While teaching storytelling to the Grade 5/6s and 7/8s the other day, they asked me a difficult question: What is my story Meteorite about?
I panicked. Although I wrote it back in the middle of January and it was the last one published on this website, for the life of me, I couldn't remember a thing about it.
To be fair, I had a few versions in my head before I'd written this final version. I also hadn't spent much time thinking about it after I hit publish so I had forgotten about it.
So today, I thought I'd review my process of writing it to remember what it was about.
To begin with the low-hanging fruit, my main character is named Nick after Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams. I often use this name as a shortcut to get the ball rolling.
The early drafts were of Nick discovering a house in the woods and exploring it. This place actually existed and was one I visited all the time but sadly it's no longer there.
Most of the story revolves around him coming to the house, sitting in a room, watching dust float in the sunlight, and a bumblebee bumping into a window. But slowly, he realizes there's a ghost in the room, hanging out with him.
Unfortunately, something about this wasn't working for me. I don't think I knew where the story of Nick, the ghost, and the house was going, and once he got there, it wasn't very interesting. I had no endpoint.
So I began to play with the meteorite. Nick would go to where it crashed, find a weird house in the woods, and see it surrounded by ghosts. I wrote that "they weren't of this time" and he decides to leave them alone.
As I wrote different drafts, I started wondering what Nick's deal was. Why was he out in the middle of the woods all alone?
I suspected he was in trouble with the law, but I was never sure what he'd done. I didn't think it was murder, but if he had hurt someone, maybe it was by accident or self-defense.
The more I worked on the story, the more I liked the idea of the bright flash of the meteorite waking him from his sleep. I also had the journey to the meteor take all day, and I started to play with what he did on the hike.
I also noticed that I was starting to lean into Hemingway's Nick Adam stories again. One of my favorites is "Big Two-Hearted River", where Nick travels across a burned-out forest until he arrives at a lush river. He sets up camp and goes fishing. I also liked that Hemingway said that it was a story about the war without ever having much war in it.
I felt my Nick was on a similar journey, traveling across the land to the meteorite crash, but it was also him confronting some memory of the past, without actually writing about it.
At some point, I remember thinking his visit to the meteorite crash was starting to remind me of other stories, particularly the sci-fi horror Annihilation. The more I wrote and thought about this, the more I wanted to move away from him going to the crash site and finding a weird house in the middle of nowhere.
I think it was around this point that I thought I had figured out the story. I was sure I'd finished it and just needed to give it an edit. I took some time away from it, but when I returned to it, I hated everything about it. This led to much rewriting and changing almost every paragraph.
Also during these rewrites, I hit a point where I felt I had overwritten the whole thing and broken it beyond all repair. I wasn't sure what to do, but after putting so much work into it, I chose to force myself to finish it in some manner.
On the version labeled 7—which was actually the fifteenth draft—I switched the imagery of the meteorite to a photographic negative. That inversion of the image started me playing with ideas of memories (photographs as a way to capture them). It also led to him holding onto memories and regrets of hurting people and wanting to ask for forgiveness. This again came back to my suspicion that he'd hurt people, possibly a family member.
This draft also shows the most notable difference in finding the ridge unaffected by the meteorite. No fires and no trees were destroyed. I reasoned that if there were no signs of the crash, it would be far more challenging for him to find the meteorite, which I found interesting—but I still had the old house.
Version 8 removed the house, and he found the small pond. The small pond was another place from my memories, one I can still visit. My cousin took me to it last summer. If you go, you can sit high on a ridge and watch ducks and beavers do their thing in a pond below.
The house reappeared in later drafts, sitting in the lake's center. Again, it felt like Annihilation, which I didn't want, but also, it had images from his memories—which I didn't like.
Something else happened during these drafts. The original house had changed in my head to become the one my family lived in before I was born. Why I chose it, I am not sure.
I had a lot of business of Nick struggling his way through it because it was half submerged and at a canted angle. He makes his way through the kitchen and living room, trying not to slide into the water until he gets to the stairs. This is where the story broke down because I wasn't sure what Nick would find up there.
By the 26th version, I had finally cut the house and had Nick go down to a lake in the woods and dive into it—another one of my memories of a beautiful place up north.
I knew the meteorite was at the bottom, but I was not fond of him finding it. I felt that having him in the refreshing waters was enough.
This is where the pieces fell into place—both in the story's writing and in my understanding of what it was about in the first place.
It's about Nick, who is troubled by his past mistakes and has separated himself from society because of it. The meteor falls, and he journeys to find it. He doesn't find it, but he swims in the waters of the lake where it's crashed, and the waters cleanse him of his regrets. He returns to his camp and sleeps peacefully.
Reviewing the different drafts and the process I went through shows that there were a lot of story choices I avoided and a lot of information that I hid intentionally. The fact that many pieces are tied so tightly to my memories doesn't help the reader unwrap the story's whole meaning. I wasn't a very good host, and it really is a story I wrote for myself more than for anyone else.
As I do this review, I also think that it shows why I no longer wanted to write a story a week. I went through a lot of drafts, and a lot of struggles to get it in some form that worked for me, and yet I still didn't really give the reader a story they could connect with.
However, I think this reflection helped, both in showing the process that a story takes in being formed and also giving some insight into what it was about. I'm very grateful that the Grade 5/6s asked me about it and I really enjoyed taking this journey.
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