Knowing when to stop.

Posted on | September 16, 2009

So, I’ve been spending this week writing a story, set in 1986, about a gay man in an isolated setting who through circumstances beyond his control is forced out of the closet. It was an exercise in tension, in revealing things slowly, and in trying to get inside the neurosis-inducing world of being gay, closeted, and furtive when AIDS was at its height.

It’s a straightforward story about coming to grips with who you are, and dealing with the consequences. Really, the story turns when our hero realizes that most of his college classmates don’t hate him even if he is gay. It still has a few rough edges to be ironed out, but otherwise it’s pretty well-written.

I kept noodling with the ending. I had a love scene where he discovers that being gay isn’t all tricks and tearooms (that’s one of those statements I discovered early on is true both in its original and in its negation). I kept trying to write more– about the protagonist getting back to civilization, about whether or not his relationship with the man he fell in love with continued, about whether or not he survived the worst of the AIDS epidemic. I spent about two days and another 2,000 words or so on it.

I chopped them off this morning and realized that the story didn’t need them. We needed to know how he dealt with being pushed out of the closet. That’s what the story is about. He learns to live with himself, all of himself, and his friends can handle it and the people he doesn’t care about can’t. We don’t need to know the other things, they aren’t part of the story.

In some vague sense, I’ve just pushed my character into a setting where he may be more likely to be promiscuous, to be at risk of HIV infection, but that’s not what the story is about. I’m not supposed to care.

Figuring out that I was supposed to stop there was one of the hardest things I’ve done with writing. It’s pretty good. Now it just needs to be polished.

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