It was a Short Story Sunday not too long ago, though now it seems much longer. I was looking for something simple to write, something adventurous, something straightforward, something short.
I was sitting in my car at my secret meditation spot when it blew in my window on a faux-spring breeze and landed on my paper in an indigo blue scrawl.
It was a good idea.
The more I turned it over in my hands and studied it, the more I thought, “This is a good idea.” It was simple, adventurous, straightforward, and short.
So I said to myself, “I will write this story.”
I can’t really say at what point it revealed its true nature to me. It led me on for some time, a week at least, masquerading as simple, adventurous, straightforward, and short. It waited until I had waded in up to my waist, the water already wicked up my bathing suit until I was soaked. It waited until I was committed.
Then it pulled off its mask, shook out its hair, and danced out a stomple and flick in tap shoes. “Ta-Dah! How do you like me now?”
“Aw, jeez.” That was my response. Then, “Oh, no. Really?” Then a groan. “Are you serious?” Then, “Maybe I can go back to the original idea.”
What happened, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you what happened (and you all know what’s coming because you’ve all been there):
<deep breath> Turns out my protagonist wasn’t Cuban after all, but ex-Mafia. Turns out my Pollyanna wasn’t a sweet spaceport liaison stationed on the moon, but an MFA-hopeful extern named Charles, not Chaz, Charlie, or Chuck. And it turns out that although my new friends are willing to go to the moon for me, they have their sights set on the Great Barrier Reef first. There are coral polyps to cultivate and groom, after all. (Who knew?)
Worse, my characters have plans. Lots of plans. They are no one’s one-trick ponies, they assure me. They are demanding their rights! They are staging a coup!
Oh, the humanity!
(Yes, I know. A bit dramatic. It happens. <contrite face — kinda>)
In short, although I got the adventurous bit of my wish list, simple, straightforward, and short went out the window with the Cuban and the Pollyanna. And I think my characters knew all along. I feel a bit taken.
So what do you do when they get away from you, when your characters run amuck and blow up stuff and turn flash fiction ideas into sprawling epic sagas?
Yes, you in the back.
Very good. Yes, you can kill them all. That is true. But supposing it was your desire to have characters in your stories, what do you do when your story starts growing you out of house and home?
You grab a pen, a laptop, a crayon, a tape-recorder, a paintbrush, an eyebrow pencil, whatever you can get your grubby little hands on, and you catch that little fucker before it gets away. And no trying to flash-freeze it and put it on ice for some unspecified future date when you have time to give it the proper attention it deserves. These things have expiration dates and can grow stale very quickly.
These are the gifts of the Muse. These are the overblown, over-the-top, handmade items she presents to us with gaudy ribbons and a coy smile. These are the 10-lb. fruitcakes she brings to us every once in a while.
So if it seems like work to pretend you like the gray crocheted doily or that the pink wool bikini top is totally comfortable, if it feels like work to chew your way through fruitcake briquettes with a smile, it should. Because the magic is in the work. It’s always in the work. And if you’re not working, if you’re not writing, you’re missing the magic.
What are you looking at? Go, go, go! Here’s a pen. Go for their ankles!