I simply cannot work any other way.
I’ve been fighting this story in my mind for days because I forgot how it always, always works with me. The characters have to be set free, and I’m trying to guide them down a certain path to achieve a certain outcome and they don’t move, and they don’t talk, they treat me like a warden and there is no trust so they don’t tell me anything. I can say all I want There are no bars! You are free! but they can feel them. Because anytime they do start to move, it’s a panoptic event, like that apology you’re forced to give even though you don’t feel sorry, even if Mom isn’t in the room, it’s still an unsatisfactory event for all parties and better it had never happened.
So, it’s time to forget, time to move on. All the good “story ideas” I’ve had over the summer are shit. Time to let them spill. Keep the characters. Let them play. Don’t stop or guide or hope, or care, write like you don’t care, like none of it matters, like you haven’t banked your future and your life on what they do and how artfully they do it.
I wonder about the classic well-wrought stories and how they came to exist. How many drafts did Flannery flanagle before she had the grandmother mention the Rascal before the trip even started. The story is not linear in the author’s mind; when the Rascal was invented he began his existence at the beginning and the end. The coincidence is the story, that the grandmother feared this man and they happened to find him. Without that this is just a random murder of a family along the side of a dirt road. For a shirt. I wonder did it start out that way. I wonder did she just hate this family and want to kill them off before the story was over with. The grandmother recognizes the Rascal and that’s what he says necessitates their collective demise, but you always kind of felt they were going to end these folks for whatever reason. Still it’s a nice final pull on the trigger of fate. But the story is made a story when she mentions him right at the beginning.
What I’ve been hoping for lately is for a world where O'Connor wrote him in there, right at the beginning of the process, first draft. Like she knew exactly where it would end up, and because of that she knew exactly what she had to do to get there. Since I’ll probably never research this, I can say yes it is possible. She was that good, so why not? Why shouldn’t she have Shakespeared this story right out first try. Not that there were not multiple drafts, just that she knew what the story was before she wrote it.
I just can’t do it, though. It goes nowhere. I can barely even write with potential endings in mind. From the beginning they all try to crowd their way in and step on each other’s toes, and if I write with one ending in mind there’s too much weight on it and every hint at set-up work, every mention of the Rascal, feels conspicuous. Is conspicuous. Right now I have two characters, male and female discussing a business deal, each married to other people, alone in a beach resort setting in California and the ending I have in mind has the business deal working out not as expected (in the male’s mind anyway) and so he tries to fuck her at the end. Knowing this I am hamstrung. I can’t put any tension into the scene now. They’re not working with any common interests in mind, they may as well be talking to their menus, because she’s got to convince him to try this thing and he’s got no reason to beyond the capacity, the money he doesn’t know what else to do with. A logical out. I’m trying to logic this. I’m trying to write a fucking math problem.
It’s disgusting to watch, and I’m the only one watching, me learning how to write again. Wish I could fast-forward this part.