With NaNoWriMo in full swing, I’ve been seeing a lot of fiction writers write about plot.
I’m a short story writer, but I’ve been through plenty of classes for novelists that teach Aristotle’s 3-act structure of Beginning, Middle, and End, and the popular 4-act structure (which lengthens and halves the Middle section) for novels.
I use Aristotle’s structure for my short stories, but I don’t plot them before I begin writing them. I like the freedom of invention that this method allows. Unfortunately, I didn’t always write that way. I spent many hours sketching out each act and segment before writing. It seemed like the right thing to do because that’s how I planned my paintings. As an artist, I had to see the finished painting on paper before I could begin.
But I like to experiment, whether I’m making art or writing, so to try something different, I used no sketches or reference material to paint a bear and pheasant in a field. I created the scene from my mind with no prior sketching and relied on memory. It turned out how I’d imagined it, but it lacked any drama.
One of my regular customers took a liking to the painting and wanted to buy it, but I convinced him to let me dramatize it. I drew up some sketches that helped to make the painting a visually better one.
As an artist and writer, I try to make my work visually pleasing. As an artist, I’m a planner, using sketches to plan a painting. But as a storywriter, I prefer not to plan my stories. For some reason, following a plan has always dampened my creativity. I prefer not knowing how my stories are going to end until I arrive. I prefer beginning a story with an exciting situation and running with it to see where it’ll go. I like that freedom. I love the surprises along the way—the discoveries and a-ha moments.
Once I have a story that follows the basic 3-act structure, then I edit, which can greatly reduce my word count. This used to bother me because of publishers requiring specific word count for submissions. So, I decided to write for me and self-publish.
I learned how to edit when I was at college. Everything I wrote was wordy and voluminous until I took a creative writing class and had to write 100-, 200-, and 300-word stories. Many assignments involved taking prior works and reducing their word counts without destroying their themes and essence. One of my earlier works was a 900-word short story about a wolf dying from a shotgun wound. My assignment was to turn the composition into a 300-word story. It took a lot of editing and changing the ending until I ended up with the following story: Dead Rabbits Don’t Run.
I smell it again. Past hemlock and below this hill that man calls Myers Ridge, the aroma comes from his wooden lodge, drifting to me on powerful smoke and burning my nose with the fragrance of the blood of my sins. It was there that I lost my self-respect by giving in to temptation and committing the crime that now damns me.
Man eats his roasted rabbit meal tonight: sucking every tawny bone bare and chewing, always chewing with gusto, and licking fingers clean. He’ll leave no meat behind. Before he sleeps, he’ll throw those bones into tall grass where I waited often, always hidden, always alone, consuming the cooked, discarded marrow of dead rabbits.
I grew lazy on the rich, addictive flavor and stopped hunting.
My sin led me to scavenging, which brought man’s gun to end it. If I could move, I’d crawl deep under hemlock to hide my crippled body and all evidence of the follies of an old laggard who spent his final days chasing dead rabbits.
Even in the clouds, their round and plump elder towers above me, mocks my death throes, sneers at my torment with his taunting round white face, and laughs through the wind at my ruin. The great white rabbit has traveled quickly across the sky tonight to pull the blanket of final darkness over me. He is right to ridicule my predicament. His quick and bountiful children made me a strong hunter and my strength made me a leader. My laziness, however, made me easy prey to the rifle.
I wonder if my bones will make a satisfying meal to the next bottom-feeder.
Is this daylight upon me at last, or am I dreaming? I thought I saw dead rabbits running through the summer grass. It must be a dream. Dead rabbits don’t run.
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If done wisely, editing makes us find the truth of the story.
That’s all for now. Thanks for joining me.
This post “A Bit on Writing and Art” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.