June 14, 2010

SSFD ~ Week 2

Well, time to report the second week of the Summer of Shitty First Drafts (SSFD). I didn’t do nearly as well this week. I wrote four pages of SFD, so more than the minimum of three, but I wish I could’ve written the whole story. And half of the four pages may not even end up in the final story. So, first the story and then the writing of it.

The story is called “Toad Season,” and I’m really not sure how it’s going to turn out. As I said in Friday’s post, it’s about a boy who wants to catch a toad and about his mother and father’s relationship. The first line is “In the evening, with the fading light and cool breeze that smelled of rain coming in through Eric’s window, his mother sat next to him on his bed and read The Wind in the Willows.”

I’m using the metaphor of the toad in a number of ways: the mother is reading the boy the story of The Wind in the Willows, she’s a wildlife biologist studying the Wyoming toad, and the father is a dreamer like Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows. But I don’t know how it’s going to end because I haven’t written it. More and more I’m working this way ~ not knowing the ending before I get started ~ which has its pros and cons. Pro = it often makes for a more organic and surprising ending because it originates from the characters. Con = it’s harder to write this way.

I actually have had the idea for the story for years. One spring a number of years ago, I went through the great drivethru coffee place (Java Java) where I get lattes, and the owner/operator Kim, a wonderful gal and a friend, was telling me about her son and how he loved to go collect frogs. “It’s frog season,” she said. I loved that and thought, what a great title, though I’ve changed it to toad in honor of Mr. Toad and the Wyoming toad. I tried to start this story years ago, but it didn’t go anywhere. So I thought I’d do it now. And it still hasn’t gotten far.

As I said Friday, I had that big moment of doubt right after I started it. This is a story I didn’t know where it was going, even more than usual, so I had to search around, and the beginning writing of it was going in loops. The mother was going to be a checker at the grocery story, but then I decided to make her a wildlife biologist. I was going to set it, at least at the beginning, in a car with the mother taking the boy to school, but then when I wrote about the mother reading to the boy, I thought, why not make it all in one evening? Not that I’ve gotten that far to really know.

Did you know that Kenneth Grahame, who wrote The Wind in the Willows, and his wife Elspeth basically abandoned their son Alistair or “Mouse,” who had health problems, to the servants? In letters, Alistair would beg his father to come home, and his father would avoid it by writing him the story of The Wind in the Willows. Ironic that the book has become such a beloved children’s story. Mr. Toad is actually supposed to be a representation of Alistair. Alistair ended up committing suicide while an undergraduate at Oxford by laying on a train track and being decapitated. But I don’t think any of this background is going to make it into the story.

So, here I am, in the beginning stages of the story, and now I have to put it aside. I have the feeling that it’ll be a long story ~ closer to 20 pages. I’d also like it to end not happy, not sad, but with an ambiguous or ambivalent ending. Sort of, here we are, and life will go on the same. But we’ll see. Certainly no decapitations!

What I’m Reading Today: Drafts of great stories by my friends Pembroke Sinclair and Rashena Wilson and great poetry by my friend Peter Glovicski.

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