Getting it Right by Breaking the Rules

All the books on how to write fiction tell you not to get hung up editing and polishing before you get to the end of the story. I've been working on a story for a month now that I don't really have an ending for and the last couple of days I have been going obsessively over the beginning trying to get it exactly right -- down to the sentence rhythms and punctuation, probably because I can't make progress at the other end of the piece, where it matters. And I'm not willing to just put it away. There is something about this story -- the fifth in my nascent fiction-writing career! -- that feels like I need to finish before I can go back to the other stories I'm working on or have planned or sketched in my notebook. This particular story is a rule breaker in anumber of ways, actually. I began it, thinking it would be very short -- I'd just finished drafts of two really short stories, a thousand and three thousand words each, and this one seemed similar in feeling and heft. But that's not the way it has worked out. At this point it's around four thousand words and still growing. Also, I kill the main character in the first paragraphs, so the whole thing is retrospective. And for a bit of magic realism -- very unlike me -- this character's "soul" is still floating around making observations. Well, I've created a fine mess and I've honestly been having a hard time making myself sit down to work on it, but I've now gotten to the point where I'm not going to let the thing defeat me. I went and bought a bottle of multivitamins the other day. Really. I need the strength.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “Getting it Right by Breaking the Rules”

  1. Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It’s narrator is dead. Also Indignation by Philip Roth (my main man!). I’ve had short stories floating around for years that I’m still trying to “finish.” All we can do is keep trying. As for the writing instruction guides — I consider them crap. I write what and how I write. I couldn’t do it any other way.

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