clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I have a cherry tree in the west meadow that is quite old and neglected. I suspect it is a native (they are native in my part of the world) and has been allowed to progress on its own for the twenty-two years the house has been perched on top of the hill. The stone foundation of a small barn lies between you and the tree in this photo. The barn is so long gone that I have blackberries and blueberries growing within what were its walls.

The tree is badly in need of pruning which I have delayed because its fruits are small and somewhat rare. I had no real expectation that pruning will rejuvenate its bearing of fruit. In the spring bloom so many of the branches are dead and dormant that when it does bloom they are unnoticed in the otherwise bright greening of the meadow beyond.

I will prune it in the bloom this spring. It is close to the berry patch and I want to convey a degree of gentrified sophistication in our little patch and not the happenstance of fruit amid decay and neglect.

I say these things because I must prune my own writing this winter. I have said repeatedly in the past two months that managing the internals of the characters against the externals of the plot is something I have not done well. I could ignore this shortcoming and write on merrily with plot-driven stories. However, these are not the stories I want to write.

I have dribbled out bits and pieces for  twenty years with some regular commitment. It was clearly in the vein of hobby. I did not take the time and effort to craft. I merely wrote (as someone will say at a party - "Oh, I write, too." Yes, long ago I learned the decorum of  keep your mouth shut and say you work as an actuary or a epidemiologist or in demographic analysis or just - gasp - "in insurance." It keeps you from interacting with people who might otherwise watch reality TV - or any TV for that matter.).

I want to tell my stories and they demand an understanding by the reader of the turmoil of my characters. I cannot have that turmoil without portraying the inner conflict that tortures them and the external conflict which denies them the blissful safety of banal existence we each enjoy quite comfortably every day. Most of us do not have lives that make good stories with dead bodies and rose gardens.

I have to prune. I have to do the new. I hate compulsion. I hate the drive to do something difficult and frightening and just full of the possibility of failure. I hate it. I have it and I don't for the life of me know why. I'm fundamentally contemplative (my uncle would say "lazy") and am content to observe and learn more than do and experience.

I get in a little float plane most years and fly for hours to catch fish because of the plane ride (which can be more than a little of an adventure). It is a destination. It is a mark of departure from the ordinary.

I can't go fishing at the pond on Saturday afternoon. I have to have adventure for recreation. It is a character flaw of the worst type.

I feel that same compulsion to get better in my writing - my storytelling.

It means learning anew. It means admitting that what I have done for twenty years is crap. [ Not hard that , as writers. We can always call something of ours crap. This time - it is with due consideration.]

I have the reference materials. I have authors who have shared their insights into characterization, storytelling, the physical craft of writing, the effort of effective self-editing. I have the "make a mess and clean-it-up" process and the newly acquired knowledge of what MUST be in the first draft before clean-up can be worthwhile.

I have the tool kit. I don't know how to use all the tools yet but I have the kit. I am working again from day zero. I am writing slowly and deliberately following a series of rough outlines that tell me things I must do and show along the little scenes even in the first draft.

I am tightening. I am trimming. I am pruning my old tree. I am hoping for a decent crop. I've lost fruit trees before so nothing is guaranteed. I don't think this one is too far gone to bear a little fruit old as it may be.

I let my writing go too early for the desire of career and family. Those efforts I  chose allow me to sit now and look at snow from my library. I'm drinking my tea in a quiet house ( well, there is a resident foxhound who isn't quiet at all) as my frau is in Hawaii. I enjoy the trappings of success and don't find nobility in the poverty and struggle that would have followed me as a young playwright.

I do find a degree in disappointment that I didn't approach my writing in a more serious manner years ago.

I'd feel less the fool now if I had been more serious a couple decades ago after the drafts of Rateater. Maybe I would have seen why my execution was lacking. I would have seen why my efforts were so pale and transparent. My ego would have been moderated by the understanding of the real mechanism of crafting a vibrant character portrait. Maybe I would have wanted to fix my efforts. Maybe.

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