and obsessions that continue to inspire. Now, I don't mean that this is something that is done for the reader, because I honestly have no control over he or she, but I mean that it is something I need, that I want. If I'm not doing it, I feel as if my work is stagnant, and maybe that, really, is the most pretentious thing I've said in this post yet, but just kind of go with me here, because what I'm saying is that that story was all those shitty things, and I had to scrap it.

It's life, I guess.

(crossposted)

Comments

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catsparx
Nov. 18th, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)
I was startled to realise a couple of weeks back, that a new story I'd just finished a draft of was essentially a retelling of an earlier story I'd already had published. I honestly thought I'd come up with something new and experimental! (for me, at least).

I'm becoming more and more aware of the need to expand my own horizons
benpeek
Nov. 18th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
yeah, i reckon it keeps everything fresh doing that--and i reckon readers/editors/whoever respond to you when you're fresh.
catsparx
Nov. 18th, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
yep. Like they can smell it.
roberthoge
Nov. 18th, 2008 07:20 am (UTC)
But doesn't the fact you couldn't quite nail it show you still have some room to develop your skills in that area? Or was it more that you couldn't pull it off because you got bored with it?
benpeek
Nov. 18th, 2008 08:50 am (UTC)
i'm sure you dont mean that to be as condescending as it came across, man.

it's simply that i've done it before, and there's nothing new to say in it. it's repetition and that kind of stuff is just bad writing, imo.
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