The Stories of Our Lives

Novelists get to choose their plot points, to weave efficient storylines without excess. At least that’s how it appears…

In reality, novelists know writing is mostly a reductive process: rounds and rounds of trimming out everything unnecessary. It’s these strategic cuts that put wonder and feeling into a story, that determine how wild the ride is for the characters and the reader. A nip here and a tuck there can change the color of a sunset and the depth of a dimple.

We are much the same, editing our stories as we remember them, inevitably turning history into fiction at the dinner table and in our diaries, simply by what we omit and include.

The mistake we make is that we refer to these edited, incomplete passages as truth rather than fiction. Holding tight to our beloved narratives, we no longer see the crumpled-up drafts at our feet, tattooed with redlines and cross-outs, rich with discarded endings.

These scraps and scrawlings can save you!

When your story is no longer working, bend down and flatten out one of those forgotten pages. If you look hard enough you will see through your cross-outs to the words underneath, words that become landmarks forming paragraphs plump with plot points, showing you things that really happened, offering a new angle and a new ending. What was of no use to you before may be just what you need right now.

Bring it back in.

Be comforted by the infallible notion that, just like a Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist, you always produce more than you publish. And you own all the rights.

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