When in the throes of a writing project—which is most of the time—my brain tends to turn off to all other thought, and on the other hand to seek all possible distractions. Which often results in a zero-sum brain.
And having launched the New Year with my annual cold—sore throat, hacking, fatigue, snotting like Vesuvius—I’m even less brilliant than usual. But dimness can be fruitful—intelligence being the snooty butler guarding the front door, dimness allowing the riffraff to sneak in the back.
The riffraff, in this case, are miscellaneous ruminations on “story.” Of the six novels we’ve written—two published, four out cruising—they’re all either reworkings of our past plays or incorporating elements of these. Why? Lack of imagination? Well, I’d rather not acknowledge senility, as I don’t want to wear out that excuse too soon. Perhaps a desire to extend the lives of our offspring, given that almost no one reads plays? Or something more?
My speculation is that it has to do with the nature of “story.” We all have our little stash of anecdotes or life histories we trot out in conversations. They tend to remain unchanged, as dead as Lenin’s corpse: hardly worth more than one visit, unless you discover, wonder of wonders, a new pimple on his nose.
And yet myths may spur radical new tellings, and I’d like to think that’s what we’re doing with these stories. Shifting the medium from stage to page forces radical exploration. It’s not just a matter of writing descriptive passages or inner thoughts or expanding your cast of characters. It’s a rebirth.
With a child, there’s no benefit of hindsight, no going back to alter the story that’s transpired. With a story, you can. What you see in it at age 77 may be radically different than what attracted you at 40: if it’s not, then what have you done with all those years?
Simply changing the main point of view (POV) can make a radical difference in which events are part of the story, which are speculation, which are irrelevant. In drama, the methods are very different than in fiction, yet we’re induced—by soliloquy and selection of scenes—to see Hamlet mainly from Hamlet’s POV. After the Players’ scene, we see him cavorting triumphantly; we don’t see the Players escaping out the back door, appalled at their disastrous reception.
Most of our own stories will lie entombed in our files or in the memories of a few passionate fans, unless by infinitesimal chance we draw the winning ticket of the Norns’ lottery. But for now I’m grateful for the chance to look at some of these anew, with the fresh eyes of age, to go through the birth pangs again, and to see what emerges.