categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
Not too long ago I was thinking about how I might grow my writing, move into a new phase, switch things up, rise up out of the ashes of the old and into something fresh, different, not to be expected. We’re all stuck with our minds and our set of biases, also with whatever genetic inheritance, a certain approach to language, to structure and structures, and certainly to character. Our pathways through narrative may resemble neural pathways inherent in our brains, and may account for the wide divergence of what’s considered great storytelling. I might dislike Thomas Pynchon while you love him, for example.
Anyway, my experiment was to write a remake of a story from the past, to start with frank imitation, and revise from there. I picked an Elizabeth Bowen story I’d never quite understood but always loved, one that took place between the world wars. I started by moving it to our time, and just writing it again. The time shift brought certain automatic changes, but I found the atmosphere remained similar, her story to mine, like nothing I’d ever made. Then I changed the names of the characters, and let fresh things happen to them. In the end, I had my own story, with little reference to hers (though I named a minor character Elizabeth Bowen). My own story told in a way I’d never have come up with without help from a master.
I don’t see why this couldn’t be done with nonfiction, too.
Bill Roorbach lives with spiders and ladybugs in Maine, all of them waking from winter.