Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Letting a Story Go

I read somewhere that a writer shouldn't fall in love with her characters to the point that she can't let them go. I understand that. Once a story is finished, a writer can do two things with it: She can put it under the bed (or leave it in her writing folder) and hoard it, or she can make it available to others. Either of those options has its pitfalls.

Emily Dickenson may be the one and only writer in the history of the world who put her stuff under the bed and later became known as a great writer. I'm betting there have been hundreds of writers of Emily Dickenson's caliber whose writings were tossed out by family members in the cleaning-out process. Who would have ever guessed that weird old Aunt Mabel was an unparallelled poet? If a writer chooses to hold her work close, she runs the risk of it being lost and never seen by anyone. That may be okay for some people. It seems to be a waste of a lot of effort.

On the other hand, putting your work out there for others to see, read and criticize is risky as well. The obvious risk is that people will not like it; it hurts to have people reject something you labored over with such fervor. The risk on the opposite end is that it will become popular for reasons other than what the author intended. Some authors may have a huge problem with that. I'm not in a position to worry about that right now; my goal is to sell a few books to people other than my friends.

In deciding which of my stories to publish, and in what order, I have run into an unexpected hesitancy to let go of a few of my characters. In a couple of cases, I feel protective of them, and don't want to turn them out into the world where I can't protect them. In one or two other cases, I feel as though I am not finished with them; they're not fully developed yet.

The rest of them are ready to go. Their stories may still need some polishing prior to publication, but the characters are ready to fly. I'm excited for them!

And for me, too, because once I let these fly, I can write new ones.


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