Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Anatomy of a Story

Being raised by artists isn't always easy. Especially when they are really right all the stinking time.
My fiction MFA sample was done. Done as in DONE, slap a stamp on it done. It's already in some crazy esoteric prof's cold and soft fingers done. I gotta be honest: I wasn't worried at all. "I GOT this," I said, lulling myself to sleep this morning at 2. I felt really good about it. 
But tonight, when I offered my story up to my father, with his paint-stained hand, his spackle-bedazzled flannel and his opened sudoku book, I was nervous. And I had every reason to be. 
My father, much like John Wayne, has two facial expressions. John Wayne could play a character two ways: Hat on or hat off. My father reads my work wearing one of two faces: The first is eyebrows dancing and eyes laughing and his nose twitches ever so subtly. The other is head down, eyebrows wrinkled, mustache crumpled. There is always a pencil in his hand when he reads like this. 

Tonight, I received the furrowed reading. 

When he's done reading like this, he looks at me like what he is about to say will hurt. I'm sure it's a shared sensation. 

"It's okay. The writing is nice, but it doesn't mean anything. What's the point?" 


When you write, most say "write the bones." Write the outline. But that's not enough. Your story needs tendons and ligaments and muscle and flesh. And feet. 

I had forgotten the feet. 

I had forgotten the universal truth--the sole (sorry for the stupid pun) purpose for writing or reading a story. It grounds the entire piece so that it culminates in an "aha!" moment where shit all gets tied together. It's where the reader's heart gets tangled up in our story. In the reader's mind they are running naked through the streets shouting "eureka!!" The meaning sings to you. 

Yes, friends, the feet sing. 

This is not my first footless rodeo. In college, I'd write these lovely little vignettes for my writing instructors. One had a chronic problem where every time I'd see him he'd ask, "but what does this mean? What are you saying?"  
I felt voiceless in my professor's office. How can you be a writer if you have nothing to say? 

That same sensation washed across me today in front of my father. I tried not to let my disappointment show.

I took it like a man--a man that hasn't slept in days and has a tummy ache and a hangnail. 

So, I'm starting back at the beginning,or rather, the ground. Starting at zero words after a month of wrangling all the wrong ones. Starting at the feet and working into bones and flesh and pulsing veins and voluptuous thighs and big pouty lips. 

Here's to beginnings. Again and again. 


  1. Ah, my friend. Not sure if this will help at all, but I personally take comfort in the little gem of a piece of information a friend shared with me once: it takes 10,000 hours of work to get really good at something, ANYTHING. Your wonderful dad has many tens of thousands of hours as a painter. YOU, my friend, have many tens of thousands of hours of living outside the lines and telling those stories in a way that will make someone laugh, or their mustache twitch. Your fiction, even if you don't yet feel like it has feet, has ankles. Harder to stand on, surely, but without the ankles the feet can't connect to the legs, or the rest of the mother fuckin' BODY that you have already created. And all it takes is practice: thousands upon thousands of keystrokes that were going to happen anyway, because you'd just as soon give up a finger as your writing.
    Am I making any sense here? I guess my point is that there's one genre that you don't have 10,000 hours with yet. So what? A couple years ago you couldn't imagine having a blog, a column, a radio gig, or any amount of fun in Twisp. Guess you'll just have to keep writing. :)

  2. Morgan-
    You are absolutely right, my friend. You nailed it. Okay. Humble the stink down and get going. That is all that I need to do. Thank you. I'm not going to give up and sulk for the rest-o-my-life. 10,000? Okay. no prob. My impatience will just have to wait, I guess.
    Thank you so much. You are writer's support always, Morgan.