Space Outside the Narrative

I always think of a fabric when I am constructing a story. I am not alone in this, it is called “weaving a tale” for a reason. Not so much when I am in the midst of a first draft (that is all force of will, there is no time or patience for deft movements with needles), but when I get to second and eleventh and thirtieth drafts (and I may be exaggerating, but I write, it’s all I know) all my actions consist of shearing apart paragraphs and stitching them together.

It is very tempting to make things perfect when you are focused only on the fabric.

I am sure we can all agree that perfection is impossible. I’ve seen it once, and it was a perfect that resonated in my soul, but I looked at the amazon reviews and realized quickly that while I and many others agreed that the book I had just read (Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver- if I can ever gather my wits enough to speak on this book I will) was very nearly perfect, some others found it dull, and the characters flat.

Whatever. Anyway, true perfection that reaches every person in the exact Untouchable way of the perfect story is unattainable. And, because we are humans and constantly looking to cheat our way out of our own limits, some look to close the fabric. If all the edges are neatly folded in, no string out of place, no thread untied, that is perfect, isn’t it?

But alas, the metaphor of story as fabric falls apart. (All metaphors do if scrutinized. Poor frail things, they are employed to allow us glimpses of the ideas we don’t yet have words for, but like any jerry rig they won’t hold in a storm.) The fabric, if neatly tied, only closes off the possibility for a world outside the story. That is fine, if you intend for it to happen in a room without doors. Or windows.

My husband and I were talking about how the world of Star Wars, even with space magic and little handmade model ships was far more believable before the prequels tied up every loose end. Characters spoke naturally of fantastic things the audience only glimpsed, and without all the exposition, we weren’t constantly skirting the edges of the known universe. The story was centered, the fabric could have gone on for galaxies, it might have stopped just outside Tattooine, but we never looked at the pretty little edgework done to keep the story from fraying at the ends. Stories aren’t really tapestries. We don’t need to see the stitching. (It’s even better when we can’t: the best writing makes itself invisible on the first read through.)

So how does one know which ends not to tie? I wish I knew. It’s a matter of practice, of intuition. But a good start is always to look to the characters. What they know is what the reader should know, what concerns them drives the story. And the larger world they live in should be glimpsed, and its edges should be invisible.

I do know that taking it to draft thirty probably means you’ve tied up all the edges, and it’s time to Put the story down, Megan. Open up a window and let in some air.