In the process of editing a story for submission, I came across a post by Australian dark fantasy and sci-fi author Alan Baxter. He wrote of the editing process as flensing. It is well worth your time to have a read.
Stepping back from editing for a moment, I thought about the relationship writers develop with their story. Starting from the initial idea and its inception through to drafts, edits and finally, submission and publication, it is a relationship that brings love and heartache, pain and suffering, dizzying thrills and crushing rejections.
I wondered how best to express the relationship writers have with their story; and knowing writers are fond of metaphor, I found one. Okay, I’m fond of metaphors, usually extended metaphors (read some of my flash fiction and you’ll see), so I’m going to dirty it up and compare the art of writing a story from inception to completion to ahem *cough* intimate relations.
You’re happily minding your own business, sitting in the coffee shop invoking a libation to the caffeine gods with a hot beverage, when something catches your attention. You can’t quite place what it is. There’s something in the way she chews her fingernails, in the curves of her jeans or the hint of cleavage. Maybe it’s the way her hair twists in the dervish of the air conditioner.
From now on you haunt the coffee shop, hoping she will appear again. When you see her, your stomach turns a little, like you have diarrhoea. Each time you notice something different about her. The way she wears her hair, the pen stain on her blouse and the mismatched shoes. You want to ask her out but you need to know what she orders. Finding the courage, you sidle up behind her as she orders a cappuccino, full cream and three sugars.
Offering to pay, you hit it off and take a seat, talking about your bad taste in music, clothing faux pas and why you eat cold pizza for breakfast.
Over a couple of dates you begin explore the wider terrain, fueled by an almost obsessive interest in everything about her… and it’s going quite well. Later during a retro West Coast Cooler drinking session, you end up naked, leading to…
The First Draft
You rip off each other’s clothes and engage in primeval, animalistic, selfish, urge-driven sex. It’s a quickie. Pants down around your ankles. There is no thought to foreplay or decorum. It just happens. And in the sweaty afterglow all you can think of is how good you were. And your story.
The Second Draft
This is the “awkward” phase in your relationship with the story. You’ve seen each other naked. There is nothing to hide. Especially the Hello Kitty shaped birthmark on your inner thigh. But you know there is work to be done.
In a half-baked attempt at romance, you take things a little slower. There is the offer of flowers, desserts, sensuous massage, candles, and late-night casual walks along the cereal aisle of the supermarket. You set aside a “date night” to go to the movies. Hours are spent making a mix tape to ‘set the scene.’
But you still can’t quite figure out how to get the bra off without appearing like you’re an incompetent teenager and breaking the mood. Having the strap hit you in the eye is a deal breaker.
And speaking of awkward…
At first you hardly notice it. It’s not that bad, but it’s there. The faults. The minor niggles. The idiosyncrasies you glossed over in the initial glow of courtship. You replace the toilet paper and hang it forward, but now it’s hanging down the back. The cute laugh has developed a nasally twang. It’s really hard to share bed space with someone who adopts the “starfish position.” And you’re not quite sure, but you think your toothbrush has been in a mouth other than your own.
However, despite the minor irritations, each time you come back, you’ve learned a little more. You know when and where to stimulate to make it work. You take your time, luxuriating in your efforts to woo. You have even gone out and bought new underwear to let her know it’s special. Each time you are together, you work more closely, watching, listening, learning. You have even remembered to shower and appear presentable, removing the nose hairs that have suddenly appeared.
Meeting Your Friends
After a while, your friends want to meet this new story you’ve been courting, but you’re a little reluctant. You’ve been invited to a friend’s dinner party because they’re interested in what you’re working on. What will your friends think? Will they like it? Is it good enough? And there’s the imagined Worse Case Scenario (involving night terrors and an unhealthy scepticism), your best friend will take an unhealthy interest and attempt to woo your story.
The evening is a success: your friends like your new story and with a few well placed words actually encourage your pursuit. But it’s not an unqualified success. You manage to spill dessert in your lap and leave your fly open when you return from the bathroom and it’s up to someone else to politely point it out for you. But gratefully no one harps on about it.
So you go home with your idea, arm-in-arm, with renewed passion and focus to enjoy what’s good and work to iron out the rest until…
The Final Draft
You have explored every nook and cranny; you know what turns your story on. You can undo the bra. In the dark. One handed. You consider its feelings by not passing wind when you are intimate. Snuggling after sex is enjoyable. Intimacy is achieved; a connection of souls.
Truly, you have learned to make love to your story.
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back…. you have to work a little more on your relationship.