The Value of Staying with a Story

Currently, my classmates and I are taking Intermediate Fiction. We have been assigned three short stories, each based on an individual mentor text, which is the short story we study and use as a model for our own work. I am a bit biased towards not-so-short fiction, since it is the genre I divulged in most before coming to MSA, but this has definitely been my favorite literary arts class, though Playwriting is not too far behind in second place. I adore narrative prose and the process of unfolding a story that readers will marvel at, but as all fiction writers know, it is the one of the most difficult aspects of literature to master. We have all these brilliant ideas swarming around, yet we find them strenuous to capture them and plant on the page.

Over a month ago in U.S. History, my teacher went over a lengthy unit about WWII; before taking this class (shout out to Mrs. Malone, she’s an excellent educator!), I stuck to contemporary literature because it seemed easier to write about something I could experience in the present moment. Something about this lesson just immersed me in the culture in America at this time, and I knew I had to write something about it. I spent many days mulling over what an interesting story might be, and I landed in an unexpected place: the story of a soldier returning home to his wife and children, but his son battles with the unresolved emotions that come with a parent leaving for a violent war. I also incorporated a positive religious theme, which is unusual for me, but it felt right for the story, so I ran with it.

I was ecstatic about the idea of writing this, and I anxiously awaited an assignment in short fiction that implored me to explore this concept further. For the first assignment, I felt called to something else; for the second, I had a twinge of inspiration, but when I wrote an exposition of about 300 words, I realized it was not the best fit and moved on to something else for that prompt. Then came the third prompt.

It was perfect, the exact tool I required to develop this tale. I excitedly began my work, but…I couldn’t get into a flow with it. I would write half a page, decide it was bad, delete it, try again, and repeat that cycle. I did this for a few days and found myself at a loss. I considered scrapping it and trying something new, but I could not shake the obligation I had to tell these characters’ story; I had no right to leave them hanging in the air, uncertain about their fate. I needed to start this story somewhere else, so I opted for the middle.

This piece is divided into three sections, where I drop the reader into the formative moments in the protagonist’s journey of recognizing and understanding his feelings of anger towards his father. The first opened with them driving to the train station to bring the father home, the second with the boy observing his parents from afar, and the third with them heading to church after an argument. The second section weighed heaviest on my mind, so I started with it. I closed my eyes, imagined the scene, and allowed it to possess my hands. The words came to me with ease, and finally, I felt the relief of emerging myself in a story that had been confined to the walls of my imagination for so long.

Sticking with a story that feels like it’s not working is incredibly draining, but it’s necessary. If I had abandoned this idea, then I may have never written it, and it would have been another unfulfilled desire that scorned my spirit as an author. If you have a story, stand by it, even when it feels impossible. Don’t be afraid to hit Ctrl+A and backspace when it’s not working, regardless of how much you’ve written. Your writing process does not have to be linear; you can start in the middle, or with that line of dialogue that’s been running through your head. Once you complete the work, you’ll thank yourself for persevering, just as I did.

Author: Sydney Knotts

“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” — Roald Dahl