Thursday, June 04, 2009

Necessary Losses

One of the things that makes this particular project so difficult is that I’m weaving fantasy into a historical backdrop. Also, since it all occurred so long ago, and in non-British based country, much of the historical documentation is in a language I don’t speak fluently. A bit of a problem, that. (And a good reason to stay up with one’s high school French.)

But the thing I keep having to remind myself is that even when writing a book against a historical backdrop, it’s still about the characters. That means I need to sift through all the historical facts and actual events and pick and choose those that will best highlight and resonate with the story I’m trying to tell. The problem is, there are just so many fascinating bits of history that happened around this incident, it’s hard to narrow it down and choose only a few.

And it occurred to me yesterday, that for every thing a writer chooses to put into a story, by that very choice, we eliminate others. Until we make a decision about which path our character chooses or which historical event to set our story against, all things are possible. But once we make that choice, all those other possibilities die a small quiet little death and will never be born on the page. If I choose to have my character stand and fight, there will be no story about the character who had to deal with guilt and loathing because she ran away. But if I write about that character, then I will never get to explore what it felt like to stand and fight with all the attendant mix of guilt and honor that choice would bring. There’s no way around it, it’s a necessary part of any creative process, making choices and committing to a specific story or visual compilation.

But I also realized that was one of the things that was making this particular manuscript so difficult, dealing with all the rich possible story threads and directions, and having to pass many of them by.

So this morning I wanted to lift my coffee mug and toast all those stories of ours that didn’t make it to the page; that got left behind on the road to our true story. I seemed important to acknowledge their place in our creative stew, and thank them for their contributions; to recognize their passing and mourn them, just a little bit.

And now I have to get back to work on the story I did choose!


Anonymous said...

Here, here! I'll join you in that toast. And I completely agree with you about the picking & choosing--I guess it has to become about THIS particular story, not just a story.

BTW, Fire in Fiction came yesterday--that was SO fast! Thanks again. :)

Robin L said...

Oo, very well put, Becky, about becoming THIS particular story rather than just A story.

So glad your prize got there so quickly!

Katy Cooper said...

I always think that the story we don't tell still exists somewhere out there, the way the road not taken is still out there. So the choices we don't make, don't die. They're just the undiscovered country.


And also the characters we cut...Oh dear, three whole boys got cut from my novel, and they sit glumly in the ether, hoping for another chance somewhere... Huzzah for those boys!


Kathy Duval said...

This is very timely for my WIP. I've cut characters, some great adventures, and a whole magical realm. I've been mourning, but also enjoying the clearer focus of my story. Thanks for this!

Robin L said...

I like your take on it, Katy. Much less traumatic.

And Thalia, I love the image of those boys waiting glumly for their turn!

Kathy, so glad to see you here, and glad the timing worked out. You bring up a very important point, too, that cutting certain things loose can also be freeing.