Allowing the story to go where it wills
“Trot your horse wherever he wants to go, putting pressure on with your legs when he goes away from the scary spot, and releasing pressure when he goes towards it. Resist the almost overpowering urge to steer your horse. Trust him! Hold on to the saddle with one hand if he is ‘ducking and diving.’ Keep trotting, he is looking for an answer, let him find it. When he finally goes to a spot in the arena he hasn’t been to yet – let him stop and rest. Just hang out with him there, or get off if it’s time to end your session.” – Logan Darrow
I haven’t ridden a horse in years, but when I did ride, I enjoyed dropping the reins to see where he would go. Logan Darrow’s exercise, posted on The Mindful Horse Woman four years ago, is wise advice for everyone with a horse. I enjoyed trusting the horse and I think he enjoyed the fact I wasn’t controlling what he was doing. In the same fashion, I enjoyed driving my old car aimlessly to see where I would end up. It wasn’t quite the same since I really couldn’t let go of the steering wheel.
But the concept was similar, somewhat like following winds, currents, and tides in a boat: giving up control and enjoying the ride. More often than not, whether it was by horse or car or sailboat, such rides took me where I needed to go even though I didn’t consciously know it. What I saw changed me. Where I ended up the was a person I needed to meet or something I needed to witness.
I feel the same way about poems, short stories, and novels. While we may have a theme, a set of characters, and a general plan for the action, the work ends up better if we trust ourselves and the material enough to drop the reins. No, I’m not advocating typing gibberish or writing while drunk. Yet stories seem to flow in a natural direction once you get them started. Like trying to force water to flow uphill, forcing a story away from its natural direction is not only a lot of hassle, the result looks unnatural.
I was reminded of this several days ago while working on a short story about a man in a rest home. Unusual for me, I intuited how it was going to end. I seldom know that. This time I did know it and I didn’t like it. So, like gently neck-reining your horse one direction or another, I “encouraged” the story to go down a path that didn’t lead to that ending.
A fight ensued. Clearly, like a horse who wanted to head for the barn, the story refused to go anywhere that didn’t lead to that ending. Yes, I know, if you can’t stop your horse from racing to the barn, you’re a poor rider. So, there always needs to be a meeting of the minds between you and your horse about what it is you’re doing. The same is true for a story. So, my story knew we weren’t going to gallop toward that ending on page one. And I learned that no matter what else happened in the story, its natural ending was a destiny the characters couldn’t avoid.
We can’t always drop the reins when we’re riding or writing, but we probably don’t drop them enough. The story’s almost finished now. The ending the story wanted makes sense. It also coincides with what I wanted to say better than ending the story some other way. I have no idea why this process works the way it does. We could speculate, I suppose, but even if we found the answer it wouldn’t change the process for the better.
If you don’t like the story you end up with, you can hide it at the bottom of your sock drawer and move onto something new.
Coming soon, a collection of nine short stories that more or less did what they wanted.