From Limbo to Focus in Nine Easy Paragraphs

In case you can’t tell, I’m having a problem with project commitment in regard to this website. I’ve made two Creativity Journal entries in the last four months, where I had been making daily entries for months before that. This drought roughly corresponds to the last time I wrote anything creative.

My last creative writing act was finishing the first draft of “Chesterfield Gray” on the airplane to Florida in October. I pulled that story from the dusty electrons of my Treo’s memory yesterday and was pleased to note that the story was just as bad as I remembered it being. It’s trite. It’s full of dull language and stereotypes like this:

She closed her eyes and bent her head back, holding the cigarette high between two fingertips, her crimson nails matching the lipstick stain on the unfiltered butt.

It sounds like something that should have Fabio on the cover. A certain amount of that is okay; after all, the setting is San Diego in 1945, and I wouldn’t mind if it has kind of a Bogey and Bacall feel to it. But the story’s problems don’t end with the hackneyed language. The story has three main characters: a sailor, a bartender, and, for lack of a better word, a tramp. The tramp and the bartender are cookie cutter characters; they don’t seem to have much life. They are definitely stereotypical.

The sailor, however, flies in the face of time. He’s not typical of a wartime enlisted man at all, and as such, he’s not believable. His sensibilities are much more 21st century than mid-20th, and that makes me wonder if I’m ruining the story by working my own agenda into it. I don’t want to do that, but I’m also interested in exploring the notion that real people in the 40s were not all clones of each other. Each person had his or her own feelings about the War, the Japanese, the Nazis. I’m sure all of those opinions were influenced by the times, but I doubt if Japanese sympathizers in the military were as scarce as history would lead us to believe.

One means of determining the truth of my suspicion is to interview primary sources. I may send out an e-mail questionnaire to friends and relatives that I know were alive during the time, asking for pieces of their memories. I could also go into a 50s+ chat room and ask general questions of the people there.

I’ve discussed this problem a bit with my friend Jeff at Old Possum’s Book Store. Jeff has a very good sense of plot structure and pacing; he has a couple of suggestions on how I could make the character more believable, and I will probably use those suggestions. Implementing them would require changing the structure of the story dramatically. That’s okay; I’m not really attached to the story’s structure. I was playing with structure a bit in regard to viewpoint shifts between the three main characters, but perhaps it would make more sense to focus on the most dynamic character and delegate the others to the background.

In that case, this first draft has some use as a character study. Though the characters are flat, I can use what I’ve written to define their actions in a limited viewpoint story.

I hate to say it, but I think I just convinced myself to go back to the drawing board on this story. I’m not too upset about that, though. By having some distance from the piece and working through it in this journal entry, I have rekindled some interest in finishing the story. Hopefully I can keep that flame burning for a while.

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