I wrote a few draft chapters before I left for Vermont, and beyond a cursory glance, once during the residency, didn't really read them again until now. Rereading, I saw that I had fallen yet again into the common trap of the draft: I'd placed characters on stage, after which they just stood around, telling me about themselves but not really doing anything much. The writing was fine, even funny in places. But it wasn't about the heart of story, the character-in-setting, and it wasn't moving along. It sauntered in places then slid to a halt again. Started up, stopped.
This morning, getting ready to dive back into that work, I listened to a couple of TED lectures, as I often do to get my mind moving, to get past the pause button that Tim Wynne-Jones includes in his "Eleven Things you Need to Know" about story.
Here are two talks, both related to forests. One is by Corneille Ewango, Congolese botanist, talking about his work in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, the work he has persevered at despite the obstacles posed by poachers, miners, and the ravages of civil war. The other is by Nalini Nadkarni about the nature of static systems and how we can change them by shifting our perspective.
In their own way they are both about story. The first is a personal history, plainly told but oh so voiced. You can practically see the speaker living this life, pursuing the career he dreamed of against great odds, and revising his talk even as he speaks. Retitling it. Extending it. Sliding to its impassioned ending. Becoming the words.
The second is briefer, more controlled, and with a startling plot turn, to frame it in the conventions of fiction. What the speaker did in the spirit of inquiry made my mind race in fictional ways. Imagine trees that began to paint pictures. What if this happened spontaneously? What if the paintings left messages, only no one could understand them? Nadkarni shifted her understanding from trees to social action in prison systems. I can see myself transplanting her stunning image into the only realm I know that deeply--the systems of fictional worlds, those places constructed entirely out of ideas. The only places I know where I can try to set our own flawed world to rights.
My story at this point is a static system, forming itself in my mind in camera stills instead of moving forward cinematically as stories do in scenes or through the engine of a powerful storytelling voice. That is the nature of drafts. In writing forward, I can try to be more aware of the gaps between intention and action, of pause buttons, of stasis itself. But those gaps will be there, even after I've written through to the end. I won't be able to see them all at this time, but then again, moving from the static to the dynamic is the work of revision.