"The music continued to weave its witchery over the deck of the ship and us in the center--a spider or two in a web of vivdry." -Fly Away HomeI learned how to swing-dance last night. Never done it before. Never tried. But there has been something in my blood that responds to the songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller and the others that told me that, were I ever to have the chance, I would learn and learn quickly. So when I arrived home from another two weeks' gallivanting to attend my own twenty-first birthday party and realized that one of my friends, Nick, who was coming is proficient in the Art of Swinging, I knew the time was right. A very brief session of instruction later and my cousin Matthew and I were ripping up the dance floor. Sure, we never got past anything tougher than a half-pretzel, but what we knew we rocked. It was so much fun to spin and twist and swing--I refused to stop until (while Nick was dipping me) a muscle in my knee sproinged and made it buckle.
The thing had been proved: I am a passing-good swing-dancer, just like I knew I'd be. Now, the purpose of this post is not to talk about my skills or lack thereof in dance. The purpose of this post was found in another bit of the night:
In a lull between swing partners, Nick called across the room: "Hey, do you know how to waltz, Rachel?"
I did not, so he proceeded to teach me. After bumbling about for a moment, I eased into the dance and was soon gliding about like one is supposed to, eliciting a remark of "You catch onto these things really quick" from my instructor.
Later, Dad asked me if I'd known how to waltz before that moment. No, I had not. But talking it over with him for a couple of moments, I realized the reason for catching on to the dances so quickly: I didn't worry about the footwork. I chose instead to feel the music and move with it, and to imagine in my head how the dance is supposed to work. Then the footwork comes naturally.
Now the pith of the post comes out: this imagery with dancing can be applied to our writing. Too often we sit back and speak platitudes of the nitty-gritty bits of writing; the editing, the story structure, the verbal sparring vs. banter, the character development, the world-building become more important to us than the tune rhythm of the tale. And when you lose the music of the story, all the footwork in the world is not going to make up for the loss of continuity and heart.
We need to take a step back in our souls and conjure the image of what this story is: the notes and beats and things woven into it's fullness. See, that's what is so easy to lose sight of as we write. We forget that, in a way, this story is a full story in itself. We tend to try to build the story piece by piece, line upon line, precept upon precept, but that--as any true writer knows--is not entirely practical. A story does have its own identity. To some extent, the story exists in your mind as a whole. Its own being. To chance sounding sappy: Your story is a full piece of music waiting for you to dance it into existence. Don't make the mistake of leaving out all the music.
It is tempting to want to have everything arranged to perfection so that little editing will be done. But if you are keeping in mind the way your story needs to run--feeling it and dwelling in the beauty of its passion and color and vibe--the footwork will take care of itself. Certainly it will require practice and your technicalities will need a little work--everyone's does. But you will have captured the essence and blood of the tale, and really that's the prettiest part of a dance.