“I wouldn’t do that,” I said.
I paused. “I don’t think I could fully capture it in fiction to have the same impact that it had in reality.”
It’s a struggle that artists grapple with: how to capture those deep, soul-touching moments in a way expresses it’s full impact. I think that’s why so many people take pictures – because they’re trying to capture moments. But can you do it? We try, but it’s not as easy as you think.
We succeed occasionally. I remember a moment in September 2014 when I visited Washington D.C. and had a clear vision of a scene for Progenitor. I was working on the rough draft and didn’t know how I wanted to end the novel until I stood on the National Mall and had the vision of that cataclysmic moment when my protagonist would reveal what had truly been happening with their “miracle healings.” It’s still one of my favorite scenes that I wrote, and it comes pretty close to that gut-punching moment of both seeing the National Mall and having the revelation of that plot point. Pretty close, but not exactly the same.
I think this is a reason why I struggle to master short stories. I try to capture those “deep moments” but it’s such an exact science that making it stick is like throwing Jello at a wall. I’ve had some successes with anthology submissions, and most recently with “Free” in the Reedsy contest in June. But, of course, you can’t sustain that strategy. It’s still mostly rejections, and it occurs to me that perhaps I need to shift my goal from “impactful” to “relatable.” People can only take so many gut punches, and what strikes each of us is unique. I think I finally see my obstacle, and hope this is the breakthrough realization that helps me to (finally) improve in this area.
I’ve really started to notice this as I’ve recently started listening to AudioBooks. People have been suggesting it to me for years, but I just broke down and tried it this week when I realized that a book in a series I like is only available from the library in audio book format. I hesitated, but common sense won out, especially when I ran into yet another person at work who said I really should try them. I must admit that I’m impressed. Not only is it better than what’s on the radio, but the narrators tone and voice inflections add a dimension to the books that I never dreamed possible. It does impact a bit more when you get out of your head and have those impressions from others to guide that “theater of the mind” in the direction that the author meant for you to go.
If only I could afford to have my book series made into audio books! *Sigh* Perhaps someday. Those are the trials of the indie author. Alas, I’m just glad to have the ebook route open, and advances are coming.
Emotional impact is a tough thing to nail. It's like the picture on this blog entry: to you, it's probably just a road in the woods. To me, it's the essence of fall and reminds me of the closing scene in Quarantine (which was the first fiction work I wrote and, while not my best, still holds a special place in my heart). On the one hand, we want it to connect with readers, or others who appreciate our art. We want to reach them and comfort those deep places of the soul, but we also must realize that people can only take so much. Those heavy moments and emotions can wear readers out. Overdo it, and you can lose them from pure exhaustion. Just look at how the superhero franchise is starting to decline. It’s not that it isn’t good. We just got tired. The world has changed and we want something different that speaks to the new places we're at right now.
There’s a scene in Broken Time where my protagonist, who struggles with anxiety, finds a reality where she doesn’t have it. Her life isn’t perfect, but an interaction with a colleague helps her to realize that she’s done the best with what she’s got, and she can be happy with it. It started as one of those “gut punch” moments, but I’ve actually worked to tone it down in subsequent drafts to “bring it home” to a simple revelation. And perhaps that should be my goal with the short stories: not to hit them with a bang, but to shine a light of awareness in an area where they aren’t expecting, and then see what they’ll do. It’s a strategy to consider.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great week.