Monday, June 25, 2012

TMI: Too Much Information

          I am writing a new "Story 2" and in my haste to make sure that it links clearly to "Story 1" I noticed that I was putting in too many names and relationships from the first story.  I had to remind myself that the linkages have to happen naturally and each story has to stand alone.  If I put information in one story about a character in another story, there has to be a reason--and it had better relate to the one being read at the time.

          That is the most important thing to remember.  Each story has to stand alone.  Too much data from a previous story, or  foreshadowing of something that will happen in a later story, will compromise the integrity of the story I am working on.  I will confuse the reader with names and information that really belongs someplace else.

          The linkages have to be subtle.  The reader should come upon them and say, "Oh, that's what happened to Ruby. I wondered about that."  It should satisfy the reader's curiosity without infringing on the interest, the plot or the characters of the story that is being told.

          It is tempting to put in everything I know about the characters, the background and the events that happen to them, but it is dangerous.  Plainly, too much information, gets in the way of a clean story line and can often confuse the reader.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Jotting It Down

          Ideas occur to me at the most inopportune moments.  I am driving my car for the ten-thousandth time down I-95 to the Mamaroneck Avenue exit on my way to the city.  I am loading or unloading the dishwasher, or worse, sudsing a pot with my hands full of Brillo.  I am power-walking with weights, far from pencils, paper or computer.

          I have learned, sadly, that I can't rely on my failing memory to retain these gems.  If I'm in the house, anywhere near a pad and pencil, or on the street or in a store with my purse on my shoulder, I can stop and jot the idea down in the little red notebook stored in my bag.  Somehow the act of writing it down cements the idea in my head, even if I never look at the note again.  But when I'm driving, I can't write it down.  I've taken to repeating out loud, over and over again, whatever it is I am trying to remember:  "Max sees a photo of his sister Frieda's wedding and remembers;" "Sarah's red hair is from her grandmother Ruby."  I say it several times and hope it sticks until I am somewhere safe to write it down in my red book.

          But it's amazing how even then, I reach my destination and the brilliant nugget has drifted out of my head.  I have completely forgotten it--until I am lying in bed in a half awake state, just before drifting off to sleep.  Then I battle with myself:  get up and jot it down on the pad on my bedside table, or fall asleep with the half formed idea in my head believing I will remember it in the morning.  Usually, if I don't write it down, it is gone forever.  In the battle between an act of discipline and an act of faith, I know which one works better every time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thinking Like A Novel

          A funny thing happened on the way to linking my short stories.  I started thinking about them as a novel.   Yes, I know that each story has to stand alone, with its own beginning, middle and end and its own conflicts and story arc.  But the stories also have to comprise, all together, a story arc for all of the family going through the years.        

          It is amazing how the idea of the novel has taken over the process of linking the stories.
Suddenly I am focusing on time passing, what happens to each character, how one character's events impact on another's life.  Over seventy-one years each family branch in this extended family tree has marriages, births, deaths, love affairs, disappointments, accomplishments.  I found that a simple family tree is not enough of a map.

          My family map now has notations in each column.  What impact does Matti, Anne and Paula's trip to India have on Karen when she thinks about it?  How old is Ellie when Karen goes to Africa?  What world events impact which character?  I fill in the time line for each person and note how old each is at which time, even in the stories in which they don't appear.

          This process engages my mind even when I'm not actively writing.  I find it is, surprisingly, fun.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Map of My Family

     I've spent a good part of the past week working on a map of my fictional family, that is, not my real live family.  I made a spread sheet on Excel tracing each of the six children who appear in the first of my linked stories, delineating the dates of their births and marriages, their children's births and marriages, down three generations.
     Next to each of the separate genealogical lines I wrote the names of the completed stories in which the characters appear;  I also wrote the dates when the stories take place and any world events which happened at the same time.  WWII, John F. Kennedy's assassination, Woodstock, The Challenger disaster,  9/11, all impacted the world and thus the individuals I am writing about.
      When looked at on one large sheet of paper I can see how the sweep of world events was important in the lives of the family members.  I also saw a few gaps.  I have no stories set in the 70's and 80's.  I am thinking hard about that since twenty years in a family's life is noticeable in a novel told in stories.  I may have to write one or two more tales to fill in the holes.

     In the meantime, I still have unpublished stories circulating to print journals and e-zines, hoping to find a home. Happily one has just been accepted for publication in Writes for All, a new on-line magazine.   I will post the link as soon as it appears.

     Meanwhile check out  a couple of my earlier on-line stories:
     "Home Visit" which is in the Archives of The Boston Literary Magazine, Fall 2007 under Quick Fiction and "What They Tell Her" which is in the Archives, Fall, 2008 under Flash Fiction:         

     "Distant Relations" which is in the Archives of The Write Room, November, 2010: 

     "How to Make a Life," which is in the current issue of SNReview at

     "It's Him I Hate," in June, 2007 issue of WriterAdvice: