Friends, Romans, countrymen:
I just had a storytelling revelation. It may not mean much to you, but it’s big for me. If you all give me five bucks, I’ll share. By reading this far you have already agreed. Awesome. I’ll send my accountant around to collect. Isn’t it great how the Internet lets us make up our own rules?
Right now, I’m trying to write something long. Writing a 100+-page piece is so, so different than writing a short story. And it’s freaking hard, since I don’t exactly have my long-form muscles developed: over the course of my long and illustrious writing career I’ve written two novellas (both featuring nightmares and ghosts, obv) and a couple 30-page stories. Everything else has hovered around the 10-20 page range. I’m pretty sure all the non-writers in the audience just fell asleep. PAGE LENGTH IS REALLY INTERESTING TO WRITERS, OKAY? I could talk about the difference in tension between a 10-page story and a 15-page story all day, and maybe I will if you all don’t stop being so mean!
In short-form literary fiction, we’re encouraged to be so delicate. We have to handle huge issues with grace and extreme minimalism, with subtlety and poignant images that mean so much more than they say. So when I describe a grandfather clock that’s no longer ticking, you know immediately that I’m talking about MORTALITY. A salty little wave gently creeping up on the beach? EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY AFTER SOME BAD THINGS HAPPEN. &tc. &tc. &tc. (By the way, for people who get confused when I write “&tc.”, I’m 70% sure I once saw David Foster Wallace write “etc.” that way and I have appropriated it for my very own, like someone stealing a small kitten with one missing eye.)
But then it hit me like a ton of bad similes: in this longer piece, I simply have to make things happen. Real things! People can die, babies can be born, people can marry and divorce and fight viciously with both guns and something worse than guns (HURTFUL WORDS), people can change their mind not once not twice but THREE OR MORE times, dishes can fall crashing from the shelves because of dinosaurs walking by, bad weather can reverse the entire plot trajectory, and so on and so forth. In a 10-page story, there’s only so much that can actually occur if you’re trying to avoid a rompy melodrama. But in a longer piece, if not much happens, you’re left with a snoozefest like Melancholia (oh!).
So I need to abandon grace and delicacy for the moment (I’ll pick up those valuable tools during the revision stage) in favor of one thing and one thing only: ACTION. Plot action and character change and inexorable forward movement. There will be no new spring leaves softly scraping against the windowpane in this draft, baby. No nubile young girls singing nursery rhymes to contrast with the protagonist’s slow acceptance of death. No no no. There will be car chases and people exploding out of dark closets and terrible, terrible screaming matches. I need to let go of my crippling fear of melodrama. I don’t know if I can. It’s too ingrained in me. This is what happens when your parents give you a good education. (Thank you, Mommy and Papi! I love you!) But this is really important right now—it’s time to smash down whatever imaginary dam is keeping the movement out, and let the flood roar in.
(METAPHOR: STILL GOT IT.)
Also, happy Saturday and much love to everyone reading this, even the bad ones! This post may come across as slightly aggressive, but it’s just the breve, I swear.
PS: I’m usually all, I don’t care what people think! But in this case I actually do. Thoughts on creating something lengthy? Am I missing some important mark?