a story revisited (why a good story is like an ogre)
A couple days ago I posted a story I’d written called if she’s not broken. The premise was associating the Japanese art of Kintsugi (repairing broken pottery) and trying to fix someone you’re in a relationship with. As soon as I posted it I had the nagging feeling it was too literal to be interesting. Everything was obvious, it could have been written by any normal, well-adjusted person.
An hour later I was downstairs fixing breakfast, during a torrential downpour, when the thought occurred that I have no idea how Indian rain dancers must feel when their dance gets rained out. How much more complicated it must be for them, emotionally speaking, compared to a baseball player whose game gets postponed. Before I could think about it further, I ran upstairs and injected two lines into the Kintsugi story; “Left feeling like an Indian rain dancer whose dance gets rained out” near the beginning and “Eventually she left to find some new rain dancer to break” near the end.
I was suddenly much happier with the story.
Why? Because I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what possible correlation there might be between Kintsugi and rain dancers.
To start with, I don’t think that with my cultural background I could even speculate what an Indian ran dancer would feel about a rain dance being cancelled because of rain. If I thought that the Indian did not truly believe that there was any actual connection between the dance and the weather, I would be inferring that his culture and traditions are fraudulent.
If, on the other hand, I thought that the Indian sincerely believed that the dance had an impact on the climate then I’d be calling him a moron who rejects everything we know about Earth’s atmosphere and the variations in temperature and moisture patterns that produce different weather conditions.
You can see the problem I was facing. Is it possible that an Indian dancer can believe both?
And, and this was what really set things in motion vis-à-vis the story I’d inserted the rain dance imagery into, if the rain washes out the dance, isn’t that a big ‘fuck you” from nature?
Or just the opposite?
And how in the hell would those two lines I’d inserted impact the point of the formerly-lucid original story?
Now I had the two essential pieces for a story to ‘work’. Or, more specifically, make the reader work. Obviously someone could read the rain dancer sentence and blow right past it, but if they/you stop and think about how to add the subtext into the story, even subconsciously, they/you are doomed to wrestle with a lot more than they/you signed up for (sort of like if you read “they/you” and choose a different option every time).
An interesting story (to me anyway) is like an ogre; it has layers. The more you think about it, the more there is to think about.
Now the big question is, if after all of that thought the two analogies are found to be completely incongruent, was all the time you spent thinking about them wasted?
Selfishly, and perhaps self-servingly, and, although it doesn’t quite fit in the sentence, nor is it a word as far as I know, self-absorbingly, I believe just the opposite is true.
Of course, all this is coming from the guy held together by lacquer.