Reading About Fiction, Thinking About Other Things

Hello. I know it’s been a while since I blogged, and I apologize. (I’ll keep my personal woes to myself.)

But I had some pleasant and, frankly, some surprising news: my short story (my first one), “Wade,” has been accepted by Inscape Magazine for publication sometime in 2016. I’d started thinking, when all I was getting were rejection slips, that somehow the story wasn’t good enough or modern enough or any other thing enough. So when I got my most recent Writer’s Digest, and there was an article about two ways to fix any story, I thought, well, I might as well read this and see if I can fix “Wade.” The article, by Elizabeth Sims (“Power Tools,” Writer’s Digest, January 2016) was aimed at fixing novels, but I thought it might apply to other kinds of writing.

Sims singles out two big guns: arc and pace. She says, “Arc is the path your story follows, suggesting both change and the passage of time.”  And pace “is simply the rate of speed at which your plot events unfold.” And then she discusses these as they might present in a novel. I thought that might also apply to short stories, so I was getting ready to reexamine “Wade,” but first I checked my email. AND THERE WAS AN ACCEPTANCE MESSAGE FOR “WADE”!  I was thrilled, as you can imagine. And I left “Wade” alone.

But I got to thinking.  In an arc, you start in one place, go through a middle, and end up somewhere else. And how much middle and how fast do you get to that other place? It seems to me that poetry is like that. I have a line, an image, a mood, something I want to start with. I don’t know where it’s going to go, or how I’m going to get there. So I just start writing. I don’t censor anything, worry about my direction, because I don’t know what the poem is yet. But eventually, I get written out, and I realize, “Oh, that’s what I’m writing about.” And then the revisions can begin. And after having read Sims’ article about arc and pace, I think those are factors, albeit on a much smaller, but perhaps more intense, scale.

And I was listening to my favorite radio station, WFMT98.7 (a fine arts station out of Chicago), and I thought arc and pace also applied to music. (A little note–no pun intended–I was a prize-winning composer in undergraduate and graduate school. I love music, and I liked writing it, but I loved word writing even more. In fact, a lot of my pieces were settings of poems, texts, etc.) You take a theme, you see all the things you can do with it, and by the end, you’re in a different place entirely. I think Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” is a broken form of this. He starts out with a beautiful theme, begins to work it, finds lots of stuff, but eventually gets stuck, and keeps coming back to the same place. He can’t get somewhere else, conclude the arc, find a place to end up. Don’t get me wrong: I love Schubert, and I love that symphony, and if I’d written that, I would have considered myself a genius.

But the point is, all forms of art, I think, have (as Aristotle said in his Poetics, speaking about tragedy) a beginning, a middle and an end. (Pardon me if I don’t quote exactly; college was a long time ago.)  And when I write my next poem, or (maybe, short story), I’ll have some new ways of looking at things.


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