“A Work in Progress” – The Writer Responds

Hello from the Dogpatch. In a previous post, members of the pack commented on “A Work in Progress.” Here’s my response to that feedback. To see an excerpt and the original comments, you can scroll down or go to: https://dogpatchwriterscollective.com/2013/04/11/dogfight-a-work-in-progress-by-wes-pierce/

I have wrestled with story length throughout the entire gestation period of ‘work in progress’: too little content for a novella, too much for a short story. Yet the main thrust of your comments seems to be that you want to know more about these characters; want to see further development in the relationship between my feckless narrator and the fearsome convict, Shoehorn. And so, as always, it comes down again to that ceaseless battle for any writer of having to decide what to include and what to discard. James Joyce said (I’m paraphrasing here) it’s not what you leave in that makes a story great, but what you leave out.

And wasn’t it Donald Rumsfeld who said, ‘Revision is the soul of art’?

My biggest concern from the start has been the supernatural element introduced through the character, Shoehorn, who is part Native American and all superstition. I myself am not a big fan of having the supernatural in a story, but I needed the delicious unpredictability it can bring to a narrative in order to usher in my fitting and (to use Jill’s word) inexorable ending.

My other biggest concern has been that the white raven, that harbinger of chaos and unhappiness, might become the metaphor that eats up my whole story.  I tried to cut back on its use, for fear it would swallow up the narrative or too much of the reader’s attention; yet it seems that you both to want to see more references to it to keep it fresh in the reader’s mind, which makes me feel like maybe I’ve been worried over nothing.

The relationship between Shoehorn and my narrator, in which each man (knowingly or not) vies for power and control over the group of firefighters, has also proved tricky throughout the writing process.

Shoehorn, the biggest and strongest man in the group (not to mention, most capable), is the natural leader in a situation involving strength and courage. But in life-or-death situations involving extreme coordination amongst numerous individuals simply to stay alive, such as one finds in war or in fighting wildfires, it can often be the more intelligent and well-spoken, like my narrator, who often rise to the forefront of leadership. The trick has been to make this growth in the narrator’s sense of leadership believable on the page.

It has also been difficult to determine, both on the page and in my own mind, if the narrator knows what he’s asking of Shoehorn at the climax of the story. In some ways the narrator is asking him to make the ultimate sacrifice, yet in other ways he’s only asking him to do more of what they have been doing without rest for the previous several days.

I think I’m coming down on the side of having the narrator not know what he’s asking of Shoehorn, of merely having him be spooked by Shoehorn’s rather bizarre behavior. It is only at the end, when they are out of harm’s way, that my narrator comes to a fuller understanding of what kind of man Shoehorn was, and what the world can do to people who care, to people who sacrifice for others. The world can indeed be a thankless place for those who expect nothing in return.

Thanks for your comments. They are already proving a great help in revising my story. You guys are the best!

——Wes

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4 Comments

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4 responses to ““A Work in Progress” – The Writer Responds

  1. Wes, dahlink, I think the narrator is interested in saving his own skin at the cost of all others. He doesn’t appear to bond with them, seeing them only as “types” even at the end. I’ve been writing a post about “schemas” that is going to go to press on my blog tomorrow. So I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. Stereotypes are one of the brain’s way of coping with myriad input, allowing us to put things and people into broad categories and thus being efficient at processing and getting on with our lives. I think it’s fitting for this “college guy” to see only stereotypes until something shakes him up, if only for a moment. It’s not until later, when he fails Shoehorn a second time, that he’s shaken far out of his “schema zone”, dealing him a deathly blow–one that affects him for the rest of his life. Does that make sense?

    • Wes Pierce

      Jill, I had to think about this one for a while. And you know what? You’re right. I don’t think I ever saw the character quite this way, but I think he does see the convicts placed under his care as nothing more than ‘types.’ This is just one of those times where the character on the page is bigger or more complex than the character you intended to create. That’s a good thing, I’m sure. But I have such affection for all of my characters. And it’s troubling to find that one of your creations is a condescending jerk. But there you are. The truth hurts sometimes.

  2. Thanks for your comments back, Wes. I agree with the notion that brains will outdo brawn in this story and that is part of its appeal. I guess I don’t think that the narrator should get away with complete ignorance about what he’s asking Shoehorn to do. That is, I think he can be culpable of asking someone else to do what they are clearly afraid to do, and even if he doesn’t believe in their notions he is guilty of pushing someone beyond their comfort zone, well beyond. I think his guilt at the end will be more earned if he has earlier disregarded his own doubt about whether Shoehorn could have a valid reason. This was a great story to read and think about and I appreciate having the chance to comment. Keep up the great work!

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