Monday, May 21, 2007

Because it's the most pressing thing in my life

this week and next, I'm reprising an amazing quotation from Samuel R. Delany's About Writing on what it means to revise fiction (here was my long post on the book last year). I have thought of this passage very regularly since I first read it, it seems to me an extraordinarily apt and imaginative description that's not quite like any other I've seen:

When writers get (from readers or from themselves) criticism in the form “The story would be more believable if such and such happened” or “The story would be more interesting if such and such . . .” and they agree to make use of the criticism, they must translate it: “Is there any point in the story process I can go back to, and by examining my visualization more closely, catch something I missed before, which, when I notate it, will move the visualization/notation process forward again in this new way?” In other words, can the writers convince themselves that on some ideal level the story actually did happen (as opposed to “should have happened”) in the new way, and that it was their inaccuracy as a story-process practitioner that got it going on the wrong track at some given point?
In a very real way, one writes a story to find out what happens in it. Before it is written it sits in the mind like a piece of overheard gossip or a bit of intriguing tattle. The story process is like taking up such a piece of gossip, hunting down the people actually involved, questioning them, finding out what really occurred, and visiting pertinent locations. As with gossip, you can’t be too surprised if important things turn up that were left out of the first-heard version entirely; or if points initially made much of turn out to have been distorted, or simply not to have happened at all.


  1. This is inspiring. Literally. You got me looking for one, and I've found a little seed of a story. And yes, I do want to know what happens in it.

  2. Recently, I've had to parse similar feedback, and yeah, while my immediate response is So what? such and such did not happen and I can't do anything about it, I've learned actually use the criticism to look deeper into parts of the story to try and discover any missing pieces. And in the process, many unexpected odds and ends are revealing themselves. And it's fun.