So you want to write a story? Let me tell you, Fiction is fickle. Many ideas can buzz around in your head like bugs around a light on a summer evening. But most of those bugs will fly away. Ah, but what about those that stay—the story that must be reconciled—the story that must be told.
Many of us want to sit down and start hammering out The Great American Novel, but it begins long before that. It takes a little more than filling up white-space with words. What does it take?
FIRST, you must define it precisely. My editor, Bob Middlemiss, was a stickler about this. ESSENCE!
"If you do this one thing, it will save countless hours tilting windmills. You must tell me the essence of the story in twenty-five words, otherwise, leave it alone. So what's your story, Zack?"
"Bob, it's about an old woman. She was sick. She wanted to visit some places in Chattanooga where she lived where she had special memories before she went to uh, say … Hospice. There were also some family secrets. They weighed heavily on her mind. She didn't want to—"
"If you can't tell me in twenty-five words I don't want to pursue it. And why do you want to set it in Chattanooga? Nothing happens in Chattanooga."
"So, where do you think I should set it?""
"New York City, of course. It's the most exciting city in the world. But before place you first must get the essence."
"But I have only been to New York three times. I don't know enough about that city to write anything believable."
"I'll show you how to research. Don't write what you know. Write what you can research. But don't let it come over as hard edge."
"You mean it's like art … if you see technique then it's wrong?"
"I'll work on the twenty-five words."
"Did I tell you that I did a novel set in the Czech Republic. I had never been there. I researched it. The Times said, 'Middlemiss sure knows his geography.'"
"Work on the essence of that story. It could be universal. It could be good. Remember, twenty-five words. The essence."
I pondered what he had said. Finally, I decided upon:
A dowager from the Upper East Side hires a cabbie to take her to hospice. Can I tell you they had confrontations—became friends?
Seasoned editor, Bob Middlemas, set out to teach me the art of writing by guiding the process from square one. I will be sharing in a series of articles some of the main pointers he gave me along the way. the fruit of that labor is my forthcoming book A Memorable Thing. Subscribe for more of Bob's advice and to be notified when "A Memorable Thing" hits stores in early December.