The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, September 04, 2006

That Spinning Night

by Andrew Tibbetts

I’m not aiming to acquire a distinctive writing style- in fact, the opposite. I’m hoping to get out of the way so that each story I write can find its own way of telling itself. I think about what the story needs and then I set myself some fairly abstract challenges with which I hope to produce the desired effect.

For example, I have one story, published in Fiddlehead (No. 226) called “Thirteen Glimpses of My Mother Unaware of Being Watched”. The story spans the main character’s life from school-aged to middle-aged. I thought that the style I told the story in should ‘mature’ along with the character. So I gave myself a maximum and minimum sentence-length range for each section. For the boy, things are tight. For the man, all kinds of ideas and sensations mix together into a complicated mesh of feeling and thinking. Also, I used a feature of my word processor which analyzes the school-grade level of the passage. The writing style progresses from elementary to grad school. Or at least it did for the first draft. I allow myself to tweak spontaneously once I’ve gotten the feel of a story’s style. I aim for these ideas to be the skeleton of the telling, not particularly visible under the flesh.

If I have a story that can’t find its voice, I feel pain. It’s prolonged labour. It’s inside kicking to get out, but can’t find the exit. It’s the worst thing about being a writer. Worse than the pay.

For example, I have a story about a boy who steals. The tale swirling around my head begins when he picks up the habit and ends when he decides to stop stealing. I have thought out the plot details, all the events he initiates and reacts to. I have thought out all the other characters and the settings. Everything’s ready. But the thing won’t pop.

I have only the vaguest sense of how it should feel. It should feel like when I was an adolescent and lay on my bed listening to music. Sometimes songs just made my soul expand. Once I took a transistor radio out onto the summer night lawn. The grass was dewy but warm. The world was asleep except for me and Brent Bambury, of CBC’s 80’s late night radio show, Brave New Waves. It was like he was laying out a hand of tarot cards, divining my essence. Song after song was perfectly chosen. I had a kind of out-of-body experience. Part of me floated above myself turning in the air.

That’s the feel I want for this story. And until I get the kind of word-choice/prose-rhythm/cognitive-schema parameters that will birth that spinning night, the story stays mere potential. Every once in awhile I take a frustrating stab at it and fail. But I’m patient, and it’s not going anywhere.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Oh how I relate. I almost have to dream a story, to feel its wholeness in an abstract way, before it works. I also have to become a character before I can speak with her voice. Like method acting, I suppose. It's painful and obsessive.

Mon Sep 04, 12:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

I know that feeling exactly - there are stories where I want to be 12 years old, in the middle of a field, hot wind snaps at my jacket and I wonder what I am going to do that day, and perhaps the rest of my life.

I lived in Calgary in the 80's, going to art school, when I discovered Brave New Waves. I fell asleep many nights listening to some of the most amazing music, stuff I never knew exsited. It's where I first heard Tom Waits. But it wasn't Bambury... it was the woman, what was her name? Augusta Lepay or something like that? I was deeply in love with her.

Mon Sep 04, 02:51:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Brave New Wave Hosts:
Augusta LaPaix (1984-85)
Brent Bambury (1985-1995)
Patti Schmidt (1995-today)

Mon Sep 04, 07:50:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

oh Andrew, you have such a beautiful heart, you will find this voice of this boy,maybe you need to lay outside in the grass and listen to music to hear it.

Tue Sep 05, 01:35:00 am GMT-4  

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