Sunday, March 25, 2018

What does a dragon mean?

I just got an email from a friend in my writing group who recommended reading a New Yorker review of a book by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have not read anything by that writer, let alone the book being reviewed (The Buried Giant). She mentioned layers of meaning within a dragon allegory. She thought of me because I am working on a fantasy that among other things has dragons in it. There was a quote from Ishiguro where he talked about the concept of genre (The Buried Giant is considered 'fantasy'), which he thought was essentially a marketing thing having very little to do with what he wrote or why he wrote it.

I guess I would agree with that, although I am not thinking in terms of allegory or genre. My dragons are characters in my story and I don't really have a particular idea that I am trying to convey with them, allegorically or otherwise. It's just a story. I sort of know where it is going, in the broad strokes, but the details constantly elude me. That's not entirely accurate. I have no problem writing the details, I am just not sure how they relate to what I hope the general trajectory of the story is going to be. When I sit down to write it is as if I am entering a different world, writing as fast as I can to record what I see and hear there. Sometimes I think I should write particular things or somehow massage the narrative in a particular direction. That trips me up, I soon find myself dealing with contradictions I'm not sure how to resolve.

I read somewhere else that the 'meaning' of art is in the eye of the beholder. When you look at a painting (or read a poem, or whatever) you are free to interpret it however you like, the meaning of that piece of art is up to you. The artist may very well have a point they wish to convey, their art may have a particular meaning to them. But you are not required to see it that way.

I'm on the third draft now, or maybe iteration 3.5, as at one point the story forked and then there were two separate stories. In an effort to rein in the complexity I am trying to ignore one of those forks and continue on in only one direction. I wanted to eliminate some of the characters (again, reining in complexity) but I have so far failed. It turns out that either a character up for elimination makes a very good argument for importance to the plot, or else some of the things I have previously written about that character are just too good to dump. One of the members of my writing group has started a genealogical diagram to keep track of my characters; I keep promising to provide a definitive dramatis personae, but so far it is just in my head. Too many characters, too many points of view.

A few years ago I participated in a writing retreat with a couple dozen other people. It was very productive for me, I got a lot of writing done. One of the other participants was also working on a fantasy novel, she already had one published. She said that finding a publisher for fantasy in Canada is very hard, there is certainly nothing available in the Maritimes. I doubt that I will ever publish, unless I self-publish, but I don't really care about that now. Not being concerned about publishing takes a bit of pressure off, I don't have to think about whether my story is publishable or whether there is a market for it. I also have no deadlines. I listen to the other writers in my group discuss these kinds of things and am kind of glad I don't have to take any of those concerns into consideration when I sit down to write. I can just enter that world and try to record what is going on there. It is enough.


Rain Trueax said...

In a writer facebook group, one of the authors said she was afraid what she was writing was crap and didn't know if it was worth continuing. Others gave her suggestions. Mine is what I'd say to you-- keep writing and don't let the inner critic dominate. When you get the rough draft and begin to edit, then is the time to find fault and decide if one character can cover what two did.

Annie said...

Good advice Rain. My inner critic is dismayed by the messiness of it all.