Sunday, February 20, 2011

Catharsis

This weekend has brought with it a relief that feels like a long dry season quenched with the coolest rain: I finished a short story.

This particular story has taken an extraordinarily long time to finish, even for me. The protagonist is a character from an epic and I have been struggling to figure out where and how to end it, how to begin it, and how to tell it. This is the common problem when the epics call out to be told, because the story governs the teller in a unique way.

First, the pre-made character comes with all the responses and attitudes of centuries. Then, the plot is sacrosanct, which can largely restrict character development. At the same time, the re-telling has to provide a perspective not included in the popular renditions of the epic, yet has to resonate with the reader.

I was worried about these issues when I realized that I'd have to write this story. I haven't been happy with this telling for many months now. I struggled with many issues: what parts of the plot to tell? How to tell without repeating the story that everyone knows so well? And most difficult: how to develop the character without changing her? Besides the fact that my character embodies too many archetypes to change her, I didn't WANT to change her in any essential way.

The story ended up being, cut, uncut, re-phrased, re-tried until I was ready to just forget about it. Characters were made ancillary, rounded, flattened, waltzed in and out of the first person perspective the story follows. I got quite dizzy and realised that this waltzing distracted from the intensity the narration mandated.Ultimately, things came together in the most natural manner, and the magic of the epic manifested itself with very little interference on my part.

I still got up last night out of sheer habit, trying to remember if I replaced a word with a better one, or if that comma belonged after a problematic phrase, or if an allusion should be removed.

I remember a similar condition from many years ago, when my child was an infant, and I found sleep more elusive than it was in graduate school! Last night, I kissed my story as it left my care to try out its luck in the world, and it frightens me as I realize that my child shall soon be ready to do the same, much sooner than I shall be ready for it.

I dedicate this entry to all stories that give us sleepless nights and take their own time over maturing, all stories that refuse the insistence on a predetermined time line and fight all fetters that would smother them with too much worrying, all stories that grant us so much relief and pride when they finally grow up, in spite of, or maybe because of all the mistakes, stumbling, and agonies.

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