Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dissecting A Story: Way to Blue

Writers often seem to loathe the thought of commenting on their own writing process, and even more so upon their finished stories.  This is probably a good thing, and I for the most part concur.  A finished piece of writing should stand on its own, without explanation or annotation.   It is the reader’s right to discover the charms of the tale on their own, and let the story be what it is for them and them alone.

Still, as a reader, I often times long to know what a writer was thinking when they crafted a particular story.  (I wonder this perhaps even more as a writer as well)  For this reason, I don’t have a problem if an author comments upon their own story.  I just think the comments should follow the story, so the reader has that chance to let the story enchant them on its own first.

Since this is a writing blog, I often comment on the craft of writing, and perhaps offer a line or two of commentary on a story of mine from time to time, but I’ve never really dissected one of my own stories in detail.  I’ve been considering doing this, however, as a exercise unto itself.  I am still in the process of growing as a writer (something I hope never stops, actually), so I think the endeavor might be not only of interest to a few readers, but beneficial for me as well. 

I’ve decided to comment upon the genesis of a recently published story of mine called Way to Blue.  Before I begin, however, I ask that you give it a quick read.  It won’t talk long.  It’s a piece of flash fiction.  You can read it here.

Way to Blue had a twofold origin.  The first was a germ of an idea that I had summer before last for a story about a fairy who falls in love with a mortal woman, and he is so flummoxed he loses the ability to fly.  That idea sat unrealized for quite some time.  While it was certainly an intriguing premise, I just couldn’t move forward with a story about a romance between a fairy and a mortal.  The second half of the origin lay in one of my tendencies to use music as inspiration.  I was shuffling my iPod with such intent in mind and the Nick Drake song Fly came on.  I’ve always loved Drake’s music, and particularly this song, so I decided to write a story inspired by it. 

As I wrestled with myself in that ‘blank page’ moment that all writers fear, thoughts of my ‘fairy in love’ idea came back to me.  I decided this might be the time to try to develop it. 

For some reason, however, a story about a fairy didn’t seem to fit the Nick Drake song.  The song is certainly about losing the ability to fly, at least metaphorically so, but the song is so somber and sad that it didn’t seem to fit a story about fairies.  Fairies felt too ‘happy’ for this song, and also they carry a lot of historical and literary baggage of their own.  Readers expect certain things from fairies, so using them didn’t seem to work.  Fairies certainly fly, but it is not integral to what they are.  I needed beings for which flying was so central that it was at the core of their very being.  For this reason, I invented the winged ‘Cloudfolk,’ beautiful and humanlike in size and appearance, save for their feathered wings with which they flew.  Making this change was the first step in getting the story to flow, for I no longer had the baggage of ‘fairy lore’ holding me back. 

Before I continue, let’s listen to the song. 

Click the play button to hear Nick Drake’s Fly.

Beautiful, eh?  Almost all of Drake’s music is like this.  Drake’s haunting voice and ethereal guitar tunings weave a tapestry of yearning tinged with sadness and solemnity.  I think this song is about someone who has tried and failed, and now wallows in the sorrow it has brought.  He asks perhaps for a second chance (Please, give me a second grace), or at least forgiveness.  He is also perhaps embarrassed by the act. (Give me a second face).  Whatever he has done, he has fallen, literally or metaphorically, far down.  Now he ‘Just sits on the ground in your way.’

Now, he can only ‘sit on the fence in the sun’ and ‘watch the clouds role by, and never deny, it’s really too hard for to fly.”  He contemplates the difficulty of what he has tried to do, and feels only futility in his act of trying, either metaphorically or literally, ‘to fly.’  I love this part of the song.  Who among us hasn’t tried and failed at something, particularly love, something which makes us feel like flying.  I love the particular phrasing he uses in this line of the song.  He doesn’t say ‘it’s really hard to fly,’ he says ‘it’s really too hard FOR TO fly.’  I don’t know exactly what Drake meant by this (I’d love to ask him, but alas, he died forty years ago), but there is something exceedingly eloquent and highly literary in that phrasing.  I also remember the first time I heard the song, I misheard the lyric, hearing instead ‘it’s really too hard, butterfly,’ as if he were addressing the little fluttery, delicate creature of that name.  It almost makes sense that way, too.

The song continues on to its dreamy, languid conclusion.  And thus, back to the story. 

After letting the song play over and over again, I still struggled to begin writing the story.  And then, inspiration, as it thankfully does, hit.  Instead of forcing myself to write this tale from the point of view of Nick, the stranded male cloudperson in love, I recast it and began to write from the perspective of his friend, a cloudgirl named Winny.

From this POV, the tale began to flow, and I finished it quickly.  I didn’t know when I first started out that Winny was in love with Nick, but this soon revealed itself to me, and the tale thus became hers, and not Nick’s.  I always love it when I’m surprised in the course of my own writing. 

With the tale complete, it needed a title.  I already had another story called ‘Fly,’ but more to the point that didn’t seem like the right title for the tale anyway.  Ultimately I chose ‘Way to Blue,’ which is the title of another Nick Drake song.  I’m very happy with the title, as it is a double entendre of sorts.  On the one hand, it speaks of the ‘way to blue,’ i.e., the ‘way to the sky,’ which is of course for them literally flying off into the sky, but also love.  But it also phonically echoes the phrase ‘way too blue,’ as in ‘way too sad,’ which both characters are at the conclusion of the story.

I got a lot of great feedback from friends and readers on this one.  One of the comments at Every Day Fiction was as follows:  “A charming story about the impetuousness of love. Winny loves Nick, Nick loves Nena, and Nena loves the boatman’s son. All that’s left is for the boatman’s son to see Winny and become smitten in his own case of unrequited love.”  I love that scenario.  It’s reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night.  I just might have to write a longer version of this tale, and explore such things!