Monday, January 19, 2015

Constructing a Story, Stage 2

I can only tell you about writing by telling you how it is for me and encourage you to think about yours. 

Construction Site
The full title, in fact, is: Constructing a Story, Stage 2: combining the elements. As I am a seat-of-the-pants plotter, stage 1 is always with me. Elements, bits, pieces and little jewels rise to surface of my mind and are stitched into the work as I think of them.

After some thought, I discovered that I often get newsflash-sized ideas for a story in the shape of bits of dialogue. I write them down, or note them into my iphone, or on old envelopes. These give me the characters and the narratives they inhabit and are the very first elements I have to work with.

Yesterday, obviously as a result of the inspirational decision to use the carbon-knitter as a character for my sortie into Verb-land, I started getting ideas for a story using her. She is a character I had previously got to know for an anthology I submitted to, and gained a place in. (see Canterbury 2100)

Some of the ideas cobbled together made an Act 1-ish screed I posted on G+. <The Carbon-knitter, The Medic and the Dog.> This is the first time ever that I posted first draft material. Didn't feel right. There was stuff to change in every line. Every sentence.

Words are missing, misspelled, missed. But ... it was an exercise. And I discovered/became aware of the dialogue thing. Always useful, becoming aware of how one does things.

The first few ideas typed out in dialogue form. It hangs together in story form quite well.

“How long has that dog been there?” Ed said. 

Arbie laughed. “He looks hungry, and ready for his dinner with a bib tied on already?”

Ed fed the fire from the small store of sticks they’d managed to gather. The army had camped in the surrounds for a week already. 

Arbie clicked her tongue, inviting the stray to approach. “Maybe not a stray,” she said. “That bib is a bandanna, moderately clean.” She meant the colour, red, not be-grimed so much that it couldn’t be seen.

“A healthy animal,” Ed said. “I’ve seen soldiers skinnier than him. like about ninety percent.” 

“An officer’s dog, then.” Hope flared in her breast. 

“Or a troop mascot. I know what you’re thinking.” He slid he second plate out of the camp-kit. Tore the half-loaf into three and covered two hunks on two plates with stew. Dropped the third bit of bread in the pot, for himself. Hesitated.

“A dog gets fed last in a well-run household,” Arbie said. 

So well in fact that I thought I'd cobble together a few paragraphs to set up a story premise, which I decided would be (a) the arrival of the dog at the camp-site, the couple dealing with it, (b) the next day searching for the owner and (c) finding owner, getting reward and purchasing the sunkelamp. Regular three act structure.

Arbie and Ed cooked their meal over the usual three-stick fire. They laughed at each other stories of the day, spiced up specially for this, their evening rest. 

Ed’s patients slept, and were cared for by their own. In the evenings, Arbie lay her knitting aside. Her yarns were spider-silken and the product gauzy and prone to damage. Ed was the battlefield medic and Arbie his carbon-knitter. They’d hurried their journey to sign up before the fighting began. 

They’d met a drunken sunkelamper and convinced her to join them, but that woman had soon found more comfortable lodgings. “You’ll find her in the baggage train,” Ed said. “Shiving and conniving. Never at your side when you want her.” 

Not much of a set-up, you'll agree. It needs setting. Sensory detail. A better first sentence. Characterisation. Plot needs to start right there in the first 100 words, and as it is to be a short story, the crisis and denouement signaled. I imagine there'll be about 5000+/- words in it. We'll see.

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