Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is Your Story Structurally Sound? So What!

There’s always something to watch outside my hotel window when I come to Houston. Once I watched a window washer and thought about putting a heroine in such a job.  Yesterday, I watched the demolition of the 70 year old Young Men’s Christian Association. I always feel sad when I see old buildings torn down. (There was no good reason for this building to be torn down but there was a reason.) Lots of history floating through the air in the form of dust. Looking at this one, I wondered about all the lives touched inside those walls. What are their stories, their memories?

The YMCA served the city of Houston for 125 years—evolving and changing into what new generations needed. Built in the Italian Renaissance architectural style (according to their website), the building they’re demolishing had beautiful interior rock walls and painted beam ceilings. It had a dorm for 270 men, an assembly hall and 19 classrooms. There were two gyms and six handball courts, an indoor pool, and much more. Now, it’s time for a change and the new YMCA is built.
(I’m too sentimental, I guess. You'd think as much as we've moved around, I wouldn't have ties to anything, be nostalgic at all.)
Watching the wrecking crew strategically bump, swat and grab to bring the structure down, I thought about my novel. In my mind’s eye, I’m the person maneuvering that wrecking crane. Crashing, pulverizing all that back story and narrative and fluff—until it’s a distant memory —a sentence here and a thought there that only hints of conflict past and conflict to come.

There might be some beautiful ‘history’ in that back story but it doesn’t work.
That’s what rewriting is—changing, evolving, making the story stronger. We have to be like chefs—the right seasoning, sprinkled throughout the novel judiciously like Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. We have to be like wrecking crews, aiming at and demolishing just the right spot so that we can rebuild with the talent of the finest construction worker. We have to be like architects, designing a story that’s perfect for readers at just the right time in their lives, something that will last for years to come in someone’s memory or on someone’s bookshelf.

The following quote spoke to me today:

. . . writing is like cooking is like painting is like sculpture is like music is like gardening is like tying flies is like carving is like making bread is like making wine is like singing is like dancing is like cooking is like writing . . . ~Ev Bishop

I agree. And a whole lot more.

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