Charles Dickens, as you may or may not have known, made his career as a novelist by writing serials — that is, much of his better fiction was initially published in serial parts in periodicals rather than first as a whole. He was paid by the piece, not by the word (although it is tempting, given his style, to imagine that this might have been so).
Piece by piece, a story gets to live in its own punctuated absences, involving the reader in the anticipatory wonder of waiting.
* * *
I have been sitting in the pit, sawing away (not especially well, to be honest) on my violin, for a very good local community theatre production of the Menken/Ahren musical version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is one of many, many re-imaginings or adaptations of the story, and like most of them it remains essentially faithful to the original’s structure and content. This is the story of a man redeemed. It is the story of a man who finds his better nature, a man who is given a second chance and takes it. This is a tale grounded quite comfortably in its original social and religious context. It is a ghost story, but it is not a terrible or terrifying ghost story — or rather, what is frightening in it is not the ghosts. What is truly frightening in this tale lies in Scrooge’s life and prospects. The real danger is always to his soul, and it is a danger he risks as the result of his own choices.
One has ideas, sometimes, sitting there and struggling to play.
One has ideas about the story.
What would happen if it were NOT a redemptive story? What if the real meaning of the events in this tale were…well, something else? What else could Scrooge’s tale mean? What other kind of ghost story could it be? What if there were true malice in Marley’s ghost? What if the three spirits were three forms of temptation?
* * *
The fun thing about having a blog that almost nobody reads is that I feel perfectly free to experiment with fiction in an alarmingly public way. I know nothing at all about writing good fiction. I read quite a lot, but competent consumption is not the same as competent production.
This will be an experiment in very short serial fiction. I want to see what happens.
I want to see what happens to Ebenezer.
So I’m going to write him. I’m going to write him in a few wee little pieces, just suggestive snippets of a tale.
Let’s see what happens!