The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nudging and Trapping*: Pinballing a Story

by Tamara Lee

A few nights ago I revisited an old friend: the silver ball; or, pinball.

Back in the day, I had some “crazy flipper fingers,” able to rock the machine with a certain confidence and finesse. Seems my talents once had some high times.

Trying my hands again on a modern-day machine, I felt that familiar-but-different feeling, like only one small part of me could return to something I once knew quite well, while the rest of me tried in vain to get back to that age.

And today, revisiting some stories I’d let rest for a bit, I felt a similar longing.

What do you do when you’ve left a story to percolate, only to realize you’ve almost lost interest in it? When the characters have lived with you for so long you know they’ve nearly overstayed their welcome and are now dangerously close to seeming rude?

Often, a writer will take this as a sign that the story isn’t any good. Often, that writer would be correct. But sometimes it’s not the story; the story is fine, maybe even very good. If someone of note has assured you that story is near-ready to go, to give it one more edit and send that young adult out into the world, who are you to doubt that well-esteemed mentor?

But the story seems less and less a part of who you are now; belonging to some other mother; you the step-parent, now, who feels a similar-but-different sort of love, and maybe even a bit of duty at this point.

Abandonment of the thing would be cruel. Neglecting it, perhaps, even more so.

Another option could be to try to find that place you the writer were at during the initial development of the piece. For me, for most of my longer stories, that often means sometime between now and a dozen years ago.

As the cautious-yet-neglectful tailor of tales, I am trying to place myself in that time when I felt I knew that story best, trying to nudge and trap the thing while recognizing time has passed, and the experience of the piece may never be what once it was.

Standing in front of the pinball machine that night, I played several rounds trying to get my game back. It would have taken pocketfuls of quarters to get anywhere near the scores I used to reach.

But the feeling of being a Bally-table king was, however briefly, right there at my fingertips.

(*Nudging & Trapping: pinball techniques skilled players use to influence the movement of the ball)


Blogger Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I suppose it's like juggling several balls -- one or two will eventually fall, but if you have time, you'll pick them up again.

My present WIP is a bright shiny ball, screaming for attention. The others will have to wait until this one is put to bed.

Mon Nov 24, 10:26:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Very well said, Tamara. I've definitely had that experience with stories. (Not with pinball -- no interest, no skill.) I'm not the same person I was a few years ago when I wrote a particular story. Chances are I would not even choose to write that story today much less in the way I wrote it then. I usually abandon those stories or, if I think there's something of value in them, start over and write a different story with a similar theme. If you think about it, the same thing happens when we relate experiences we had years ago: our perspective on them changes over the years and so does the way we relate them, choosing to emphasize one aspect over another.

Tue Nov 25, 04:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Thanks for dropping by, gals.

There's something to be said for not letting ourselves lose momentum with a piece. I'm learning that lesson, now. I still want to work the stories; still think there's something to them. But it is interesting to see how my edits have changed with my perception of the story's 'initial' meaning.

Tue Nov 25, 06:35:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I love pinball! And the Who's Tommy. And finishing stories. Those are my three favourite things. And Tamara. Four favourite things.

Wed Nov 26, 01:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger t said...

Ha! You and me, talking about our same generation...

Fri Nov 28, 02:55:00 am GMT-5  

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