Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Anecdote Part III: Events and Embellishments

Making connections as a writer will prove to be lucrative. Yes, there are all sorts of connections, those within a story or a conversation, and those which we must make with real life events and the fictional landing pad in our work. As elegantly as possible we can take a real life event and connect a few points and add all the fictional elements- character development and plot, back story and exposition to make a piece worth reading.
Today's exercise we will do just that. We're going to take an arbitrary day, or even an extraordinary day and use the associated anecdote to craft a short story.
This exercise came to me today from a normal conversation with a friend of mine.
As I spoke to Katy Rattelmueller today I felt a level of gratitude and humility as she commented on my blog first then compared my work to Pam Houston, a writer who she admires. Katy said: “I've never seen someone so dedicated to their creativity.” Then in the next breath she said: “You're one prolific (censored for younger audiences and parents).”
“Yeah,” I said. “I work everyday.” What else could I say? I thanked her for reading, and I thanked her for the kind words. Then I asked: “Do you write? Are you a writer?”
“Just journals,” she said.
“Yeah? I love journaling.” As many of you know, I hold journal writing in very high regard. I believe everyone should do it. If you don't, you should start, and if you do, you should keep it going. But what about the arbitrary day? The anecdote of an event on an arbitrary day? Well, if you keep a journal like I do, or like Katy does, you might pick a day from that and run with it.
So, why not craft a small piece of autobiography or a small memoir? I suppose you could, but ask yourself: if I extrapolate something from my life, will it be of interest to readers? And after all, when I talk writing, I generally mean fiction. Also, when it comes to non-fiction or memoir, remember a journal entry is just that, a journal entry. If you endeavor in either non-fiction or memoir, remember this: you may like the idea of writing a book about your life, but is it interesting to readers or is it something solely for you?
The anecdote of an ordinary day? Well, let's give it a try.
I'm choosing a day in December. Why not? I've got 31 days to choose from. As far as an event, I could choose any number of them: Pearl Harbor Day, the 7th. Interesting? Yes. Useful? I don't know. I could choose the Solstice, or Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year's Eve. These days have one thing in common: they're days when something should happen and they're days which have milestone significance for many of us. Do you see where I'm going with this? I can think of at least a dozen possible conflicts for most of these days. And that begins the foundation for the process.
Ultimately, I will choose December 24th, Christmas Eve. Further that one more step and I'll give it a year: 1999. Inherently, there were many strange things going on in December 1999. It was not only the end of the decade, it was the end of the century. Many people, I recall, were absolutely terrified that the world as we knew it was going to end at midnight on New Year's 2000. Seems pretty silly now, because, after all, the world is going to end (and we all know it) in 2012. So, back in December of 1999, on my arbitrary day, perhaps a little doom and gloom for the end of days is in order. I may have to dissemble the thought of the time to make the story either funny or tragic, right? Also, I may have to use a more modern concern to make the story more pertinent to readers today. Do you see what I mean about pulling a fact here, and embellishing a point there to make a piece of writing interesting to a reader?
Already, in my model, I've got two elements which are ripe for conflict: Y2K and Christmas Eve.
So, let me tell you the points of my anecdote, the true parts, and the beginnings of the story. At that time of my life, I was 27 years old. I worked for the Boy Scouts of America. I was far away from home, working too much and I spent the holiday alone. Also, I had met a nice girl named Heidi, a happy woman who was the daughter of a dairy farmer. She taught fourth grade. We'd been fixed up about a week prior to this because our mutual friends thought it was a good idea. Interesting yet? No, it's not. But as I tell you the anecdote, you want to hear more, right? Well, I spent much of the day of the 24th with her. It was the second time we saw one another and it was also the last. There was no real reason for that. We liked one another okay. She was sunny and I was gloomy. She still lived with her family and I lived in a dingy downtown neighborhood in a sketchy apartment all alone. Still not very interesting. She was happy, I was not. But on that wet and chilly Christmas Eve it was another woman who broke my heart. Now, we're talking.
From here the process begins. I am the writer and furthermore, I am the narrator. To separate myself from the anecdote I will do a few things here: it'll be written in third person, I'll embellish most points and I'll manufacture the rest. In knowing my process, I can tell you that my main character will live the story in ways I cannot know yet. This will be a work of fiction, there will be a beginning, a middle and an end. I hope it will wise, rather than an emotional recollection of an unhappy time. Ultimately, I hope it's entertaining to read.

“Home for the Holidays”
(dedicated to Katy)

(See the story of the week.)

1 comment:

  1. Anthony, I've replayed our conversation quite a few times... my true answer is this- I'm not a writer, I'm a reader. You inspire the hell out of me, knowing you is a gift to all of my arts. Muse isn't quite the right word, but your the writer here... you know what I mean.