“Story has a function that it alone can perform, and that is to ‘turn everything into a story.’ To transform the things and events around us into the metaphor of the story form and to suggest the true nature of the situation in the dynamism of that substitution: that is story’s most important function.” –Haruki Murakami
Getting Beyond the Shower
Singing has always captivated my imagination. A full-throated physical expression of something intangible put me in a moment that always felt sensual. Unfortunately, I can not sing. To be more precise, I can carry a tune but for some reason the rhythmic division of beats is awkward and frightening, not to mention the corresponding translation of dots on a sheet to an actual specific pitch. The in-the-moment physical/emotional/mental singing has therefore been confined largely to the shower!
Nevertheless, the sensation of singing with all its attendant implications is something I continue to seek during my journey of reinvention through writing.
One of the oft repeated axioms of writing is “Write what you know.” Any discussion of this axiom often sounds limiting. Writing what I know would limit me to writing about either a theater rehearsal or a scholastic classroom. My world to this point has largely been focused on those two spheres. To date, I have written several screenplays that are not centered on what I know. One screenplay entitled “Pentimento” was actually rather fanciful with its inclusion of an ancient chess piece, belonging to the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, passing through time in search of the on going conflict between church and state. I never got the first nibble of interest.
I turned instead to writing a novel set in the town where I currently live and using several significant historical events to weave another story. I have received at least two nibbles for additional information and a couple of sample chapters. Still nothing has emerged other than a feeling that the story is significant.
Two requests for a first chapter or two have at least encouraged me by suggesting there must be something of interest in the story- or at worst, I wrote a good query!
The Shape of Story
I am addicted to newsletters, websites, blogs and other sources of information regarding the craft of writing. Recently I read an article which settled, for me, the issue of write what you know. The column was written by Colm Tolbin. He says the following:
“The story has a shape, and that comes first, and then the story and its shape need substance and nourishment from the haunting past, clear memories or incidents suddenly remembered or invented, erased or enriched.”
In an instant, I had the solution to the dilemma, for me at least. Combining Tolbin’s thoughts with Hurkami, I have the perfect framework for my writing, a framework which might possibly allow me to sing. Shaping my stories with my own personal experiences does not require that I write only about the things I know. If there is a universality or commonality among human experiences, finding that commonality within events distant from me can only infuse the story with the authenticity of me. That is singing; that is storytelling.
This is reinforced by Murakami’s description of the dynamism of the substitution involved in transforming a story into a metaphoric form and thereby suggesting the true nature of the situation.
Once again, I can hear the wind sing… More importantly, I may be able to sing too.
One Giant Step
There is but one hurdle remaining; just do it.
I was struck by the tragedy of Michael Phelps in the 200 butterfly yesterday. He didn’t finish. The race was his and he let another swimmer out-touch him. This is particularly stinging when you recall that one of his gold medals from the Beijing Olympics was earned by an extra half-stroke while his competitor coasted.
A footnote, yesterday I followed a debate on the Writer’s Digest website over self-publishing and the changing nature of the publishing industry. There were many interesting ideas and facts. As you might expect, issues of writing quality and vanity press surfaced. I shall address these this week.