“The tree looks hideous for a few months, dead even. But in what was a similar attempt to bring new life to my writing, I slashed it all the way down to one character and the new story sprouted from there.”
I’m a sucker for the first-person central POV, but this isn’t where Solitaire started. It began as a complex, multi-character 3rd person editorial omniscient perspective. I wanted to break from my natural POV inclination. I liked the idea of a wedding being like a circus (as they can sometimes be), with the focus being anything but the bride and groom so that the petty personal politics and social dynamics of the various wedding guests could shine through. However, the piece lacked a strong plot. Originally, it was about a strained father-daughter relationship caused by their estrangement from one another, and the father is concerned that the daughter is marrying a man who was beneath her. The feedback from my writing group was that the bride’s character wasn’t fully developed.
I shelved the story.
About a year later, I was in a writing course where we were asked to do a character exercise that put the character in a place they don’t usually go and where they are observing two people. Then, the character needs to focus on the dress or appearance of someone. At some point, we had to use either the phrase “what I’ve never understood is…” or “what I’ve always wanted to know is…” For some reason, the bride character sprung to mind, so I homed in on a certain dramatic moment at the wedding and the story just charged forward from that point. The structure came naturally because the voice of the character was so strong and her emotional crisis so immediate that these two elements paved the way forward. Writing the story was like sweeping in front of a curling stone after it has been sent down the ice – all I had to do was put my head down and brush out a path so it could glide in a straight line. There was only so much I could do to direct where the story was headed. This is the first time I’ve written a story where the form came so naturally. I chalk this up to having spent so much time working on the original story that I shelved.
There’s an expression in Dutch – snoeien doet groeien – (pruning makes it grow). Willow trees in Belgium are cut all the way back to the main trunk every few years in a process known as pollarding so that they can grow new shoots. The tree looks hideous for a few months, dead even. But in what was a similar attempt to bring new life to my writing, I slashed it all the way down to one character and the new story sprouted from there.
Jeanie Keogh is a Canadian living in Belgium. Her fiction and creative non-fiction has been published in Filling Station, Fiddlehead, Grain, Room, The Puritan, Freefall, Broken Pencil, Riddle Fence, Matrix, and Room.