Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[process] A thing or two about story

Just now, talking to lasirenadolce about "The Baby Killers":

L: So when do you need to send this story in?
J: Well, I don't, really. This is the story I wrote by accident.

Because, you know, everybody writes 21,000 word novellas by accident. The "accident" in question was of course me misrecording something on my work plan and thinking I'd been asked for a steampunk novella. (I believe I mentioned this recently.) By the time I figured out I'd gone down the wrong path, I was thoroughly committed to seeing the story through.

It's that commitment to story which sometimes trips me up. I had two very long discussions in connection with "America, Such as She Is", one with lasirenadolce and one with the_flea_king. Without getting into the line level specifics, I was torn between doing one of two things with the ending.

There was an ending which I deeply love, which involves leaving the competing narrative interpretations wide open and putting all the effort at resolution and validation onto the reader.

There was another ending which offered the reader a reasonably comprehensible "out" to the competing interpretations, if they chose to take it, while not closing off the others. I did not love this ending, but I thought it reasonable, and more to the point, it would make the story accessible to a wider range of readers.

Just because I like to gnaw on a story like an old bone doesn't mean everybody does. As someone once said to me (and damned if I can remember who), "Reading shouldn't be prophylactic."

Except one reader's prophylaxis is another reader's ecstatic transport.

The discussions centered on which ending to deliver back to the editors. My purist self felt like the highest sense of the story was better served by the most loosely elided ending. My commercial self felt that widening the readership of this story without violating the integrity of my intent was a very reasonable compromise. What good is a story if people don't read it? What good is it to me if people read it and don't like it?

A couple of years ago, I would have unhesitatingly come down on the side of art, and chided myself for considering such a crass alternative. Now...I've gone softer, or gentler, or maybe I'm just interested in being more widely read.

Commitment to story is a very slippery eel. But I have a greater and greater sense of my readers standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. I trust them to follow where I go, but I also want to make the journey worth their trouble. All of them, not only the ones who read just like me.
Tags: process, writing
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