Hi everyone. I missed last month’s IWSG post due to a combination of *multiple vague gestures at the state of the world*. I’m sure you can relate.
This month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group question is:
Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?
Much of what I write is in response to calls for submission to anthologies and themed issues of various literary and genre fiction magazines. I seldom complete those stories in time to meet the deadline, but even when it is obvious that the work will take months longer than originally estimated, I try to keep to the original theme. Constraints, I have heard, breed innovation.
But when writing to a theme, particularly if it is a type of story I have not written before, I sometimes find myself asking the question, “Did I put that thing I wrote into the story because the story demands it, or because the constraints of the theme demand it?” This can be a difficult knot to untangle.
Here is an example:
A few years ago, World Weaver Press put out a call for new interpretations of the Baba Yaga myth, for their anthology Skull and Pestle. My degree is in Russian Studies, and I have been to Russia, and continue to read Russian literature (in translation only; my language skills are quite rusty), so this seemed like a perfect fit.
I set the story in a village of Russian Orthodox Old Believers in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. The writing went well, with (I thought) good characters, good dialog, and good pacing, but when it came time to include Baba Yaga, I found that I couldn’t quite fit her into the story in a way that felt convincing. I went back and re-wrote the first third of the story (which kept getting longer), and by the time I found a way to transplant Baba Yaga from the forests of western Russia to the plains of the American Midwest, the deadline had long passed, and the short story had become a novella.
The troublesome scene, which would have brought Baba Yaga into prominence, was an act of bigoted violence against the Old Believers which, while all too plausible, felt gratuitous. Yet I couldn’t find a way through to the final act without that scene or something like it. So I left the scene in and re-wrote almost everything before it. Having done that, I found I needed to go a completely different direction with the last part of the story, and that is why it is still not finished.
Skull and Pestle is available here, and is quite good. I think all of the stories in it are better than whatever final form my own story would have taken, had I completed it in time to meet the deadline.
On a side note, I want to thank all of the members of the IWSG for your support and encouragement as I round out my first year in this group. It has been difficult to stay motivated during the pandemic, and being part of this writing group has been a big help. In particular I want to thank Jean Davis for bringing the IWSG to my attention. You rock!
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group
is a community dedicated to encouraging
and supporting insecure writers
in all phases of their careers.