Monday, November 21, 2011

The Thing and the Other Thing.
Also, Wipmadness Check-in Week 4


My MFA workshop professor stands in front of the classroom drawing little squiggles and lines on the whiteboard.

"In every story," he begins and shadows in this nest-looking object with blue marker, "there's the thing." He circles the nest earnestly. "...And the other thing." He draws a second nest in red, circles it too, then adds two stick figures clawing at each other.

Not kidding
He goes on to illustrate conflict and plot with mumbling inchoate interjections, each followed by a connection of some nest or figure with a dotted or solid line.

Needless to say, I'm bemused and amused by his efforts at sharing this esoteric mechanic for deepening stories. For about four years. And now to attempt an interpretation of the above ramblings.

Let's call this "The Missing Other Thing."


Anecdote 1: I quit NaNoWriMo.
My writing group commissioned a book pulled from a place in my life I haven't grown or learned or matured or simply lived enough to write about yet. As I wrote (complete sh**), I found the stories interesting, plot-wise, but lacking any measure of compelling complexity. My NaNo project was lacking the other thing.

Me and my Bestie
Anecdote 2: Scoring dinner and Irish Goodbyes.
My bestie and I traveled last week through LA, Napa, and San Franscico. She's single, I'm not. She was paying for food, I had hotels. She had a plan: Not paying for dinner or cocktails, not once, and finding some schlep or five to buy for us. 

Fun, but left me with an exhaustion migraine and severe ew when I missed my op for the Irish goodbye and got a real Irish goodbye instead (tongue included, which, it turns out, is sexual assault when he grabs your hair the way you'd grab a shirt collar; who knew...). Anyway, point is this scene is full of conversation and innuendo, but as we all know, it makes for boring stories. Why? No other thing.

Anecdote 3: Last anecdote (I promise!!).
I had a text message conversation with a reasonably good friend. The dialogue was full of the general things reasonably good friends might say to one another, but underneath there was this unspoken thing neither of us wanted to dredge up. The other thing.

So, it's easy, right? There's the thing that drives the story, the glamorous trope, the plot or conflict-driven mechanism that makes a story swell, trough, crest and low-tide. Then there's the other thing that makes the story matter. It's what the whole story's about without actually being about it. And I'm not talking theme, here, or subplot. I mean, there's a goal underneath, there's a subtext, and when that subtext resolves (usually coinciding with the plot resolution but not always), the story is over because there's no more subtext, there's no more matter, there's no more other thing.

I believe this other thing is the difference between a story that lingers in your bloodstream a few days or longer and one that barely gives you a buzz.


***

Oy, Wipmadness friends!

I did join you this weekend after the hangovers and exhaustion migraines. I resumed editing the WIP and am still set for finishing by the end of November. Steady, if slow, progress. My food diary went out the window. I believe there were cookies at some point. And wine. And clam chowder. And Ghirardelli sundaes...

Please pipe up if you have any insight into this thing and other thing business. And tell us how the WIPs are working. How are your goals? Those of you braving NaNo, are you beating yourselves silly? It's been kind of quiet on the hash tag front lately...