Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Observer in the Frame

We spent the last days of August backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness, one of my favorite places on earth. Camped on a mini-ridge above Camp Lake, we watched the moon rise--fast!--and then the sunset and then, just barely (hurling myself out of the tent toward the pink glow, tangled in tent flaps and sleeping children and boots that wouldn't find my feet) the sunrise. Pink, and then bright yellow light, and then sharp shadows. And lots of photographs.

Two images from that trip in particular seem to focus my current revision preoccupations.  

I have been amply persuaded that the manuscript I'm working on (a novel I had fondly believed was finished, and beautiful, and ready to greet the world) is in need of major revision. I even have some ideas about the form that revision will take. But I'm caught between planning the revision--mapping out what I intend to do--and just jumping in. And how much will be enough--is it a matter of cutting or of adding, or more properly of replacing? It's a question, too, of framing and motivation: I know what the story is, but why is the narrator telling it? And just how far should the territory of that story extend?

Sunrise, then, above the lake, trying to arrest its different colors against the trees, and finding my own shadow contaminating the frame. Lean back, then, lean away, move the camera a bit. . . until I thought, here's my point of view picture, the narrator just off stage. But not all the way off. Whether visible or not, choosing what to include.

Framing the story just right is part of the problem. There isn't a story without a frame, something to give it shape--beginning, ending, even words trailing off at the end of the page or when the ink runs out, a de facto border, no less real for being accidental.

Other times the borders of story or observation become less and less clear. Heading up the hill above Demaris Lake, I almost walked into this spider and its home. And here's the story again, but the frame's disappearing, the web that barely shows up once I have the spider well in focus.

I don't know what kind of spider it is. That's one of the story's unknowns.


  1. At the risk of being redundant, I love this. So much to think about when you're trying to tell a story well. At times like this, it's easy to get paralyzed by the possibilities, and helpful to remember that while there are lots of ways to write it wrong, there are at least as many to get it right.

  2. Thank you, Ruth. Many ways to get it right is an encouraging thought. . . there's also the question of identify the right and the wrong way; sometimes it's obvious, other times, not so much.

  3. So many people never even get started from being caught up in the possibilities. I am always appreciative of others' sharing their art because they were able to get it out, care for it and pass it on.