Friday, September 16, 2011

Writing fiction: turns out it's hard to do

Generally when I write for 3quarks I prefer to wait until the week or so before the column is due to get started.  I enjoy writing these pieces, but I don't want it to dig too much into my other writing commitments.  And though these columns are not masterpieces (thought I confess to having a soft spot for my post on my surgery experience (here), and for the first of my bodily fluids pieces (here)) nevertheless I typically get them finished, and they are generally not horrifyingly bad.

This month though I made the poor decision to try to write a piece of fiction - a ghost story of all things.  Now, I have written plenty of fiction over the years but never with a view to publication, online or anywhere else.  Like most Irishmen I have a half written novel manuscript on my hard drive, But I had forgotten just how difficult it is to write a satisfying story.  It seems that in writing fiction it is difficult to rehabilitate the writing once it has gone offtrack.  In writing a scientific manuscript, or an essay, or even a poem, I am typically able to redirect the ship once if it goes off course.  But a story when it decides to head for the shallow waters of mediocrity is determined, apparently, to wreck itself on the shoals.  Why is this, I wonder?

So I have an outline, a few hundred words of text, and about a day to get this sucker finished.  It's beginning to look awkward.  So do I exhume an older writing and get it ready for posting on Monday or do I knuckle down and see if by dint of the sweat of my brow and a dollop of writerly will get this fictional baby into some sort of shape, and post whatever emerges? Anyway here's a couple of lines of the story so far.  It's in the voice of a tediously loquacious Irishman living in Chicago (I suppose that would be me...):

“Our friend is now out of pain, and his was a pain of great immensity – ultimate, substantial pain – immense precisely because it was so seemingly trifling a thing.  A man might recover from being flattened by a truck only to take a nibble from a toadstool and perish in an instant.  The notebooks [the story is constructed from reading lab notebooks!], and there are hundreds of them, go back to his early adulthood, and as I gathered from reading them, so does the origin of his most peculiar problem, a problem so seemingly insignificant, that his death seems not only to come out of the shadows but the shadows might be said to have been the lethal instrument.” 

Anyway, I suppose I should be writing a story.

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