Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fool's Gold


I should be writing a story right now. I should be doing lots of things. However, here is something I've been thinking about. I have a great idea for a story, but it refuses to become a story. I'll repeat that: a great idea, but no story.

I think several people do that. They write something which has tremendous potential, a setup, a situation, but then it never matures into anything. The story I'm suffering with? A Hemingway fanatic finds an unpublished copy of a new Heminway novel on a book shelf. Or rather, it's been published, but he knows there's no record of the book. Taking it to the front of the store, the owner admits its a fraud. What we discover is that there is something magical about this bookstore and unpublished, or rather, unwritten works, keep appearing on this one shelf. Books by Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Berry, Baum, etc... And when these works are read, the reader finds oneself incredibly unfulfilled.

"These are the dreams that never blossomed," explains the owner. "These are the seeds that bear false fruit."

Great idea, great setting, great characters...and after three pages of waiting for the story to happen...nothing. Instead, I sit there and think: So what? So this guy finds this book? So the work is unfulfilling? So the shelf keeps replenishing with never before published manuscripts. So? So? So??????

It's a great set up, but I've yet to hook on the delivery. I'm a master at set up, but still a wee one at delivery, I think. And yet? And yet I've read several short stories by the likes of Bradbury, Bloch, Bentley, and King which seem all set up.

I'm returning to my notebook now to see if I can swing that bat and make that delivery. Here's to all who are plugging away at something, trying to find that nugget in all that fool's gold.

18 comments:

gugon said...

Possible next step:

So the guy thinks, this is a golden opportunity. I'll publish these stories under MY name and rake in the cash. This is Hemingway and Steinbeck we're talking about. I can't lose!

gugon said...

Oh, and of course, he has to polish them up a little bit before he submits them. But with each story he works on, he grows not just unfulfilled, but increasingly desperate, as the stories gradually suck the creative life out of him. They drain not only his creativity, but his very essence. Eventually, he can barely remember how to go to the bathroom.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I thought about that direction, but I don't want to go there. Cashing in on someone else takes away from the themes. I think the themes are that literature which isn't read is empty and without value. I think also a theme here is that writing is magical, that an author has so much in his head and only so much of it can be put to page. The rest drifts about, great novels never written, great stories never told...before ending up here on this magic shelf in this half-forgotten shop.

In one version of the story a woman marries and her husband discovers a trunk in the basement where these magical books keep appearing. He takes them and tries to sell them, and as soon as he does, they stop appearing. Now that is a story...but it's one which doesn't suit me at this time.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Hmmmm..reading that second comment, I think I'm starting to get something. The books have an effect on their reader...I'll ponder this.

Travis said...

Yup. This perfectly describes my vampire characters. Nothing for them to do, not much for them to say, no idea what to do next. It's just description.

How do you decide whether to force it or just let it sit?

I hate to force a story, so I guess in my case the answer is to just let it sit.

Susan Miller said...

A lovely set up from a wonderfully creative mind. I've been thinking about this a great deal lately and watching a writer deal with characters that he throws in situations. He doesn't work with an outline or an overall grand scheme. It seems that this story starts in his head as it has yours and he begins writing with the characters and forcing them into conflicts. The story then comes from there.

You have such an interesting start.

Lucas Pederson said...

I like the idea Gugon has up there on his second comment. It'd be great way to go. Yet, consider this if you will...

He becomes obsessed with these books, the obseesion morphes into not madness really but a kind of frenzied need. He needs these books now, he can't live without them, he thinks. But as the unwritten books stack up in his home, as the need is at its dire peak, the shelf stops producing the books. Now, you could either have your hero go mad at this point, finally snap, or, and I like this, have the books come to life and try to eat him. They want to eat him because they want him to be a character on their crisp pages. Each take a part of him, thus he is an everlasting character in each book.

Okay. Perhaps that was alittle over the top, point being I have no idea if this is a horror story you're going for or not. But I do like Gugon's idea too. Either that, or there's always flesh eating books....

Great post, buddy!

gugon said...

Flesh eating books. I like that!

Stephen King gave an analogy to writing that I thought was very apt (at least for me). He said writers are like archeologists excavating a fossil. When a writer has an idea, it's like coming across of small bit of bone sticking up out of the ground. You never really know what it is until you start the excavation. Then, as you write the story, more and more of the skeleton is revealed. Finally, when the story is finished, you stand back and look at what you have. It might just be a common deer skeleton. Or it might be something large and magnificent, like a tyrannosaurus. The point is, when you have that spark of idea, you just start writing and the thing will eventually reveal itself.

I rarely have a complete story in my head when I start writing. I NEVER do an outline beforehand. Each event of the story dictates what happens next.

Of course everyone works differently. But for me, if I try to develop the story too much beforehand, it will come out forced as I try to push it down a specific path. But if I just close my eyes and plunge forward, the story usually has a much more natural flow to it, and the ideas sort come on their own.

miller580 said...

This (right now) is definitely sub-plot. Ask yourself why your guy goes to the bookstore in the first place...why does he keep going back. What else is going on in his life? If the magic appeals to your guy...why? what's the attraction. Have him buy the book, leave the book in a brown paper bag and walk down main street completing errands....what else happens? Don't bog yourself down with the book...maybe visit with your guy an hour, a day, a week before he happens into the bookstore...or maybe after...troll around for the story.

my two pennies...

Stewart Sternberg said...

Gugon, Lucas...a little over the top for me. I think Jim is more on target of where I might be heading. The main character's name is William Holloway, which is the same name as the protagonist from "Something Wicked This Way Comes". The shop owner is unnamed but based on a description of Bradbury. At first I was going to write flowery prose, heavy on simile and other conventions, as Bradbury might write, but then I decided to stick with my own style and not imitate anyone.

One of the theme elements I was going for was the idea that creativity is a personal expression of self and without that expression in some form, the self remains unfulfilled. Whoa. Anyway...thanks for the feedback.

Susan, I sometimes write this way, and sometimes I come to the table with the story completely outlined and developed. While there may be some surprises along the way, the story is already written except for the actual commitment to paper.

Trav...I let stuff sit and sit...and sit..but sometimes you have to take a story and kick its butt.

Vwriter said...

I agtee completely with Miller 580. The character is in desperate need of more thinking- not the book.

There is, by the way, a Russian piece that uses a concept that is very close to this, and if I remember correctly, it suffered from the same problem. It was focused on the gimmick more than the characters. I'm struggling with the name here... it wasn't "Tolstoy's Land Mine," but when I remember it, I'll post it for you.

SQT said...

I think this is a usable set up. I would have the main character find a piece of work by someone he's never heard of before. A piece of work that's brilliant, but not fully developed. He becomes obsessed with knowing the end of the story and decides to see if he can find the author and convince him to finish the story.

It can go several directions from here. The author can be the main character himself or someone else. But for me, the theme would become obsession.

SQT said...

Or, how about this.

You know how The Catcher in the Rye turns up a lot in the hands of pretty unstable people? Maybe your character finds a copy of the book (or a fictional book with a similar history) with extra chapters and he tries to find out why. He tracks down the author who says he doesn't know anything about it but isn't convincing on that stance. The story can become about why some people go crazy when the read the extra chapters and why the author won't admit to any knowledge about it.

Charles Gramlich said...

I do like this idea. But it almost seems it would take a novel to really do it justice because you almost need a conspiracy surrounding the whole thing.

Sidney said...

I was thinking you might try working backwards from a theme - what's it mean to the hero or to society to have these books available - is there something Hemingway has to day to the current era that we're overlooking by forgetting the literature of the past, or something he'd say today if he were observing?

If not Hemingway another author.

Did you ever read the Bradbury story where writers of ghost and fantasy stories are exiled and Dickens doesn't think he should be among them just because he had ghosts in A Christmas Carol?

marsha said...

I've been there....too often. I have two books I've started on not finished on my computer.

Stewart Sternberg said...

A big thanks to all...I sat down and forced myself to come up with a resolution. I haven't written it fully, but I have the outline and know where this thing is heading. I've focused on character development, and that led to theme.

Again, thanks to travis, susan, lucas, sydney, rick, marsha,charles and the rest.

Lori Witzel said...

What's interesting to me is the notion of how the world might have changed, in some subtle way, to produce that magic. When does he notice the world's changed? How does he cope -- or fail to cope?

I've been reading some short stories by R. A. Lafferty, and the small magics that happen to one character quickly point to larger shifts, malfunctions, magics without.