These days, I'm reading so many books all at once that I think I've lost track of what exactly it is I'm reading. It's always a bad sign when life gets haphazard in this way. So what do I do? I pick up another book. Mostly, I do this when I write...or, more specifically, when I'm trying to write. I start looking towards outside sources for insight and inspiration...and it rarely works.
I've spent a large portion of the day staring at my computer screen and thinking of my former fiction professor, Will Weaver. Actually, I haven't so much been thinking about him as I've been thinking about him drawing story form diagrams on the chalk board--over and over and over. In hindsight, I appreciate the repetition of his simple lesson. Had he not drawn that line a hundred times I might not remember it now. I can't help but wonder how many times he drew it, the long upward sloping line towards the climax of the story and then the sharp fall of the resolution, in the course of his teaching career. His diagrams were based on the Freytag pyramid of conflict, rising action, crisis, falling action, and resolution; but Will had a way of making rising action look like the longest, windiest hill in the whole universe. I used to sit in class staring at the chalkboard and imagine myself trudging up a forever grassy incline, pulling the oversized red-wagon of my story behind me. I imagined that I could not rest for fear that my precarious load might roll back down to the bottom of the hill without me. Conflict, conflict, conflict, CLIMAX, resolution. It all felt so futile and difficult and depressing. My imaginings rarely made it to the top of the hill before mental fatigue would set in and I was forced to park my thoughts mid-hill with rocks wedged under the wheels while I waited for better weather or a tow truck that never came.
Because I was never able to successfully pull off the basic dramatic structure of fiction I, somewhere along the lines, simply decided that I'm not a fiction writer. Ok, good enough. I'm not a fiction writer. I write creative nonfiction and poetry. Well, ok...in all honesty, these days, I only write nonfiction. Fine. But the problem, I'm realizing, is that I STILL don't know how to climb the hill (or mountain!) successfully, enjoy a decent climax, and then smoke a cigarette afterwards.
My point is: in terms of narrative structure, the needs of creative nonfiction are not necessarily ANY different than fiction. Sure, there's lots of room for creative leeway (in any genre), but at this moment I'm standing at the bottom of the hill wondering which direction I should go.
I'm feeling stupid and amazed by how much I still have to learn about writing. And I know there will never be an end to it, but...
How does it work?