You Have No Idea What This Story’s About, Do You?

Post Date: September 4th, 2010

“What’s the more important thing about writing? Writing lots and lots? Or thinking about writing lots and lots?

Like speaking, writing is a habit driven practice. Sadly, writing ill-thought-out badly written, clumsily articulated stories is not practice for writing crafted, imaginative, and inventive stories—because so much of writing is habit. Mostly it’s practice for writing more ill-thought-out, clumsily articulated tales. Improving your writing is always a matter of changing your habits.

That requires thought—thought about writing, starting with the word, the phrase, the sentence.

You know you’re improving your writing when you start thinking thoughts in the form: ‘I am no longer going to do X, Y, or Z . . .'”

Samuel R. Delany

Note to self: You have no idea what this story’s about, do you?

Answer to self: No, I don’t. Not really.

Thought I did. I started this particular short story back in 1987, and it began as a blow-by-blow replay of 8th grade girls I once knew destroying one of their own, the most popular gal in the bunch, and treating her as Hester Prynne. One of those, “but it really happened” stories that torture instructors. “But, but Teach! I can’t leave that out because that’s the way it happened!”

Talk about tales as old as time. A writing partner and I just had a discussion about tropes (in the sense of cliche): how we’ve already heard the story I’ve got. And, as if the universe exists to underscore lessons I need to learn, I leave this conversation and run across the movie trailer where a teen girl proudly wears an A across her chest. An interesting twist on the trope. Haven’t found mine yet.

It didn’t hurt to hear my tale is tired because I’ve lost count of which draft it is and what year. Now I have some real distance. I can see where I try to stuff a thousand themes and scenes into the story. It’s over 30 pages and full of all kinds of scenes.

My partner’s critique was so helpful because she pointed to the paragraphs where she said, “Wow! Tell me more.” This was the clue where my tale took off from the trite, the trope.

In my novella of a story, the protagonist confronts her fear that God wants her to give up boys and go for Him. She studies various sisters in her Catholic school out of fear and loathing, and sometimes admiration, wondering if they are symbols of her future.

Now that’s a bit more interesting.

Time to confront the question of whether I should move the Mean Girls to backdrop status and the Hester Prynne gal to subplot, if not delete altogether…time to dream up new scenes and let the voice of Nina–whose name might also get tossed, too–emerge in prayer, superstition, and planning. What actions will a spiritually confused girl take? So much to do with this story, now that I see it anew.

And there’s plenty of time, time enough till the real story speaks. I wouldn’t want it any other way, such as the way I’ve taken — a trite ol’ road much too traveled.


  1. bobmust says:

    So far so good…now – what do your characters WANT!

  2. Oh, right, THAT little old thing! Thanks for the nudge. How easily I get distracted. Do you know I created a new character already and am giving him more powerful wants than the protagonist? This deflection syndrome is worth mining some more.