On Working with the Strange: Don’t Let Go

A professor of mine shared this formula with me the other day. When you’re working with something with propulsive energy, often something strange:

  • You start with a form. Let’s say it’s that a man is like a caterpillar. He scuttles around searching for leaves to munch on, women to slander.
  • Then you expand this form. Let’s say that man must cocoon himself to become a beautiful butterfly. Rejected so many times, he shreds his football Jerseys and pulp fiction posters creates a sort of glue out of his protein powder and wraps himself up hoping to emerge from a month of meditation as a better man.
  • But if you expand the form too much, the energy of it can dissipate. A giant squirrel knocks the man cocoon onto the ground, breaking it open and leaving him to die.

It’s a good way to think about strangeness: that it must expand past the precipitating idea, but you cannot let go of the energy behind the initial idea.

The analogy I’ve offered here may not do it justice. But I let out energy, in one of my story drafts, by switching from the initial tension to another issue. The main character was concern with whether or not his father was a monster in the beginning then, at the end, cared more about whether his mother was a monster. That shift caused the story to exhale all the power it had built up (and will be something I try to fix in further drafts).