clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Big Empty

This is a grain elevator from just outside the big empty. Where I grew up, this was the mark of industry. This, and shabby oil derricks.

On the map where you see no roads, no towns important enough for any but the smallest dots, that's the place: the big empty.

There's a story I heard when I was a kid that in one of these little bergs, two men were found dead on a gravel side street beside their car. No one happened to live anymore on the little block where they lay.

They stayed that way for three days until a sheriff's deputy happened by and had them collected.

It wasn't a serious matter for the law. They were from somewhere else. Order is taken more serious than law in some places.

You haul your own load, carry your own secrets, wave at the neighbor you haven't seen for three months. Everyone wears of a mask with more than a little distrust.

It's the sort of place where little changes in fortune made a big difference in the community. Someone got a new car - and I mean new car. Someone's kid went to college back east. Someone bought a new horse worth a cutting of hay.

For every up there's a down and when someone went up, the neighbors all watched waiting for the inevitable reversal of fortune.

I think of it as a balanced environment where all things were conserved locally: nothing untoward happened without offset. Secrets couldn't be kept long.

As writers, we like the other side of that eventuality. We like ups without offsets. We like downs without redemption. It's easier for the reader to put our stories in a large context if we tell part and let the reader fill in the rest.

Tolstoy tells you everything. You know it all from beginning to end.

Hemingway tells us little. We know sometimes the end. Sometimes we know a middle.

I increasingly like stories where we know the early elements of discord and change, their initial event chains, and we know the sharpest of the transformations. The rest?

I'm not in the happily ever after business. 

Neither are you. Tell us enough that we see the consequences of conflict and transformation. 

You don't have to put a bow on everything.

In crime, don't show me the trial, merely point to the criminal. In literary fiction, you don't have to make him chase after her in the final scene loading everything he owns in an old Chevrolet to drive to Salt Lake City.

Leave a couple of bodies on the ground. Let's see in our own mind if anyone notices.

I'm going to write and see if anyone notices. I think you should try the same. Maybe you can find a big empty in your house in which to do it. Maybe you've been a bit of a big empty on the map thus far, too.

Let's make that dot grow a little, shall we?

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