Last week, when I couldn’t make my regular fencing time, I attended a more advanced class instead. Watching them fence, bouncing around on their toes, jumping, faking each other out, it hit me–though I knew it objectively–that all this learning how-to-move stuff I was working at was just a foundation. Once I got good at it–good enough to move across a room with my legs and arms and foil all in position without a second thought, then I could begin to play with it. I wasn’t learning set patterns so that I could hold to them forever, but so that I could use them as the foundation for something more creative.
Which got me to thinking about how when I began writing, I wanted to create sparkling deep works of art–but I realized I didn’t even know how to tell a story. So I put my literary pretensions (as I thought of them at the time) aside, and focused for a time on the basics of storytelling instead. That was no small thing, as it turned out, and took a lot of time to learn. In many ways I’m still learning it.
In writing–genre writing, at least–one sometimes runs into a certain disdain for trying to do too much with fiction, and into admonishments to just tell the story and not waste time on all that literary stuff. (Though just what that literary stuff is seems to vary depending who you ask.) And there are times when this is exactly what we need to hear. Learning how to just tell a story is hard enough by itself. It’s a worthy goal, and a necessary one. But watching those fencers bounce around the room, I was reminded of how that was never meant to be an ending goal, only a starting one, and about how maybe we maybe don’t talk about that as much.
The point isn’t to learn to churn out a story so that you can then churn out more like it. The point is to learn to churn out a story so that, once you know how to do that, you can take what you know and build on it and go out and play.