So after an MFA in fiction, and more workshops and how-to books than I care to count, I think I've narrowed down the telling, the crafting, of story as follows:
- The decision to act
- The action
- The consequences of the action
Stories contain characters, the protagonist in particular, who struggle, make choices, act, and ultimately change.
Great stories also contain compassion and surprise.
The idea of conflict, the protagonist's struggle, in stories has been quite problematic for me. For years, I made the mistake of thinking that conflict had to be something big, dramatic. A mistake that resulted in overwriting. Now if I approach story thinking of trouble, rather than conflict, I do better.
At Mills College, Victor LaValle said that writers needed to know their weaknesses and write against them.
The weaknesses I'm aware of in my own writing are:
- slow beginnings
- failing to deliver a satisfying story arc
- allowing my own self-doubts and inner critic to limit my creativity
*I received a very helpful rejection recently. The editor pointed out the following about my story:
- You're trying way too hard
- Select modifiers carefully
- Choose adjectives and adverbs that evoke rather than describe
- Choose the one noun or verb in your sentence that you want to illuminate
- Less is more
I returned to the story and revised it accordingly, and am so much happier with it. It's advice I plan to apply to all my work.
At the moment, I feel sad and frustrated because I so want to be a better writer. I'm fighting the urge to wallow, telling myself that all I can do is keep writing, keep trying. I might never get as good as I'd like to be. I might never get to tell all the great stories I'd so love to give the world. But with writing, as with all things, practice can only help.
Happy writing and living all.