Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Showing Up Isn't Always Enough

Going out to eat is one of my favorite things to do. It's not so much about the food as it is about the social nature of eating in public. People watching is a habit all writers should nurture. (Disclaimer: Please keep it to public places.) This past weekend my family and I went to eat at a local chain restaurant. My first inclination is to always grab the seat that offer the widest view of the room. This time, however, my four-year-old daughter insisted I sit by her - facing away from the room and out the window instead.

I tried not to let it bother it bother me. I mean, seriously, how much could really be going on behind me? And it wasn't until my lovely wife started talking about all the things that were happenin that it really got to me. Kids falling off of chairs. A trio of girls singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". A man vividly telling the story of being chased by a large snake, with his arms flailing and vivid facial expressions even. I was missing it all!

I had shown up, but that wasn't enough. I found myself in a position where I was missing all of the goings on. It made me think of an article I'd once read wherein Flannery O' Connor mentioned that she usually doesn't know how her stories are going to end until she gets to that closing moment and stops to take a look at what is really going on with her characters. Only then does the picture become clear.

Fiction writers will sometimes have a sense of where they would like their stories to conclude, yet - and I speak from experience here - when they get to that point, they get stuck. They have focused so much on getting the story to that point that sense of "what now?" happens. Most often this is because writers are sitting on the wrong side of the table, so to speak. By turning around and look at what is really happening, the results start to come into focus.

No comments: