I have a story that's been running around in my mind, in my heart and on my computer for several years. Three or four years ago I screwed up my courage enough to share it at the local writers group Open Mike Night. I had had to cut it down to 5 minutes after I arrived at the meeting. Not knowing that The Write Group has a strict time limit before I arrived, I edited out what I could. It still went 8 minutes, but they didn't cut me off. That was when I knew that this story was something special.
I've written three or four more versions of the story since then. I've committed myself to getting it to a publisher this year, or possibly self publishing it, but now I am in a quandary. Every time I re-approach it, I find another part of the story that begs for more detail. Do I simply breeze over the Spanish Civil War by mentioning a few of the more famous battles, or do I provide one or two in-depth scenes, introducing specific characters and revealing the true horrors of life in that time and in that space? Should I provide my readers with a clear picture of the dangers and deprivations of homesteading in the Big Bend region of Washington Territory in the 1880s, or simply pass it by with "She had homesteaded in Western Washington when she was a girl..."?
Will readers really care to be pulled into a Victorian living room to watch me cutting out paper dolls and listening to family stories? Do they want to know how I met my husband?
A few of my readers will be all too familiar with the dreadful and delightful details. Others will not have a clue. Is it my job to tell the story to those who know the setting and some of the characters, or is my mission to reveal an entire set of worlds to unknown readers who have never hear of Catalonia or Washington Territory?
Yesterday, between reading "Character", "Plot", "Dialogue" and "Set Design" in Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, I delved into Auntie Kate by Katharine Garford Thomas, a distant cousin. I located my - as yet unread - copy of History of Catalonia by Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó.
Anne Lamott is advising me to tell more: to let my readers get to really know my characters. I like this idea. I'd love everyone to know Grandmother Arny and Uncle Vin and Big Lina and all the rest of us. But is it too much?
If the story worked so well in 8 minutes, will I spoil it by making it 8 hours long? Or will I open the hearts and minds of my readers to events they never knew of, and to truths they have not discerned?
I'd love to hear from you, to know what you think.
Meanwhile, I'll keep reading Ann's book and skim through the history book, and maybe see if I can talk with a relative who crossed the steep mountain passes from Spain to Toulouse, France or Skype with a family member who was there, on the docks in Le Harve in 1939.
I really would appreciate your thoughts on this.